Saturday, August 15, 2015

Communication & Leadership?! Be #Fearless

This past Wednesday, our school had our annual Back to School BBQ at the local community park. What an incredible event! Our PTA and Penn Staff must have fed at least 350 people over the course of two hours. After working the "family photo booth" and a 13 hour work day, I made my way back to my office to clean up a few things. About that time, I received a text from one of my teachers letting me know that she needed to skip out of our professional development a little early on Friday due to a Taylor Swift concert she was attending with a couple friends.

Now, I know, that I had a choice in that moment. I could have said, "Sounds fun! Be sure to report your absence in our new sub system, Aesop." Or I probably could have said, "Oh wow, you're going to miss out on so much. Hopefully your team can catch you up but that's a real bummer that you have to take personal necessity time." However, that's not what I said at all. In fact, lucky for you, Ms. J gave me permission to share our text thread. My initial response was, "What?! You're just now figuring this out?! Well, have fun! :) Thanks for coming to part of the day!"

For reading ease: Ms. J is in grey, I'm in blue. And in case you're not a Taylor Swift fan (shame on you), every word with a # in front of it, is the name of a T. Swift song.

And that's how I roll. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this fun banter with Ms. J and was totally laughing out loud to myself at 9pm as I Googled "names of Taylor Swift songs", this text exchange really got me thinking on the drive home. If you're not a principal who recognizes the value in being human, having fun, laughing, playing with your staff, and having a little flexibility for crying out loud, what happens when the really hard work comes? How do you handle the challenging moments that test you and shake you to your core? When you need a favor? When you're late. When you drop the ball on something, because you will. What happens when you have to execute a difficult conversation? Who does your staff turn to when they need a hug? A laugh? A cry? Where do they go for advice? Who has the power to encourage, motivate, inspire and build up? 

There are a LOT of things I don't get right as a principal. But I can tell you that I will always work my hardest to maintain the types of relationships I have with Ms. J, the type of relationship I strive to have with each one of my incredible colleagues at @PennPanthers.

Do you have to text with a teacher late at night in hashtags and Taylor Swift songs? No. Should you try it? Maybe. Do you need to be #fearless in your communication and leadership? Yes. Definitely. Absolutely. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Weekend Reflection

The following post was shared with the staff @pennpanthers as a part of the Week at a Glance I send out on Sundays full of nuts and bolts, important dates & reminders. However, it felt worthy of sharing with a wider audience as we gear up for a new school year. My hope for all of us in 2015-16 is to maintain a sense of gratitude and pride for the work we do, each and every day. Our students need us.

A weekend reflection...

This weekend I was privileged enough to attend the B'not Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for twins) for Emma Lauter, a student who was in my 2nd grade class 6 years ago. When Emma's mom emailed me a couple months ago to remind me that I hadn't RSVP'd yet, she informed me that each of her girls only invited one teacher, and Emma had chosen ME! You can imagine my excitement and of course I said yes right away. Lucky for me, Emma's twin sister, Abby, also invited her 2nd grade teacher, Jan Bishop. Some of you have probably met Jan but she and I taught 2nd grade on the same team for three years before I came to Penngrove. Jan is one of those teaching partners who makes you want to be a better teacher and person. She was always sharing, always asking great questions, always giving me suggestions on how to improve, and always impressed me with the way she knew her students SO well. Almost TOO well to the point where during some lunch time breaks, I would temporarily zone out while she updated me on everyone's latest fluency score or big breakthrough in class. Jan was the teacher who taught science to my students because she knew I couldn't stand silkworms, and she was the one who offered to plan and execute all of our million field trips with tenacity and grace when I was new to the area and had no clue what I was doing. Seriously, this woman was (and still is!) amazing.

As Jan and I giggled in our seats and waved hello to former students, the B'not Mitzvah began. Emma and Abby's mom (Jen) started off the service with a warm welcome and introduction to the crowd of 100. As Jen continued on, I couldn't help but reflect on the year she had faced when the girls were in 2nd grade. Breast cancer invaded the lives of their family, and with strength and bravery, Jen battled and won that horrid disease while Jan and I worked our butts off to make sure things didn't fall apart for the girls at school or at home. Just as any of you would do. And here we were, 6 years later, celebrating these beautiful girls, and watching a healthy Jen laugh and cry about the journey of her daughters' childhood. Jen referenced 2nd grade several times in her speech which made me feel proud and excited, and then she did something that totally took my breath away. Jen shared with the crowd, a very specific quote that Jan had said when they first met right before the school year started. In reference to a recent trip the family had taken, Jan said, "Wow, you and your husband are weaving such an intricate and beautiful tapestry of life experiences together for your girls. What a gift." It wasn't so much the quote that stood out to me as I sat there with tears in my eyes, but it was the fact that 6 years later, this beautiful mother was sharing with 100 people, a quote that her child's teacher had shared roughly 2,190 days earlier. 

Perhaps Jan remembers that conversation with Jen, perhaps she has no recollection, but what resonated with me is the depth at which students and families remember the things that we say, the facial expressions we display, the gentle touches we give, and always, the way we make them feel in our presence. 

This year, may we keep those things at the forefront of our minds in all we do, each and every day.