Monday, September 30, 2013

7th Graders & Goats

Some creatures have very well defined roles to play, per their evolution through the millennia.  Those who have tried to raise goats know that one of the primary reasons for their existence is to locate and proceed through any breaches in the fence on your property.  Goats are exceptionally adept at this trouble-shooting role, providing a marvelous service to the land owner. 


7th graders have a similar evolutionary role: they break any items on a school campus that are of non-Sherman-tank-type construction.   Like goats, they provide a valuable service to the adults in charge of the property. 

Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking we can change these natural states.  We embark on missions to fundamentally “correct” these perceived flaws in the natural order.  The result is frustration, contentiousness, angst, and almost always, disappointment.  Futility abounds!

Far better to simply takes into account the natural order, and learn from it:
> Understanding that floods occur in low-lying areas should inform what and how we build in those areas.
> Understanding that males and females are different in fundamental ways should inform how we work with both.
> Understanding that 7th graders will destroy peonishly-constructed stuff should inform the kinds of purchases we make in middle schools.
> Understanding that goats will find gaps in fences should inform how and where we construct fences.

Our time/effort is best spent deepening our understandings, not crafting schemes to alter the realities. 

It really boils down to using what we learn to alter ourselves rather than trying to alter the “other.”  

Wisdom is a grasping and acceptance of reality, and learning to work within its constraints.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Happiness

While raising our two daughters my lovely bride (Moe) regularly reminded them that it was not our job, as their parents, to make them happy.  She persistently taught them that their happiness was a choice, and solely their personal responsibility.  She further reinforced with the girls that happiness was a psychological/emotional/spiritual state, not a function of momentary conditions.

Having been present during many of those counseling events, the message slowly sank into my skull as well.  Little by little I came to a better understanding of Moe’s meaning underneath those therapy sessions.  She wasn’t teaching our daughters to be na├»ve or self-deceptive about their emotional state.  She was teaching them about moderation and contentedness, both of which are learnable skills. 

Moe was equipping the girls with a powerful tool for living: 
Whatever circumstances or conditions life throws at us, we get to decide how we react to it.  

Choosing “unhappiness” or a victimhood mentality does absolutely no good.  Ever.  And it generally makes other folks NOT want to be around us, which exacerbates the woe-is-me-ishness.

Choosing to be happy, on the other hand, sets us psychologically on the road to recovery, self-control, optimism, resilience.  It has the added dual benefit of attracting companionship and irritating one’s enemies.

Glad I was present for those lessons.

Friday, September 27, 2013

PowerWords

“I’m sorry.” 
          “I goofed.”  
                    “I messed that up, didn’t I?”
                               “My bad.”  
                                         “My mistake.”

One of the hardest things for us to do is to admit and own mistakes.  

It’s also one of the most powerful. 

Realizing, then owning, our mistakes is a critical piece in our learning.  It was and is true of our learning to ride a bike, 
our learning to dress ourselves, 
our learning to hit a golf ball, 
our learning to manage relationships, 
our learning to contribute to a team.

Trying to hide mistakes doesn’t work well 
(and it makes us appear weaker).
Trying to blame our mistakes on others doesn’t work well 
(and it makes us appear weaker).
Trying to make our mistakes not look like mistakes doesn’t work well 
(and it makes us appear weaker).


Learning is a function of mistake making.  Mistakes are a function of learning.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Pole

For the last 20ish years, I have been associated with schools (both large and small) that each had students/staff who engaged in a process on one Wednesday morning each September dubbed “See You at the Pole.”  It is a nationwide phenomenon, voluntarily undertaken by students and adults on school campuses to reinforce the importance, and the power, of lifting a unified voice in prayer on behalf of their respective schools and communities, and for our nation as a whole. 

I am a man of faith, and believe in the power of those collective voices and spirits raised in supplication for guidance, strength, safety, and blessing. 

You don’t even have to subscribe to a particular faith to engage in a process of that sort.  In fact, most faiths recognize and leverage the power of combined spirits in a common and worthy cause.

Empirical research evidence on influence, collective endeavor, and mind over matter (read about Noetic Science if you’re interested in that concept) indicate real “power” in the melding of common intent and action by a group of committed folks.





Bottom line: I have been proud at each of the schools I have served to have been a part of a group of people who sanctify time to appeal to the God of their understanding to bless, sustain, and enrich their schools, their communities, and this nation.  Whether you believe in some higher power, or simply in collective power, “See You at the Pole” is still a moving ritual in the interest of making for the very best futures for ALL who have a stake in those schools.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

NotSettling

Too often we settle for the best from a menu of bad options. 

Sometimes we have little choice in the matter.  For instance, as a junior high student I might have gotten into some kind of trouble (certainly no fault of my own!).  The assistant principal might have responded by giving me a choice of going to In-School-Suspension or receiving swats with a paddle (yep, that still happened when I was in school).  Clearly, my options in that scenario were ugly and few.  Life sometimes presents itself in that format.

However, situations like that are more rare than we think.  More often, we have a world of options available to us, if we just take the time to consider them.  When thinking about our aspirations for our students/families/organizations/selves – in effect, our VISION for our futures – there is no need to settle for the best of the worst list of options.  Dream big.  Aim high.

I frequently articulate the intention of providing WORLD CLASS education to our students and staff at Guthrie. I believe those folks share that vision, and have demonstrated the passion to pursue it as a real objective. 

When “outsiders” express skepticism for our approach, I respond with these kinds of questions: 
Why would we invest our time, effort, resources, and lives pursuing status quo?
Why would we wish for and work for any less?
Why would we aim at mediocrity?
Why would we settle?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

ToolWise

I recently helped a son-in-law pull the pipe and sucker rods out of one of his water wells.  The windmill was no longer producing water, so repairs were needed.



He and I tackled the task with zeal, but we were improvising to the extreme with the tools at our disposal.  I even mentioned to him that a real windmill man would have a good laugh at us (we differed from the Three Stooges by only one).

After two days of work, 
a couple of nasty cuts on his head (I swear I didn't drop that metal on him purposely), 
an ugly gouge in my hand, and 
our almost dropping the pipe down the hole (not a good thing), 
we finally completed the task.

I was reminded of how important the proper tools are in order to accomplish any kind of work in an efficient way.  

A primary role of leaders is to procure, steal, borrow, or rent quality tools for use in the tasks being done by the members of the organization.  Money always matters, but having the wrong or insufficient tools has high costs attached:  time, effort, frustration, inefficiency, and sometimes injury (or worse).


Note to self: Find and get quality tools, and put them in the hands of the folks doing the work.