“Do You Miss It?”

ATSSB Region 1 Junior High All-Region Band (photo courtesy of Joe Woolsey)

ATSSB Region 1 Junior High All-Region Band (photo courtesy of Joe Woolsey)

Last weekend I was invited to conduct the ATSSB Region I Junior High Concert Band in Amarillo.  This honor band consisted of some of the best small school junior high band kids in the Panhandle.  We rehearsed the music for two days, then performed a concert Saturday evening.  The kids were amazing, and it was nice seeing some old friends.

I got asked about my new job quite a bit.  People wanted to know if I was enjoying being a principal, if I liked living in the Metroplex, and if I enjoyed working with middle school kids.  They asked, “What do you like about your job?” “Is it what you expected it to be?” “Do you discipline kids all day?”

But the one question I got asked the most was:

“Do you miss it?”

My answer?  Of course I miss it!  I have been a band director for over twenty years!  And I’ve absolutely loved it! (I also think I was pretty decent at it!)

  • I miss creating something amazing and unique with a group of young people.
  • I miss seeing the excitement in the kids’ eyes after a successful performance.
  • I miss hearing parents say things like, “That performance was incredible!”
  • I miss challenging kids to perform above their ability level.
  • I miss performing!

But, I love being an assistant principal at Timberview Middle School!  And I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything!  As a school administrator:

  • I am able to impact the lives of hundreds of kids every day!
  • I can build important relationships with parents, community, staff, and students!
  • I can be an integral part of building the culture of a school!
  • I can help make school an inviting place for everyone (kids, parents, teachers, etc.)
  • I can share my crazy, bizarre, and sometimes irrational ideas about school reform!
  • I can help change the system!

So yeah, I miss it, but maybe the good people at ATSSB Region I will have me back soon for my “band fix!” And I’m available for clinics and guest conducting if you’re interested!  I’ll even bring my own discipline referral forms!

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The Problem with Initials

A couple of weeks ago I had had a particularly stressful day.  That evening I posted the following status on my Facebook:

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“Today was one of those days that confirms how much more I have to learn!! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE what I do, but it’s freakin’ hard work!!”

People often ask me what the hardest part of my new job is.  Without hesitation I answer, “Anything with initials!”

I feel like I’m pretty good at several aspects of my job – organization, communication, relationship building, encouraging others, disciplining students, and so on,  but I struggle with issues like ARD, RTI, 504 (I know, not really initials, but still), SSI, and the list goes on (believe me…it goes on!)

I’ve stressed myself out over my inability to really grasp these concepts, and after several weeks of contemplating these frustrations, I think I finally understand why:

Programs like ARD, RTI, etc. are aimed at customizing education for individual students.  We look at data, monitor instruction, and allow for accommodations so the student has the best chance at success in school.  As an aspiring administrator, I always believed that every student deserved this kind of attention.  I truly believed that, when I became an administrator I would make sure every student had an “Individualized Education Program” (IEP – more initials!)

To make matters worse, I think we have the resources to make this happen.  With technology, we could meet every student where they are.  We could monitor, assess, and provide an individual educational experience for every student.  Not only that, I think it would be easy to implement, and cause less stress on teachers!

Here’s why this stresses me out – I don’t think it’s possible to change without a complete transformation of our education system!  We are trying to implement all of these INITIALS in a system in which they don’t fit.  We are trying to individualize instruction in a “one-size-fits-all” system.

In our current system, everyone gets the same information.  If the student understands the information, they get an “A” and we move on.  If they don’t understand, they get an “F” – and we still move on.  If the student who received the “F” is fortunate, he or she gets some INITIALS, and a plan, but most of the others just get labeled “lazy” or “unmotivated.”

With all of the thoughts spinning around in my head at the moment, I am afraid this blog could turn into a book, so I’ll wrap up with just a few comments (and maybe some future blog posts):

  •  In my opinion, we can’t keep putting band-aids on our education system.  Bold changes must take place in order for us to teach every child.
  • We have to rethink this whole “standardized testing” issue.  Students can’t be standardized.  Support Rep. Dan Flynn’s bill for a two-year moratorium on standardized testing!
  • INITIALS should be for all students!  They are all unique, and special, and amazing, and they deserve to be treated that way!

“How Can I Help?”

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Really cool wall hanging I got for Christmas from my awesome family!

I was following a chat on Twitter yesterday morning.  The topic was “How to Help Struggling Teachers.”  There were literally hundreds of great ideas shared through this chat.  My contribution was: “Ask, ‘How can I help?'”

I reflected on this question quite a bit throughout the rest of the day.  As a leader, I think this is one of the most important questions we can ask, not just to struggling teachers, but to everyone we lead!

“How can I help?” is different than many other questions that are meant to say the same thing:

  • Asking “Do you need help?” indicates that I notice you are having problems and you are not capable of handling it on your own.  “How can I help?” puts the ball in their court.  
  • Asking “How can I help?” instead of telling you what I will do to help indicates that I trust you.
  • Sometimes I find myself just helping, because that’s what leaders do.  I haven’t asked if it will help, I just assumed you would appreciate it.  More often than not, I think I’m spinning my wheels!  You probably needed help doing something else.  The thing I did instead probably wasn’t that helpful after all, and you’ll go back and do it your own way.  Next time, I’ll ask, “How can I help?”

When I ask, “How can I help?” what I’m really saying is:

  • Are there obstacles in your way that I can clear out for you?
  • Do you have the tools and resources that you need to teach?
  • Is there something wrong with our processes that we can improve?
  • Is there something that I can do that will increase the likelihood that students will succeed?

(thanks to Art Petty’s blog, “Leadership Caffeine” for the inspiration behind these ideas.)

As we begin the new year, commit to asking the question, “How can I help?” These four simple words can change your outlook on leadership!