Two Family Holiday Traditions That Influence My Leadership

Within my #CompelledTribe blog group, our topic for this month is focused on traditions.  And at this time of year, it is easy to conjure up images of traditions that may exist at family or work.  Personally, it seems as though anything we might do twice can become a tradition.  “We did it last year and had fun.  So we have to do it this year.  It’s a tradition!”

As I further reflected on my favorite family traditions for December, I quickly realized that the underlying sentiment between them both also spills over in to my leadership style.  Let me try and explain.

Christmas Eve for my family includes everyone coming together and enjoying time with each other while eating pizza.  Cheese for the kids, supreme for the adventurous, and pepperoni for most of the rest of us.  Extra sauce, traditional crust, and lots of napkins are the norm.  We forgo the salad for laughs and there is an age minimum for those that get to go pick up the meal – and grand smiles when the latest nephew “graduates” to pizza escort.  There is also a theme each year which may include goofy holiday hats, silly magic tricks, or simply dorky jokes.  Old stories and hearty laughs are what is most important.  IMG_8437Christmas Day begins with the normal stockings and presents.  And as the morning nears end, we prepare for lunch.  However, with deliberate intent, there is no stress in preparation for this meal.  Cold cuts, fresh rolls, chips and queso lead the way.  Instead of a ham or turkey with tasty sides, we choose melted cheese rolling over perfectly salted tortilla chips; mayo on a fresh roll layered with salami, ham or roast beef.  The prep time is minimal and we all appreciate that.  Reminiscing, joking around, and warm smiles are the currency.

I love both of these traditions because of what they represent – namely that being together is what is being celebrated.  You don’t need some fancy lunch/dinner that hits someone else’s expectations in order to enjoy the holiday season.  Stress and angst as family members focus on a large meal is not where I want our energy.  Rather all of that is traded for time being present with the person next to you.  Appearances don’t matter – you don’t have to be cool or appropriate.  Rather you are simply in the moment.

These two traditions remind me of the same approach I take when serving as a leader; namely that the experience is what matters, not the specific setting.   Each day, week, semester and school year, I work with others to create meaningful experiences for our students and our faculty/staff.  I believe that the magic that happens between our students and adults on campus has little to do with the way our building may look, the manner in which we organize the tables and chairs, or the style with which I organize the main office.  Rather its about the people – all day, every day.  I adore the traditions with my family and I so appreciate the way my school focuses on the very same things.  True CurrencyWhich of your traditions best reflect you?

Spring Break 2017: Stepping out on to my Skinny Branch

As I stared at the lid and wondered what waited for me inside, I remained a bit dazed at the prospect that I was across the world from my family.  Chopsticks near my right hand and a tall glass of water near my left hand, I lifted the lid of the Bento Box and my eyes opened.  I was no longer in the comforts of Houston, TX; rather I had just checked in to my hotel in Kyoto, Japan.  Spring Break 2017 was definitely going to be an adventure and little did I know how much it would impact my life as an educator.

Bento Box

Just before Thanksgiving break, two impassioned (and persuasive) teachers approached me about serving as a chaperone as the student tour of Japan had grown in popularity and they needed another adult.  What’s important to know at this point is that I can be a real homebody.  I love to be outside, i love to see friends and go out to eat.  Yet the solidarity and predictability of home also has an allure – especially during the few breaks in the school year for a high school principal.  So I said I would have to check with my wife and kids.  Secretly, I figured they would be my “out” and offer me “cover” to not be able to go.  Aw shucks, I would say.  Right?  Wrong.  My wife, my daughter and my son all said I would be silly to not go.  I protested that the food would be tough for me to handle (I’m not picky, rather I’m boring – ha!).  Again, they took away that excuse and every other one I tried (long flight, family time, currency exchange rates, etc.).  Where I was wrong in how they might respond, I can now say that they were so right in knowing that I needed to do this adventure and I needed to do it now.

Bigger Shrine

I won’t go in to all the shrines we saw, the temples we visited, and the lovely vistas we soaked up.  Suffice to say that Japan is incredibly clean, safe, polite, and they could not have been better hosts.  Our 23 students were spectacular in the questions they asked, the foods they tried, & the manner in which they represented themselves, their school, and, in some ways, the United States.  I could not have been more proud.  And while it was an educational tour for them, I have not been able to temper my enthusiasm for how much learning I did on the other side of the globe.

This trip completely pushed me out of my comfort zone.  And yet I tried my absolute hardest to completely embrace the adventure.  I tried every type of food placed in front of me – sushi, tempura, whitefish, natto, flounder, swordfish, lots of rice, and many more dishes I can’t even remember.  And while I feel I can fairly say that Japan has a lot to learn about breakfast, I did feel much better as a result of the food being so fresh.  I did not use a fork for the entire week and resisted Cokes as well (thankfully coffee is a staple everywhere for that caffeine fix).

Trust

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share that, upon further reflection, I have realized that when you take a risk, and push yourself in to new arenas of learning, you can surprise yourself.  And when we allow ourselves to genuinely trust others then our worlds really open up.  I trusted my family, I trusted the adult chaperones, and I trusted the kids on the trip.

Me in Kimono

Next year the same chaperones are headed to Greece and they’ve asked me to tag along again.  I don’t know if it will work out however I know that whatever the outcome it has nothing to do with fear or anxiety.  The walls of international travel have crumbled for me and I’m excited by what my future experiential learning may include.

Finally, I did resist American Fast Food throughout our travels in Japan – until we reached the terminal at the Airport heading home.  Then I had a Big Mac, Fries & a large Coke.  And it was glorious.

Final McDWhat have you learned from your travels?

Peace, Love & A Little Competition

Five years ago, I decided that I wanted to run a half marathon.  I had run lots of 5Ks, many 10Ks, yet had never taken on 13.1 miles.  I was in my early 40s and so maybe I could chalk it up to any number of generalizations, however it ended up being a powerful learning adventure for me and has influenced my work as an educator.

Faced with the question of Collaboration vs Competition, I found myself in that quick struggle to choose one or the other.  And after further reflection, I found myself, similar to most educators (I suppose), reaching for collaboration.  Of course it has to be that, right?  Either as a product of working with Professional Learning Communities (PLC), leading a large campus, or simply being part of a larger Professional Learning Network (PLN), I have routinely placed myself among others working on something larger.  All of this was churning through my head as I ran a tempo run earlier this week in hopes of setting a new personal record (PR) in an upcoming race.  And then it hit me.  Given one condition, I am convinced that competition maximizes collaboration.

zero-sum-game

The concept of Zero Sum is often used in negotiations and business dealings.  It is centered on the idea that whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other.  The concept of “winners” and “losers” naturally grows from this idea and, I would suggest, consumes our notions of competition.  When the Astros play the Rangers, one team wins and another loses.  When our boys basketball team plays its rival, once the competition is completed, there is one team feeling successful while another looks for corrections.  Yet, if we shift competition away from the idea of Zero Sum, and look at it more similar to track, cross country, or swimming, then I believe competition enhances collaboration.  Personally, each year I run the Houston Half Marathon with 25000 other people and I will never win.  Yet, I can set a new PR (get smarter/faster/stronger) and the race (competition) brings me to that outcome.

Competition can also bring a sense of purpose to collaboration.  If you are bringing a group of people together to work interdependently on something then the idea of getting smarter, faster, or stronger should be part of the discussion.  And when that team has an achievable goal or standard in front of them, then there is a measuring stick to use at the conclusion.

stop watch and running track

Certainly there are other schools in my district that we measure ourselves with and I am always protective of how my teachers are perceived when it comes to growing kids each year.  So there is a sense of competition.  However, similar to when someone is passing me in the Half Marathon (which often occurs more than the reverse), I am happy for them.  As I have learned that together we compete yet the individual growth I make in my performance is for me alone.  There really are no winners or losers.

Thus I would leave this post with the idea that once we shift from the Zero Sum idea of competition, our students can benefit tremendously as we collaborate to create the best learning experiences for them.  Making them smarter, faster, and stronger brings the potential for all types of rewards.

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