The Trio That Serves as My Totem

Inception is one of my favorite movies not only because it is highly engaging and well produced – it also references the idea of each person needing a totem.  For the characters in the movie, they employ a totem so that they know whether they are still dreaming or not.  The idea is to always carry something simple with them so that they can take a potentially complex issue (asleep or awake) and solve it by using a simple item.

Occam’s Razor.  KISS.  Robert Fulghum.  These three ideas or people are what serve as my totem and often help me recover as a leader.  They do this by reminding me that the ability to hear, understand, reflect, and address/solve a problem or issue is usually completely within my zone of influence.  Occam’s razor is a philosophical principle that says that the least complicated explanation is usually the correct one.  KISS is a reminder to Keep It Simple Stupid!  And Robert Fulghum is the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, the book that reminds me of both the previous ideas – namely that, at its truest essence, any idea/concern can be resolved by utilizing a concept I learned long ago.

This month as a member of the #CompelledTribe, we were asked to share a book, or multiple books, that influence our work and that we would recommend.  AIRNTKILIK is such the book for me as it has always served as a powerful reminder that when dealing with people – which is what we do all day every day – so much of what we learned as a young person can still serve us well.  My tattered copy that stays nearby was a high school graduation present, and it became a life lesson piece for my family moving forward.  Some of the reminders are timeless:Share EverythingPlay FairPut things back where you found them.Clean up your own mess.Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Take a nap every afternoon.Be aware of wonder. Hold hands anWhile many of these remain aspirational – still no cot in my office – I do try and embrace the others when interacting with others (both while wearing my principal hat or my parent hat).  And as a leader, I have literally and metaphorically grabbed on to this advice as it reminds me that at our core, each faculty and staff member made a decision to step in to a classroom or school where children are in need of so much.  And often what they need, what we all need, is simply hope.  The idea that things can be better.  Complication does not usually inspire.  Simplicity does.

Finally, I would add that a large part of what we do in leadership is connected to the stories we share.  Creating a narrative that makes an experience accessible to others can enable a vision to be understood and a path forward to form.  The Storytellers Creed from Robert Fulghum is also a reminder to me of the charge we have as leaders on a school campus.  Each year I try to share this advice with seniors as they embark on their next adventure.  What helps you reset when faced with a challenge?Storytellers Creed

Saying & Hearing Thank You

Early on in my career, I was encouraged to keep a box near my desk.  You know, a receptacle for all the letters and cards and words of encouragement that would surely come my way. And as I made my way through that first month, and then that first semester, I began to wonder if my small shoe box was too lofty of a goal.  Or perhaps I simply wasn’t connecting with my students as I wished.  Finally, on a piece of green construction paper, 7th grader Robin had glued a handwritten letter offering me praise for simply not giving up. Those words helped me keep my footing through the winter break, survive the tough February days, and launch me toward the summer.  Twenty-five years later and I still have that letter. However I have outgrown the shoe box and find myself filling a nearby desk drawer dedicated to these positive messages. Not only does the drawer remind me of my better moments, days, months and years.  It also reminds me to take the time to share positive words with others.  black-shoeboxA challenge I had to overcome was allowing myself to simply receive the compliment.  Too often we deflect and say something like: “oh, it was my pleasure”, or “no, you are the one I should thank.”  When we do that we steal from them a small piece of the joy they have for us.  We rob them just a bit of the power that comes with recognizing another.  I would recommend that, instead, we simply say, “Your words mean a lot.  Thank you for taking the time to share them with me.”  I know this is easier said than done however I have learned that those few words carry more power.

world-is-giving-answers

Becoming friends on social media with former students can be another way to remain connected while also serving as a reminder that you had an impact on their life.  When someone chooses to include you in the minutiae as well as grand moments in their life, they are telling you that you matter. And as I engage in pictures, videos, and stories of their emergence into adulthood, those beaming moments around marriage, the celebrations of becoming a parent, I am quickly reminded of my impact.  And I work hard to give it all the space to breathe.

thank-you-post-it_languagesSo as you sustain your effort through this fall semester and look toward the grind of the early spring, I hope that you will remember the power you have each day to positively impact a young person.  Regardless of whether or not they find the right words to thank you, I am certain they appreciate what you do each day.  Perhaps they will write a nice card or draw you a picture. Or maybe they will come in one morning to share something amazing their family did over the weekend. Or it will be a simple smile they offer, a “thanks” on the way out of class, or a nod in the hall. Regardless of the form it takes, work hard to not miss it.  Because you are significant and they want you to know it.

How are you making sure that you are showing gratitude for others while also being able to receive it?

Favorite Day of the Year: High School Graduation

 

BHS GRADUATIONThe last weekend in May is often a fond time for high school principals.  While some welcome the end of another school year and the “off-season” that comes with June, it is the actual commencement exercises that I enjoy the most.  It is, maybe, the singular day where everyone is happy.  The students walking across the stage have all achieved whatever is needed and thus they are pleased.  Parents have only two requirements for the event – make sure their child’s name is in the program and be sure to announce their name.  That’s it.  So they are delighted.  It’s a great day.

Now for me it is also a workout as I shake the hands of more than 800 graduates and smile for individual pictures with each of them.  While it is a grind, the graduation allows me to have a personal moment with each of them before they head forward.  I hope to never take that for granted.

I also have the charge of sharing a few words of wisdom, and that is a practice that I take seriously.  It is a chance to convey to both students and parents what is important to you, and thus the school.  It’s a chance to reward them for their faith and trust in public education and remind them that you have their best interest at heart.  For this annual speech in front of nearly 10,000 people, I often use some form of a common script.  However this year was different, this class more unique, and thus I pushed myself.  Below is what I shared and I hope that others may find it helpful.

“The scars on my skin are a map of the adventures and the places I’ve been.”

-U Li La Lu, poi dog pondering

Map of Adventures

Having the honor to stand before you and offer a few words as you move forward is a highlight for me.  My pride in your accomplishments is boundless.  Among many highlights, this class led us to our first Football Playoff Victory in 43 years, you won National Championships in a variety of competitions, you’ve been offered scholarship dollars that exceed $36 Million (by the way this is nearly $15 Million more than our previous record); you’ve entertained others across the country, and you’ve comforted each other through the toughest challenges anyone might face.  We laughed and celebrated while we cried and grieved.  There was no obstacle put before us that we could not overcome.

Now this is the part of my speech where I normally challenge you to live your life with great wisdom while offering some sage advice.  However this year, as has been referenced, is different.  You see, this year I learned from you.

I learned what it means to be part of a community.  I watched as over four years together you each accepted each other regardless of background, race, economic status, gender identity, or any of the other means by which we too often get categorized.  You refrained from falling in to the stereotypes that so many try to paint upon your generation.  While you embraced the typical high school experiences such as Homecoming, student concerts and athletic events, and, of course, Prom, you also found moments to bring people and resources together for a greater purpose.  Being part of a community is similar to being part of a family.  And it’s important to remember that family members agree and disagree, they hug and cry, they share the grandest of laughs while embracing through the lowest moments of sorrow.  And then they recover.  It may not always be pretty and it can get messy, however it is absolutely what every family experiences and exactly what needs to happen.

Now I was and remain a fan of a TV show called LOST.  And while making every effort to not give anything away, there is a great quote delivered in the series finale that I think particularly fits this senior class, and I’d like to share it.

LOST Speech no words

This is a place that you all made together so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people on that island. That’s why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone. You needed all of them, and they needed you.

While these past four years were both not fiction and not an episode of Survivor, the school you entered in 9th grade was what was necessary then.  And for the years that followed you sacrificed, you invested in yourself, and you built exactly what was required.  Together you created this senior year because it was what you needed.  And a few months ago – when we lost Jade & Michael – together you made your way through it.  Because you had to and because you could.

Now the worry that often creeps in for seniors at this time is what happens next.  Maybe you will want your community to mirror what it is now.  Or perhaps you will desire something completely different.  My wisdom for you is that because of the experience you had at Bellaire, you, more than most of your peers across the city, state, and country, are truly prepared to build your own community.  Because you have already experienced it, if you can truly commit to do it, then what results from your effort will be exactly what you require.  You have that within you.  Trust it.

So as you prepare for the next exciting adventure in your life treasure the time you have had together.  Many of you will move on to the same college or city, and the effort needed to maintain friendships in this technologically rich world is far less than it was for your parents and me.  Yet it still requires effort, it demands respect, and it starts with a shared experience.  As your principal these past four years, I am confident that the shared experience of having moved through Bellaire is one that has been powerful for you.  I am humbled by your success and I thank you for always sustaining the necessary effort.  Go forward from today and lead a life that you take pride in, that you respect, and that you value.  Also be sure to eat your veggies, apply sunscreen, Stay Classy, Live Long and Prosper, and, finally, May the Force Be With You.

Understanding that the Principal has the opportunity to offer the final sentiments to students before they leave your school, how do you approach this opportunity?  What words of wisdom do you share?