Good evening, everyone!I wanted to say a sincere thanks to those of you who indulged me and sent photos of our new students doing well in our classrooms. Five teachers took me up on my request and sent in photos with a brief explanation. The parents have responded more positively than you can imagine!One student’s dad was thrilled, and he passed along that he appreciated seeing her smile because she has had trouble adjusting – which I passed along to Jodi Devine, her counselor. Even better, another student hails from out of state, and his mom had concerns about a new state and a new school. At the Parent Visitation Night, she approached me and thanked me for sending the email, but I said she should make sure to thank Scott Jirik because he captured that moment – I just passed along good news.Why do I share this with you? Because I firmly believe that it is the little things that allow us to accomplish the big things. I received a phone call from Laticia in Nutrition Services today telling me that that male student’s mom had called and wanted to pay off some negative lunch balances for some of our students. Think about that. She’s new to our district, but because Scott let her know her kid was safe with us and doing well, she wanted to take care of other students not doing as well.It’s all about ripples. Alone, they may not seem like much, but together???As always, thanks for tolerating my obnoxious positivity and treating me like I belong here. I can’t wait to see what the next ripple brings – or who creates that ripple.
This past week, as the start of school draws closer, the “momentum” of a large high school has gained speed. Meetings have shown up on my calendar, and more requests for my time have been made. That made it difficult to stick to my goal of completing a minimum of one blog post a week. So, here I am on an early Sunday afternoon, in my office, working on a post I have thought about for weeks.
Several years ago, a mentor whom I admire greatly, told me, “Jeff, when someone offers you a seat at the table, take a seat at the table and figure out the rest.” I mostly got his point, but only after reading an article about Sheryl Sandberg on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website, did I have a true understanding of that phrase.
In the article, author Theodore Kinni shares Sandberg’s recounting of a conversation she had with Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Like me at one time, Sandberg weighed the pros and cons of her current job and found there wasn’t much to like, BUT…that was because she couldn’t see in herself what some others already saw in her. Schmidt told Sandberg, “You love the mission. This is a rocket ship. When you get offered a seat on the rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat.” Schmidt knew what Sandberg did not yet understand: sometimes, taking a more junior role or a position that doesn’t make sense to you, can lead to bigger opportunities that we have not yet even pondered.
During the entirety of my career, I have been known as the “Tech Guy,” “Tech Guru,” “Twitter Master,” etc. And a lot of that is my own doing because of the fortunate set of lucky breaks into which I have stumbled. In college, a job as a computer lab assistant led to opportunities as a technician and eventually as the coordinator of an entire office of students who ran the technical operations for the Residence Life department at our school. In my last semester, I even got paid to create the first actual website on campus back in the days when nobody knew HTML and we had to hard code everything – no Google Sites or Square to help us. I could easily have become a technology director and rested there comfortably.
And over the next two decades, curiosity and technical know-how opened a series of doors for me that I could never have imagined. Along the way, I have had to figure out the best way to tell people to NOT try to be like me. Twenty years of working with technology made it as easy as breathing for me, but I soon realized that it did not come as easy for others. How could I best help people see the power of technology to make their lives as educator easier while also moving forward learning for students? That would take longer to answer.
Along the way, I encountered like souls, but they seemed more interested in how they might monetize their expertise and less interested in sharing their knowledge for the benefit of others. Some of my colleagues would probably say I lack an entrepreneurial spirit – and they may be right – but I had difficulty looking at trying to leverage my learning for money. After all, nobody had charged me for my opportunities to learn. Yes, some of them used me for cheap labor, but the hours and hours of learning I got to do with someone else’s resources were far more valuable to me than money.
After giving you all of that context, allow me to pivot back to my main point: Worry less about your “Brand” and more about finding your voice. As a high school AP, I am charged with helping developing our school brand, and that makes total sense to me. We use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook – and soon SnapChat – to tell our story and allow the world to peek inside our walls and see the opportunities created every day by students and staff at DC Everest Senior High School. We should create, maintain and elevate our school brands because so many outside forces want to paint schools in a negative light.
“People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”
On the personal side, I am struck by the case Sandberg makes when she says, “The proper goal of hard work is not personal gain, but organizational contribution.” Sandberg pushes further to argue that “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.” That feels right to me. And it is why I ask those whom I serve, “What do you need from me to make that happen?”
I’m a learner. I’m a husband. I’m a dad. I am a friend, and I am a son and a brother. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.
Several years back, I had a colleague who helped kids a ton but focused an awful lot on what personal gain could come from their efforts. I get why some folks want to copyright their work – though many organizations claim rights to the intellectual property generated on their time with their equipment – but when I ask “Who am I?” I never think of my brand. To paraphrase Sandberg: I’m a learner. I’m a husband. I’m a dad. I am a friend, and I am a son and a brother. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice. And along my journey, I think I have final found that voice – and a use for all this technology know-how – and I intend to use it to serve and empower others.
So many people contributed to helping get me where I am today. To not “pay it forward” would feel like turning my back on all the folks who saw something in me that I did not and invited me to take a seat on the rocket ship. I have changed seats and even rocket ships several times, but that sense of wonder never wanes. And my new seat on a new rocket ship feels very “right.” I hope and believe that my voice, far more than any attempt to brand myself, will allow me to help change something in the world. For me, the opportunities I have should result in opportunities for others. Otherwise, what is the point?
How about you? Have you found your voice? If so, how are you using that voice to benefit others?
Quickly checking my Facebook feed the other day – my PLN has joined me there as well as on Twitter – I came across a post by former MLB player David Ross in The Players Tribune about Elite Glue Guys in baseball. I knew it would eventually become a post about the “glue guys” (No patriarchal offense intended. The term, as coined, is “glue guys.”). I gave the article a second read, and something didn’t feel right. Partly because of Ross’ inexperience as a writer. Partly because his examples didn’t seem “glue”-like. After a third read, I almost gave up – it felt like there was no story here.
A quick google search for “glue guys” finally yielded fruit. Buried in a list of returned hits, I found a post by former NBA player Shane Battier about glue guys. Best of all? Shane Battier is the prototypical glue guy.
Not Duke University superstar Shane Battier.
I’m talking about NBA journeyman Shane Battier.
The best part is that Battier understands the importance of a glue guy and admits he was that guy.
I knew my value was helping us notch victories however I could. So there were certain things that I did to ensure that my team was always as prepared as possible. For example, I used to ask really basic questions during film room sessions. – Shane Battier
Battier goes on to share the types of questions he would ask
“Coach, can we run through that last set one more time?”
“Hold up coach, which direction do I roll out of this pick?”
“Wait coach, which player is supposed to switch here if the point guard drives?”
“Sorry, can you run through that set just one more time?”
Yeah, I was that guy.
Nobody likes that guy. I know that.
Education “Glue Guys”
This got me thinking about glue guys in schools. In my long tenure at Oshkosh West High School, I knew plenty of glue guys. From the colleague who responded to every district or building initiative with a litany of questions to the colleague who knew her peers did not dare to ask even simple questions, so she asked for them. And no, nobody liked when they asked questions because it always made the meeting longer. Check out this YouTube Mix of every meeting ever if you have forgotten.
We need these types of glue guys to have success as an organization. If we blindly accept every initiative without asking questions, we might always go in search of the shiny new thing. If we never help a colleague who lacks the confidence to ask questions, they may never find that confidence.
The Team Organizers
Even in a results-driven world, relationships matter, and the team organizer plays a crucial role in helping the rest of the team find balance, laugh, and communicate. In my time at Oshkosh West, a variety of people filled that role, organizing staff socials outside of school, having the annual “Venison Feed,” and making sure we celebrated births, grieved deaths, and much in between.
One of my favorite events – perhaps because it came at a needed time – was the annual chili cook off started by my former principal, Ann Schultz. I may be biases here, since I won the cook off in back-to-back years, but Ann made sure we carved out time in the day so ALL staff members could come to the chili cook off at the same time – no small feet with a staff of 150+.
You see, Ann knew that we needed time to commune, time to “dish,” and time to just relax and talk with each other as friends. I have no statistical data to support this, but I believe the work of Ann and so many others at West has contributed to the view of West as a successful school. When looking at adding people to your team, please keep in mind the need for these “glue guys” when making hires.
Not everyone can put the success of the team above personal success. Those who can, contribute as much – if not more – than the “stars” on the team. During my time as an associate principal at Clintonville Middle School, one teacher in particular served as a maximizer. Tiffany O’Toole, just like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, maximized the skills of so many teachers in our building and helped even teachers with whom she did not directly work elevate their teaching games. This despite the fact that on any other team, she would have been the unquestionable star. In fact, she may very well have been the star, but the success of the team was more important than her success.
Tiffany co-taught with two teachers directly, but when others in the building saw the success those teachers had, they would seek her out and ask questions. Working with the most successful teacher in our building, Tiffany helped him see “gaps” in his game and worked to help him fill those gaps. By adding technology to his game, he became even better and students flourished.
One of our 8th grade ELA teachers worked with some of the most challenging students in the building. Tiffany collaborated and planned with her to all students to become makers. Their Shark Tank project allowed students who had seen little to no success in school to find their passion and and earn applause from people outside of school.
Have you made sure to include a Tiffany on your team? If not, you should because they allow others to shine.
Elite Glue Guys
As Battier notes in his post, first ballot Hall of Famer Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs functioned as a glue guy his entire career. Nobody would question his greatness as a player, but his true greatness was in making the players around him – and thus the team – better. Sometimes, the rockstar teachers do this as well. Some of the best teachers I have ever known could have tooted their own horn, tried to monetize their work or prevented others from using their work. Instead, their greatness inspired others and he did everything he could to help others get better.
My longtime friend and colleague, Trent Scott, is one of those Hall of Fame teachers who looks at how he can make his department and school better. He could easily make the speaking rounds sharing his strategies for not just getting a high percentage of students to pass the AP Language and AP Lit tests but getting a high percentage of 4s and 5s on those tests. Instead, he focuses on how to bring in new Rockstars and cultivate a culture of Rockstars in the English Department at Oshkosh West. Trent tries to share the wealth, where possible, and makes sure other teachers have the opportunity to work with the same types of students he often drives to success.
Just like Tim Duncan, Trent is always where he is supposed to be (Well, except for that one time that he moved to California for a year and taught at The Kings Academy so his wife could be closer to family and he left me in charge). That consistency and unselfishness has allowed the entire department to succeed and earn recognition.
Moving To A New Team
Just as in the NBA, educators may move to a new team. I have done moved to a new school in a new district in a different part of Wisconsin. I have only met a few teachers in my first month-plus on the job, but I love the passion I see so far. I can’t wait to find out who the glue guys are at D.C. Everest Senior High School. The success and track record at this school stems from the often unseen work these folks commit to the school. In just a few more weeks, I’ll get to see what drives #EverestPride.
Bring. It. On.
Update: This post was inspired by Chad Everett’s post about the work of back to school.
Since starting my new job as Assistant Principal at D. C. Everest Senior High School, I have had many conversations with friends outside of education about the work that happens during the summer months. Responses range from “What can you possibly have to do in the summer?” to “You haven’t started work yet, right? I mean it’s summer!”
What many in and out of education don’t understand is that summer months allow admin to accomplish the most (in term of logistics). During the summer, students have gone and staff numbers drop drastically. This is when the boring “grunt” work happens: summer newsletters, planning for meetings throughout the year, filling unexpected and expected vacancies, planning social media strategy, reviewing thew master schedule for last-minute changes or shuffling for staff changes, and on and on. The differences between the school year and summer drive the nature of our work.
- During the summer, administrators can take the time to accomplish these tasks, because during the school year we spend our time focused on clearing the road so teachers can teach and students can learn. During the school year, our days get blown up by student behavior or parent concerns or district mandates.
- During the summer, administrators have a more flexible schedule, so they can balance work with home a little more easily. During the school year, school, students and staff dominate our thinking and actions.
- During the summer, administrators try to get out and meet kids and community members in non-school settings so they see us as people, not just admin. During the school year, we move out into classrooms to observe and deal with whatever drama the day may hold.
So, while summer presents different types of work opportunities, those opportunities still exist. If we use our time wisely and well during the summer, we hope that students, staff, and families don’t notice anything because we have done our work well enough that it just runs smoothly.
On a final note, our teaching staff also does quite a bit during the summer. While some staff members take all summer away to re-charge – some need that time to be their best for students the next year – others are working just as hard, if not harder to make sure our students have every chance for success. You may see them in their yard relaxing one day, but did you notice the other days that they served on interview committees or planned professional development for their peers or mentored the new hire so they could transition into the building smoothly?
How have some of my edu peers spent their summers getting ready for the new year?
As a classroom teacher, I never really understood the difficult balance principals and other administrators maintain on a daily basis. I wanted to teach my subject, and I would lose track of the fact that I teach students, not English. Yes, I have an English degree and teaching certification, but every day students came into my room and I needed to make sure I taught each of them and gave them what they needed. Sometimes that included English; other times, I provided an ear to listen to advise for their future. What I know now, that I probably didn’t know then, was that students will remember those times that I valued them as a human being far more than those times I corrected their grammar.
In the last month or so, my focus on Speaking up for every child has been seriously challenged. We have a student in crisis, and she is literally screaming at us for help. Her behaviors have ramped up so severely that when she said something beyond horrible to a female staff member this week, I had a brief lapse when I can honestly, regrettably say that I did not want to focus on the child’s trauma or the message she was trying to deliver. My staff member was hurting and wanted to know what we were going to do – I did not have an immediate answer. I fell back to what I knew as a teacher and forgot, briefly, that we teach children – all children – not subjects.
There’s a lot I cannot and will not share about this situation, but we work daily to try to support this child and help them overcome terrible circumstances at home. While driving to an edcamp this morning, my friend Melissa Emler reminded me that no how horrible the message the child delivered, she didn’t really mean it and in a very imperfect way she wanted us to know how much she is hurting and wants out help.
So now I have to figure out how to support and encourage that teacher while also helping her see that that child needs her love and care more than even before. I cannot blame the teacher if she takes some time to come around – what that child said would be viewed by many as unforgiveable – but we teach students, not subjects. And, this child is exactly why we say speaking up for every child.” She is the reason we need the word “every.”
Even more so, I have to steel my resolve to help this child. We will ramp up our collaboration with county services and supports. We will try to let that child know that she will be OK.
When I put this topic in the blog queue, I really though this post would go in another direction. Instead, I am left hoping that our work with the Wisconsin School Mental Health Project leads us to resources that may make a difference for this student. I need to communicate clearly with our county social services division that empty promises are unacceptable and will not get this child the supports she needs.
And…I have to find a way to help that teacher see why she needs to forgive that child.
But first, I have to forgive that child. Because I feel like I am letting down both the student and my staff member.
What are your thoughts? When have you had to weigh the best interests of the child when they make it so difficult to remember that focus? How do you always remember to speak for every child? I’d love to hear your ideas.