Complacency Kills

I just finished reading one of the best books ever. The Operator by Robert O’Neill is the story of the Navy SEAL who dedicated a good chunk of his life fighting for American freedoms. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it should; he’s the SEAL who fired three rounds into Osama Bin Laden.

The boy from Butte, Montana, gave his all for all of us for over 16 years. He didn’t stay 20 years (20 years gives a pension and benefits); he left after 16. He left for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest factor was how he was becoming complacent when he was going on missions. He shared about one specific mission where he was so lax that he was smoking cigars a few minutes before a planned ambush of terrorists. After the ambush, he was hanging out with guys who were tossing around damaged RPG heads as if they were nerf balls. O’Neill said flat out that if he kept up his complacent ways, it would literally kill him, which had me thinking.

What about those in education who become complacent? The teacher who is waiting until 25 years? The principal who won’t do anything that would “rock the boat”? The superintendent who is just trying to keep everyone happy? All of these complacent actions are killing the creativity of both staff and students and dashing the hopes of some, keeping them from being the best they can really be.

We’ve all seen these so-called educators in our schools. We’ve either subjected to them as a student, worked with them as coworkers, or even supervised them. If you think that none of them are where you work, you’re being foolish. They are everywhere. Some are placed in positions that have the least student contact, some have positions created for them (or a position is created to keep them occupied and out of everyone’s hair), some become lapdogs for administrators, and some even brainwash an entire community into thinking that they are so important that whatever they do is equally important. What these people project versus what these people do is just flat out sad. Their complacent attitudes end up just wasting space and tax-payer dollars.

I once worked with one who was the master of complacency. The stars aligned–a volunteer on multiple district committees to feel and look important, overseeing a program that was created because the individual was awful on other positions (tenured, of course), and didn’t even have a schedule. The teacher literally did whatever, whenever and was the laughing stock of the district by both teachers and administrators. Don’t be fooled, though.  The person was seen as a savior in the community, because when you have nothing else to do but brainwash, why wouldn’t you? I couldn’t tell you how many times, when something was needed or the name was brought up, it was followed by either laughter or, “That person does nothing! How do I get that job?” All I could ask myself is how could the complacency of a do-nothing person be tolerated by peers and supervisors alike?

To an extent, I don’t blame the person. I really blame the immediate administrator who coddled for so long and the central administrator who continuously looked the other way when this person was championing everything BUT educating students. It was petty and pathetic.

In no way am I trying to compare the valor and bravery of SEAL O’Neill to what we do in schools. However, his point about getting out before becoming ineffective or complacent really hit home.  As school leaders (from superintendents to supervisors to aides), we need to step up when we see others becoming complacent. The complacency is killing creativity and positivity, deterring others from being the best they can be, and promoting a culture of letting kids only partially succeed because it’s not what the complacent person wants to do or isn’t aligned with a fundraiser or field trip.

Twenty Years Ago

I still can't believe that I graduated Union High School 20 years ago this year. 1997 was a fun year–a senior in high school, not a care in the world. Then again, it was a different world.

My superintendent, Dr. Jakubowski (with whom I still speak), made two prominent points at our graduation.

1. Don't get into a stranger's car.

2. Don't use the internet.

Today, I use the internet to get into a stranger's car.

Twenty years ago, I had to call Domino's Pizza and order a large pie and have cash on hand.

Today, I can tweet, use my watch, tell Alexa to order me one, text an emoji, and, yes, still call. Cash is discouraged.

Twenty years ago, I needed a travel agent to get to college and have a paper course guide in hand while being prepared to stand in line for hours to pick classes.

Today, it's all done in a matter of clicks.

Twenty years ago, most of my classes were heralded by teachers going right out of a textbook, with desks in rows and giving out so many worksheets that I probably had a tree's worth.

Today, in many classrooms, that practice still continues. Why hasn't that changed?

Many reasons. Some teachers don't know any better, some administrators refuse to budge on allowing other pedagogues besides the ones that worked for them, and some boards show defiance as well as their lack of knowledge and insight. Often, it's a combination of all three groups interchanging all three characteristics.

This is just downright sad. There are establishments and cultures in place where mediocrity is encouraged and heaven forbid someone goes rogue and tries meeting learners where they are today. There are school districts in place (from the BOE down to the staff) where the same ol' same ol' is practiced, hence producing he same ol' same ol' student. Towns and people who accept this are going to get what they've always had, but we now have students who are ready to change the world in 2017 instead of 1997. Is this fair for the future students who will eventually be taking care of us?

An education union representative once told me that "education has changed more in the past 6 years than the past 60." If everyone is cognizant of it, why fight the inevitable?

We all get it; change sucks. People love to say "change" but don't want to change, especially if it affects them. However, in today's times where today's students have had internet access and have been exposed to social media & apps for their entire scholarly lives, how can those in the educational field continually maintain past practice damn well knowing it's going to hurt our future?

Twenty years ago, I didn't know my career path, let alone knew that the path I chose has a broken system that is still frequently embraced. Today, I'm well aware of it and refuse to stop advocating for those who don't know any better.

I'm here for our future. Are you?

Onward.

You’re Not Mental

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image credit: https://media3.giphy.com/media/4Ya8UtZz4PEuk/200_s.gif

I hope everyone knows the above quote.  If not, you need to stop reading this and Netflix this movie!

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and everyone you’ve worked with has done it.  At some point, you’ve taken a day off, but you didn’t use a vacation day, you weren’t sick, and you did things just for yourself with it. Shopped. Went out to eat. Got a massage or had a spa day. Watched a movie. Saw a baseball game. Binge-watched a series. Slept in. You get the idea. The phrase “mental-health day” has circulated in the workplace for years, yet many shy away from saying that’s what they’re taking.

NBC Nightly News recently aired a story about an employee who emailed her boss saying she was taking a mental-health day. Her boss replied, supporting her.

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image credit: http://www.boredpanda.com/woman-email-mental-health-day-ceo-response-madalyn-parker/

So…why is this important, and how does this relate to the field of education?

In our line of work, we need to be at the top of our game every single day. We need to be all-in.  We need to be cognizant that giving any less effort only hurts us. Taking time for ourselves in order to decompress and partake in wellness activities is paramount for us to succeed. We are not confined to a cubicle or in a monotonous job. We are taking care of the future who will eventually be taking care of us.

While the summer is a great time to recharge and relax, we need to be doing this during the school year as well. We need to eat right, exercise, and partake in wellness. We all need mental-health days. Don’t shy away from it; be proud of it.

My New Office

My first “official” day on the job was July 5, and before I could get started, I needed a work space.  I had taken a few tours of the facilities before, and I saw that my new office was on the third floor–the top corner office with a great view.  It was more like a penthouse.

And then I checked out the whole building and told the movers to put all of my belongings in the basement. You read correctly.  The basement!  My staff began to panic and wanted to know if I was okay.

I picked an office that is the size of a utility closet at best. No windows. No bathroom. No opulence resembling the typical superintendent ‘s office. Just enough room to hang a few pictures and my academic credentials.

Why would I do something like this? A few reasons…

1. One of the biggest critiques was that prior administrations were “too good” for the common man, and their elitist attitudes were ever-present because nobody could ever access the third floor.  If I were an employee or if I lived in a town where a public official purposely tried to evade the people he/she serves, I’d be rather annoyed. Leaders recognize that, if you flaunt your white-collar status in a blue-color town, you have signed your own death warrant.

2. There was also talk of things happening in the lower levels and information never making its way up. Some also didn’t want to take the time to get to the third floor to share things. While my mind goes right to, “Why didn’t they email?” when technology consistently doesn’t work or you don’t have the training in how to do something, you won’t bother. Leaders should and will meet their staff, supporters, and critics anywhere they are.

3. Given the prior individuals who held the post before me, there was a stigma that the position was always first-class and everyone else was just cargo. Showing folks that I’m just like everyone else speaks volumes. Leaders can relate, empathize, and treat others with the respect they deserve.

My old office is now a district conference room–a room where all can enjoy the view and spread out to get work done.

Real leaders can do their job from any place, in any place. Real leaders also don’t hide their offices on a floor others can’t reach. It’s time to lead.

Onward.

The Next Step

 

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image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotcha!_The_Sport!

 

I’m pleased to announce my new superintendency that commenced on July 1.  While it’s been a joyous eight months of being a dad, vacationing, getting healthy (down 103 lbs since surgery), and presenting around the country, it’s time to take the next step. Don’t get me wrong; it was amazing to be compensated and then some to live the way I did, but it was rather sad that some thought that it was the right thing to do. Oh well!  My new boat along with my family thanks you; not too many dads can say they were paid to raise their kids. Onward…

The next step requires my switching two pivotal gears. The first gear has to deal with my mindset. In my previous superintendentcies, I was very focused on curriculum, schedules, and pedagogy. This is going to shift to ensuring that basic needs of life are met. I will now be circulating around acquiring and providing clean clothes, hot meals, and supplies that a learner needs to succeed in school. I’ll still focus on curriculum and operations, but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will take precedence over logos and useless presentations to folks looking to play “gotcha.”

I appreciate such a shift; it’s almost coming full circle. I began my educational career in a poor, urban school where any and all efforts were appreciated. Folks weren’t planted to cry over mascot designs or legally try to seek results of surveys  (I mean, really, how much time do you really have?! And you choose to waste your energy on that?! How about your kids?!) Parents here appreciate every and anything that teachers and leaders do to further the development of their kids; they are real and will talk to you. That being said, the needs are much different.  One of the needs is clean clothing.  I have partnered with Whirlpool and Tide to have laundry machines and supplies donated for clean clothes on a daily basis.

The second step is unique for me and many other superintendents. Instead of being the lead social media advocate, I had language inserted stating that I will NOT be responsible.  Why you ask?  Because I want my stakeholders to be the ones telling our story.  I have received criticism that I only send out positive messages and that I am trying to manipulate the news. I am eager to see how this experiment works. It will either be spectacular or a complete failure. However, if we don’t try, we can’t move forward with what works best.  Right?  So, yes, a very big change for me, but a very exciting one.

Onward!