Roots and foundations.

Dave Britton, yours truly, Jeff Short

At our last school board meeting, some of the people on my Fife Mr. Rushmore of educators and educational leaders were in attendance. Namely Dave Britton and Jeff Short. Both were well into their careers when I started as a barely 22 year old teacher.

A barely 22 year old teacher.

Jeff’s oldest daughter was in 7th grade when I started teaching. His 2nd daughter, whom I had in class, is now a teacher in our district. And has been for some time. Both of these guys represent the foundation of my career. There are a lot of people involved in raising up a new teacher. The process continues with our educators now. Either on purpose or vicariously, people are raised up in the profession.

Here’s are two stories about Dave and Jeff. After I had been teaching for 16 years, I was ready to make the move to administration. I literally took Dave’s position at our high school, as an assistant principal. Dave met with John McCrossin and me, as the two new APs at FHS. It was two younger guys meeting with a sage advisor. He said, “Ok guys. You need to think of this place as a rock. Your job is to keep things from chipping away at the rock. Little things make a big difference. Don’t let the little things go. You guys are next up and you have a job to do to keep the place going. Keep it great. Pay attention.” Dave was passing along expectations for us as the next line of leaders. I will never forget that conversation. It had a huge impact on me.

Jeff was named as the principal at FHS and John and I were his assistant principals. After being a teacher for a long time, I was used to being a good guy. Kids liked me, liked my classes, it was all great. I was worried about the change to AP. APs deal with a lot of challenging things. Discipline being one. Jeff’s direct comment was, “Remember. They’re still just kids. The job will be what you make it.” And he was right. I had the choice of how I wanted to be as an AP. And I wanted to be a fair, reasonable, and supportive AP. The job taught me about the ‘tough call’. It taught me to pay attention to the process. And it reinforced for me Dave’s insistence on paying attention to the little things.

So it was great to see these two again. And thank them for their profound impact on thousands and thousands of people, stretching over decades, rippling outward still.

And for impacting me. Gave me my roots and my foundation.

Grace needs no reason.

Just in my office working on stuff that needs to be worked on. Glanced at my tweetdeck feed, and saw this quote, from Monte Syrie.

The 4 words that hit me the hardest. “Grace needs no reason.” Just let that phrase marinate for a bit. Wow. One of our leaders, Dr. Lindsay Lombardo, swung by my office just as I was starting to write this blogpost. I laid those 4 words on her, and she said, “That is the definition of grace.” Wow again.

In an earlier blogpost, ‘5 Great Ways to Let Kids Know You Care About Them’, I touched on the idea of grace from a teacher point of view. “Forgiveness > Punishment. Showing grace to a kid when he/she goofed up never, not once, came back to bite me. Deepens trust and respect. When it gets to the point where a kid can’t imagine going sideways in your class, you know that trust, respect, and relationships are rock solid in place. It takes work, but it’s fun work. Eventually you also gain the power of reputation. Don’t take that for granted, but it is nice to have.”

The other quote that has been on my mind for awhile now comes from Todd Whitaker. I may have already written about this one, but the old memory isn’t what it once was. He said, “It’s a lot easier to criticize a leader than it is to be one.” Well that rings a lot of bells all over the place ‘these days’. I look at our classroom, building and district leaders. I see a lot of caring, driven, passionate leaders. And they’re tired. And I know that part of that weariness comes from criticism. Unfounded, unwarranted criticism.

Grace can and should be extended to everyone.

Grace needs no reason.

When is when?

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” -Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Angelou has been on my mind lately. My wife and I are just back from a spring break trip to Washington DC. It was a 2 year postponed anniversary trip. It hit all the targets we love in a vacation. Nice place to stay, vibrant city, lots of museums, art, food, family, and friends.

The first place we visited was the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The impact this museum had on my wife and me was profound. The subject for a separate blogpost entirely.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Dr. Angelou’s quote was in my mind leaving the museum. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Such an elegant, clear, and seemingly simple idea.

My wondering is when is ‘when’?

What has happened for doing better to commence? I was just chatting with my buddy Ben Ramirez, solving all the day’s and world’s concerns. I asked him. He contends that the ‘when’ is when you have learned something. A solid place to start. I fall back to Katz and Dack. “Professional learning results in a permanent change in thinking or behavior.”  That seems like a pretty good indication of a ‘when’. When one’s thinking or behavior has been permanently changed, then do better.

What causes the permanent change in thinking or behavior other necessary for learning? The impact of a trusted friend’s thinking and influence? Reading something? Experiencing something? Hearing something?

Going through the museum, I had the words of a colleague in my mind. I thought about the balance between trauma and celebration. I thought about the opportunities kids of color have to be their authentic selves. I thought about the exhibits that prohibit photography.

Now I’m thinking about my when. And doing better.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” -Dr. Maya Angelou