On a fairly regular basis, I suffer from major #fomo (Melton, you might need to look that up, I know my hip lingo is much more advanced than yours). The thought of missing out on fun times or shared memories is just too much for this girl to handle. While “fomo” doesn’t necessarily make me lose sleep at night or send me racing to schedule an extra therapy session, it does preoccupy my thoughts from time to time. This morning, as I was on my way to San Francisco International Airport en route to SoCal for the weekend, I came to a disturbing realization. There’s something far worse than fomo.
As dawn began rise over Hwy 101, I noticed my chest feeling heavy and my eyes becoming misty as a former student of mine shared with me some of her high school experiences. Our conversation started out very simply. She was asking for advice on her schedule for the semester and trying to coordinate her work schedule with the classes she wanted. I started asking questions about what she would be missing in class if she adjusted her schedule. Her response, “We don’t do anything. It’s just a really long (almost 3 hours) and boring class. The teacher is really sweet and we’ve gotten really close but she doesn’t plan anything for us to do except update the ________, revise _________ and plan ____________ but all that takes is about 30 minutes.” (I’m intentionally leaving some of the details out because it would make the class too obvious.) And this post isn’t about a particular class, teacher, school or system. It’s about missed opportunities.
I asked my former student, “What do you do the rest of the time?!” Her response was, “I try to finish my homework, I read, play on my phone, and sometimes when she lets us watch a movie and I’m tired, I take a nap.” Seriously?
At this point in the conversation things shifted a little bit. For both of us. I went into crazy principal mode and she went into justifying mode. I started asking more questions, rapidly, and with intention. She reminded me that she really liked this teacher. “It probably sounds like my teacher is terrible but she’s really not. I just wish she planned stuff for us to do.” UMMMMMMM – DUH!
I immediately had flashbacks of this precious little 8-year-old face holding my hand and looking up at me with the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen. And now she was 17, about to graduate high school, granted admission to several colleges and with awards and scholarships. And she had been cheated. Somewhere along the way, she started believing that it is acceptable to sit in class for hours, watch movies, play on your phone, nap, and catch up on homework. Missed opportunities.
I couldn’t help but think of all the things that teacher could be doing with these students. I’m not even very familiar with the subject matter of the class but oh my gosh, these are young minds about to be released into the world. They could be doing ANYTHING. But to do “nothing”?! No.
At this point in the conversations, I got curious about a couple of other things so I asked my sweet girl if her principal ever came in the classroom. I mean there are plenty of “sweet” teachers right? But come on, at least someone was aware that a room full of high school students was being dealt a hand of missed opportunities. Her response, “In the last 4 years, I’ve only ever seen our principal in a classroom 1 or 2 times. Our assistant principal has come in probably 4 times in the last 2 years. It’s rare to see him in a classroom though.” Blood boiling.
Next question: “Do you know your Superintendent’s name? And don’t google it.” To my surprise, she did know his name! Yes! There was SOME hope. Of course I asked, “How do you know his name is ____________?” And here we go, she responded with, “I know his name is ________ because he updates his Twitter and I’ve seen him on the District website.” Oh. My. Gosh. Seriously? This cannot be real. I mean I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet but this was #notadream. If you think I was in crazy principal mode before, I kicked it into high gear at this moment and asked, “Have you ever seen Superintendent _________ at your school or at a school event?”
“I have seen him at graduation. That’s it.”
I don’t even know what to say about this. Quite honestly I don’t know very many Superintendents. But the two I’ve worked with over my five years as a principal have a long list of positive attributes. Steve Bolman walked through classrooms with me, knew who my strongest teachers were, what my challenges were, asked me what support I needed, talked to me about how to manage our building, cared about our grounds and facilities. Just last month, Gary Callahan wore a ridiculous holiday suit to an assembly at Penngrove and pushed a teacher across the stage in Santa’s sled during our staff flash mob. He’s played basketball at recess with kids, taken pictures and made videos with students, and checks in with me frequently to let me know what he feels is working at Penngrove or something different I should consider.
Additionally, I’m lucky enough to have met some awesome Superintendents through a couple of Voxer groups I belong to and from what I know of them, they are in classrooms, with students, with staff members, building relationships, in the trenches, not for a second forgetting how hard the work is that our teachers do on a daily basis. Tony Sinanis is a new Assistant Superintendent this year. You’d never know it by his social media feeds though. He’s in classrooms more than some principals I know. In his district, his students know him on a first name basis and parents are wondering who this random guy is who keeps popping up to engage in the learning and teaching taking place. And then there’s Joe Sanfelippo who is running around like a complete nut throwing t-shirts, water bottles, and temporary tattoos at people around the country because he loves his district, schools, students and staff so much. If you ever someone yell #gocrickets, you better duck!
I certainly didn’t mean to turn this into #suptchat, although I love a good chat, but these leaders I highlighted above are certainly not letting “missed opportunities” define their classrooms, schools, or districts. I happen to know a ton of principals who walk the talk. They dance, learn, and play with their students on a daily basis. They ask questions. They know what’s happening on their campuses. They know their students names. Are any of them perfect? Heck no? Are these Superintendents without flaws? No way. But give me a break, a three-hour high school class where kids are actually “doing nothing”?
I guess this morning was more of a wakeup call than I wanted. It is completely unacceptable to let students be in your classrooms, schools, and spaces year after year and dish them a plate of missed opportunities.
Students, advocate for yourselves. Ask your teachers to push you. Invite your principals to learn alongside you. Be in their faces. Don’t allow anyone to dish you missed opportunities. You deserve better.
Leaders, there is nothing you could do in your office that is more important than spending quality time with students and staff members. I’m speaking to myself here also. I do not have this perfected, but I’ll never stop trying because it’s best for kids.
Teachers, educators, and everyone in between, I’m begging…don’t let 2017 pass you by and suddenly realize that you’ve been living in a world with too many missed opportunities. You’re better than that.
To my former student who let me push, prod, and ask a million questions this morning on my drive to the airport, I’m so glad you turned out to be a success story, regardless of the way the education system has failed you. Not everyone is so lucky. I am so proud of you and I promise that as long as I live, you can forever count on me to never settle for missed opportunities.
Because I know you're all dying to see our holiday flash mob to "All I Want For Christmas Is You", enjoy!
Any because you probably want to learn more from Tony and Joe, order their latest book, Hacking Leadership, which will change any educator's trajectory.
A special thanks to @AprilBuege who encouraged me to blog again after her sweet message on Twitter yesterday. I needed that.