Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Moment That Changed My Life

There is never a day that I come to work and wonder if being an educator is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. Back when I was a young teacher, I had been teaching and coaching for four years when I decided to go into business with my husband. After 2 years of being out of education, I knew that being an educator was my calling. So since then, after getting back into education, I have a sense of purpose every day. 

Six years ago, in 2007, I left a school where I was assistant principal to go to a school where I would be principal. Two years later, I chose to leave that school system. Leaving the principalship meant that I would go to Hoover High School to return to the classroom. It was an unforeseen turn of events in my plan for myself. 

During my second year in the classroom, I had a student in my class named Steve*. Steve never really talked to anyone except for one other female in my class, Beth*. Steve wasn't anti-social, but he didn't seem to have a lot of confidence in reaching out to other students. Often, Steve and Beth and I would chat during advisory period (lunch/advisory period was part of that class period), and he had a terrific sense of humor.

One day, when Steve came to class I noticed that he seemed upset. He was sitting beside Beth during class at the lab tables, and I noticed that they were passing notes back and forth quite a bit. Realizing that he was upset, I didn't say anything about it, knowing that I would have an opportunity to chat with him in advisory. The lesson in class that day was one where I would work an example problem on the board then walk around and help students and so on. As I walked around, I noticed that Steve had his head on his desk. When I got next to him, I put my hand on his shoulder and leaned down and asked him if he was okay. He looked at me with tear-filled eyes. I asked him if he wanted to step out to the bathroom so that he could have a minute to himself. He did.

When he returned, it was a few more minutes until the bell rang for advisory to start. After the bell rang, I went to my computer to check the roster for students who would be leaving for the tutoring we offer during the advisory period. Students were leaving and I was signing passes to the library when Steve approached my desk. He asked, "Are you busy?" 

I said no and stopped what I was doing and looked at him. He said, "I see that you're busy." I told him that I wasn't too busy for him and I said, "Are you okay?" 

At that time, someone else walked up for me to sign their pass. I told Steve, "Come around here (behind my desk.)" He came around my desk and sat down and cried. I gave him a yellow notepad to write down what was going on with him while I signed a student's pass. 

After he wrote on the notepad, he handed it back to me. This is what he wrote: "I was going to kill myself today. I have a loaded gun in my backpack." 

I don't remember what else I read that day on that notepad, but I knew that I needed to act fast. I told him that I was glad that he shared that with me and that I was glad that he didn't do anything to hurt himself. 

As he sat there, I looked around the classroom and made eye contact with a student. I motioned with my head for her to come to my desk, and I continued to talk to Steve. When she got to my desk, I wrote on a sticky note, "I need the crisis counselor and the SRO. Immediately." I gave her a look that I hoped was sending the message that she needed to go quickly.

While she was gone, I continued to talk to Steve. He told me that he was upset because other students called him "Stupid." He was unhappy at home, and he had been trying to find a job but was unsuccessful.  

In my mind, I was playing through scenarios and wanted to be sure that if he got up I could get to his backpack before he could. After a few minutes, the crisis counselor and two School Resource Officers (SROs) came to my room. When they got around to where I was with Steve, I introduced them to Steve, then showed the note to one of the officers. He went to Steve's backpack, and I shared with the crisis counselor what was going on with Steve. They left with Steve so that the counselor could talk with him and call his parents.

I called my husband that afternoon and cried as I told him the story. I had always pulled for the underdog, but that moment changed my life forever. I vowed that as much as possible, I would never allow a student to be bullied again. I promised myself that I would make time for anyone who needed me, and not be too busy to listen. Now in my third year as assistant principal at Hoover, I am convicted more than ever that kids need us to be "present" for them. 

Steve was expelled from our school, and since then has contacted me with messages on Facebook. He apologized for what he had done and he thanked me. He has even shared that he wants to be a teacher one day. He found a job close to his home, and even returned to another school after the mandatory one-year expulsion period. 

After that day, I realized that my plan is not really my plan. After wondering how and why my career had made so many different turns, I understood that I was exactly where I was supposed to be and always had been.

If I had told Steve that I was busy, or if I didn't make time for him, then that day could have ended very differently. 

Next time someone asks you, "Are you busy?" I encourage you to make time for them. It could be the opportunity to save someone's life.

*Students' names changed to protect privacy.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Simple Reminder for the Week

Twenty+ years ago, I was helping coach the softball team at my high school alma mater. For the past 5 years, I have been working at that school, and one of the players who played for me then, Betsy, now has kids who are students at the school. Betsy is a teacher in an elementary school in the same school system as our high school, and on her Facebook page she posted the following message:

     "I just had a visit from a student who I taught over 7 years ago as a 2nd grader for only a few months. She told me she has often thought of our class and has wanted to visit on many occasions but hasn't had the chance. She remembers the good times we had and the high expectations I set for her...but most of all "how much I loved her." I sure did...and still do love all of my students! My lesson to learn: we never know the impact or influence we can have on another, so make every moment count!"

I'm sure many of you have stories like Betsy's. I'd love for you to share them in the comments!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Slight Edge: Doing the simple things to lead to success

One of my favorite books is The Slight Edge: Secret to a Successful Life by Jeff Olson. In the book, he reminds us that we need to do the simple things, every day, in order to be successful. Jeff Olson calls it the Slight Edge.

From the book:

Everything you need to do to transform your life is easy to do.

It’s easy to become healthy, fit and vibrant. It’s easy to become financially independent. It’s easy to have a happy family and a life rich with meaningful friendships.

Tapping into the Slight Edge means doing things that are easy. Simple little disciplines that, done consistently over time, will add up to the very biggest accomplishments.

It’s easy to have everything you ever wanted in your life. Every action that any of these goals requires is easy to do. Here’s the problem: every action that is easy to do, is also easy not to do.

Why are these simple yet crucial things easy not to do? Because if you don’t do them, they won’t kill you… at least not today. You won’t suffer, or fail or blow it – today. Something is easy not to do when it won’t bankrupt you, destroy your career, ruin your relationships or wreck your health – today.

What’s more, not doing it is usually more comfortable than doing it would be. But that simple, seemingly insignificant error in judgment, compounded over time, will kill you. It will destroy you and ruin your chances for success. You can count on it. It’s the Slight Edge.

That’s the choice you face every day, every hour:
A simple, positive action, repeated over time.
A simple error in judgment, repeated over time.

You can always count on the Slight Edge. And unless you make it work for you, the Slight Edge will work against you.

I challenge all of you to read this book before the end of the year. It is encouraging and deliberate, and it provides a looking glass through which we can examine where we currently are and where we want to be. Let’s all be our very best in the last quarter of 2013!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Five Time Management Tips for School Leaders

Time Management Strategies

"Basic Idea: Most of our work isn’t actually based on time – it’s based on the projects and tasks that need to be done."

-Charlie Gilkey, on his blog

I read the statement above on Charlie's blog, Productive Flourishing, and thought, "Bingo!" It's exactly how I think about time. As a high school administrator, there are a lot of tasks that have to be done during a week. In this post, I hope to share some of my tips on how I get things done in my business and personal life.

1. Everything goes in a digital calendar. What are some things I put on my calendar? My daughters' athletic schedules, including practices. I put all meetings with teachers, parents, and other staff, even the "Hey, let's chat this week about that idea you had" meetings. For example, I schedule time to visit classrooms in the building. This is a priority, so if a parent or teacher wants a meeting, I schedule around visiting classrooms.

2. Touch a piece of paper only once. This is one of the toughest, both with real paper and virtual paper (email). I try to take action on a piece of paper when it crosses my desk (or computer) to prevent a backlog of items needing action. Once I deal with it, I toss it. 

3. Keep a short, High-Priority (HP) To-Do list in visible sight. I keep a sticky-note with a few HP items on my desk each day. These are things that must be done by the end of the day, and I keep them on my desk so that they are a constant reminder to follow-up, act, or complete. At the end of the day, I should be able to toss out the sticky-note.

4. Do your chores first. This time-management technique I learned from my mom. Growing up, I learned to do my chores first, then I could play or do whatever I wanted. Now, I use this principle in my work. I do the stuff I don't want to do first, then I get to do the things I really like to do that may not be productive.

5. Keep the main thing the main thing. It's easy to do things at work that aren't all that important but are easy to do so that something can get crossed off the long daily to-do list. Keeping the vision and mission as the driving force for what gets done each day ensures that what's most important gets done. 

Are there days when something gets overlooked? Are there days when everything doesn't get done? Absolutely. But using the five strategies above help me keep those days to a minimum. 

Do you use any of these time-management strategies? Which one is your favorite?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Understanding the Moment" - Lessons from Baseball for Leaders

My husband and I were college athletes, and we believe in the lessons and experiences that come from athletics. We love stories of underdogs coming out victorious, stories of sacrifice and success, and stories of athletes overcoming odds. He shared with me the story that follows, and if you are a baseball fan you probably heard about it or you might have even watched it unfold. It's a story about "Understanding the Moment."

Mariano Rivera is a pitcher with one of the most storied professional baseball programs ever, the New York Yankees. Last week, the pitcher with the most career saves at 652, pitched his final game at Yankee Stadium.  Joe Girardi, who used to catch Rivera, is the manager for the NY Yankees. Joe Giarardi gets it. He understood the magnitude of the moment for Rivera last week. 

Girardi called for Rivera to come in the game in the eighth, and almost everyone in the stadium rose to their feet to cheer for baseball's all-time saves leader. After retiring 4 batters, Garardi called for a closer to come in for Rivera. But Girardi didn't go out to the mound, he sent out Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter, two of Rivera's long-time teammates. 

  Watch the video clip here of Rivera's last game.

Joe Girardi could have ignored the moment. He could have made an excuse. He could have let it slip by. Instead he made the most of it for Rivera. He understood what pitching your last game at Yankee Stadium in your final season of professional baseball meant. And he made the most of it for Rivera. 

As school leaders, what do we do to make moments special? Are we thoughtful and intentional in our celebrations of students and staff? 

Do we understand the moment?