Since the beginning of the year, I have regularly posted pictures of the fantastic school lunches served every day by our cooks and cafeteria staff. For people working outside of schools this may seem strange, but these ladies work incredibly hard – limited by federal law and mandates – to provide a hot, nutritious lunch to an audience that may not always appreciate their efforts.
Last Tuesday, the ladies served a fantastic, tasty pulled pork sandwich that surpassed what I have had in restaurants that charge significant prices for braised pork with ketchup and apple cider vinegar that passes for pulled pork.”
As I took my first bite, I noticed something unexpected – a nice, smokey flavor that only comes from actual smoked pork shoulder or helped along with liquid smoke. This sandwich, along with all of the other healthy options you can see on the tray above filled me up to the point that I could not finish my entire lunch.
Sated, and feeling grateful, I returned to my office and started thinking about what I had learned from my friends Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf about the importance of Anchor Conversations and noticing the impact of choices people make. If you have not yet read it, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Lead Like A Pirate. You will find ways to “make school amazing for your students and staff.”
I went into the “treasure chest” in my office – yes, I have a treasure chest in my office full of “pirate” booty to engage staff – and pulled out a card I use for noticing the impact. I let the ladies know I noticed their use of liquid smoke and told them I appreciated it and that it made a distinct difference in the taste of the sandwich. And I let them know I appreciated everything they do daily to serve good food. I also thanked them for making lunch an enjoyable experience. If Anchor Conversations and Noticing the Impact work with teaching staff, why not with other members of the school team?
At the senior high school, we have the theme #DCEWeAreOne, and I take that to heart. When I say “We are one,” I mean everyone. Our cooks, servers, secretaries, educational assistants, custodians, teachers, administrators, athletic directors, department heads – EVERYONE – matter. Without all of the pieces working well and working together, this place we call school does not run.
I did send a handwritten card to the cafeteria supervisor, but I want to make sure to publicly thank Kathryn Jensen, Samantha Kind, Deborah Koval, Sarah Kraemer, Brenda Niemuth, Karry Salber, Cheryl Suchon, and Anne Wierzba for all they do every day. The work they do and the choices they make do not go unnoticed!
Challenge: Who on your staff might not be “feeling the love?” How can you show them appreciation, notice the specific choices they make in their job, and give them recognition for what they do that helps this place we call school to run?
The words Data Retreat and Empowerment do not seem like they belong in the same sentence. That could not be further from the truth. On Monday, like a lot of school districts across the country, the DC Everest School District sat down as schools to look through our data and identify actionable goals for the upcoming school year that align with district priorities. Still doesn’t sound like much fun? It is when you look at what happened on Monday.
As a young teacher at Oshkosh West, I worked under a number of principals who felt that a top-down approach would move the school where it needed to go. After all, the principals were experts and professionals and we expected them to have all of the answers. Too often, though, they were experts in their content areas and sometimes sound school managers but could do little to move the needle on student achievement. Towards the end of my time as a classroom teacher, two administrators – Ann Schultz and @Erin Kohl – trusted the staff as professionals who believed in teacher self efficacy and they let go of the reigns.
Ann got some tough feedback her first year as our principal and rather than rationalizing it away or dismissing it, she took that feedback and made meaningful changes to empower staff the following year. It was the beginning of a turn-around.
Erin came in after a career in elementary education and quickly recognized what a tremendous staff she had and she continued to leverage the power of her staff and leaders. She worked with a team of staff leaders who read Jim Collins Good to Great and developed their “Hedgehog” focus – that one thing Oshkosh West could do great. And then she worked with staff and got out of their way.
This takes me back to the photo that leads this post. In the middle of all of our messy work, we took time out to take in the wonder of the full solar eclipse. Some staff members took a quick look and passed welding masks or glasses to other members so they could experience the same totality. I became even more impressed when some of the staff took the equipment to a group of student athletes so that they, too, could share the experience.
That one small act exemplified the work we had done that morning and afternoon. Teachers wanted to share their passion and excitement with students and each other. As administrators, we jumped right in with our staff and enjoyed the ride – rather than act as task masters who had to complete an assignment.
As we went back inside to continue our work, the excitement seemed to carry over into the room. As administrators, we solicited even more staff input into our building goal and how we might measure progress towards that goal. Several staff members also looked for ways we might solicit student input into our decisions. I felt the same excitement that Ann and Erin must have felt years ago as they let go of the reigns and trusted the staff to make decisions that will support student learning and achievement.
Yes, there will be pockets of staff that will resist or not share the “wonder of totality” that we did, but I believe in the power of those teachers in that room. I believe that one small act like making time for the eclipse can change the dynamic and begin to change a building’s culture. And I believe that this is just the beginning. DC Everest Senior High School is a great school – I believe we have changed trajectory towards becoming a phenomenal school. I cannot wait to see where this rocket ship takes us.
How about you? Can you pinpoint the moment where everything changed at your school? In its culture? In its success? I’d love to hear how some of you have experienced totality.