About Me

My photo

I've been an educator since 1995 where I've served as both a teacher and administrator. I believe that serving others is the key to success and make it my goal to be a servant leader for students, teachers, parents, and the community. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Life Lessons from Spring Break

Spring Break was this week and I took my 12 year old son camping in the Texas hill country.  We spent two days at a state park located right on the banks of the Colorado River.  Reflecting on the trip, I realized that I learned several lessons from God's creation as I spent time fishing, hiking, and simply enjoying nature.  This post may be, as my son would say, somewhat random but I hope you bear with me and can learn as I did.

1)  Buzzards - Have you ever watched a buzzard?  On the ground, they are one of the ugliest birds around.  They have pitch black bodies with long, pointed beaks and knotted red heads. Besides that, they feast on dead animals and often vomit up the remains.  They will flock around a carcass, tearing off chunks of flesh until only the white of the bone is visible.  Yet, when buzzards take to the air, they are one of the most beautiful birds in the sky.  In what appears effortless, they catch wind streams and soar to great heights, circling the ground in a majestic loop.  From below, their great wing span is awe inspiring.  As I watched buzzards this week, I was reminded that situations in life can be the same way, depending on how we view them.  What may appear to be difficult, ugly, and hard to handle in one moment can later become a thing of beauty.  Times of struggle can really be the precursors to success.  The key is how we view these difficult times and if we are willing to work through them until we too can once again soar to great heights.

2)  Tents and wind storms- Being in a tent during a wind storm can be a scary place.  During our trip, winds gusted up to 50 miles an hour one night.   It felt like we were two Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf was huffing and puffing to blow our house down.  The sides of the tent were expanding and contracting, stakes were coming loose, and the bottom lifted several times.  Other than securing the tent stakes, there was not much more we could do except ride out the storm.  When we got up in the morning after an almost sleepless night, we were safe and sound and the tent was still over our heads.  Two sides had come loose, but there was no damage.  Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in similar situations.  The events affecting us are totally out of our control.  All we can is secure the tent pegs and ride it out.  These times can be scary, but they also help us realize that we don't have to be in control of everything.  Sometimes, we must simply let go and let God handle the situation.

3)  Busted Fishing Trips- One of the main reasons we travel to the Texas Hill Country is to catch the white bass run in the Colorado River.  In March and April, these fish move up the river from Lake Buchanan to spawn.  When this happens, it is possible to catch a limit of 25 fish in less than an hour.  Unfortunately, there was no run this year.  A sand bar had formed at the mouth of the river and most of the fish never left the lake.  We fished for four to five hours each day and only caught one white bass.  Basically, the fishing part of the trip was a bust.  At this point, there were several options available to us. We could fish all day and hope things would change.  Or, we could do something else.  We chose option two.  For the majority of each day, we hiked the scenic trails in the park.  We swam in the river.  We drove 50 miles into town and ate overpriced bar-be-que.  We simply enjoyed each other's company.  This turned out to be one of the better trips we had taken.  In some cases, we set out with grand plans only to have those plans change due to circumstances beyond our control.  At that point, we can either try to push our plans through or we can adjust to the changes.  The choice we make in this situation may be the difference between a great experience and a simply mediocre one.

4)  Kayaking - A few months back, my son bought a small kayak.  We took it with us and he spent several hours in it each day.  Where we were on the river, there are a few sets of rapids along with a number of bends that would cause him to move out of my view.  I made a decision that, once he showed me he could maneuver the boat, I would allow him to travel where he wanted.  I didn't tell him this directly, but simply let him go.  My only rules were that he wear his life vest at all times and check in periodically.  The first time I watched him go around a bend, my urge was to call him back.  But I decided to let him go and then spent what seemed like hours wondering if I'd made the right decision,.  My mind pondered all of the troubles he could get into, especially since I had no clue what was around the corner.  In about thirty minutes he was back, excitedly telling me what he had observed.  He rounded this same bend multiple times and each time became a little easier for me and more fun for him.  The lesson for me in all of this is that we must let people go, within reason, and learn on their own.  I had done what I could by ensuring he could stay afloat and providing him a life jacket.  At that point, I could either keep him near me or allow him to go and explore.  I'm glad I chose the latter.  When working with people, we have to provide them with the tools they need for success and teach them how to use them.  But then, we need to let them go and explore.  If we don't, they will remain dependent on us and never reach their full potential.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Don't Go It Alone

Today, I had a very informative and collaborative meeting with the Student Management Team. Our current discipline plan needs some work, so we spent several hours going over strategies for updating/changing the plan. I found out what I should have known already, namely that many teachers really didn't fully understand the plan.  By getting and receiving input from others, my own eyes were opened and what I hope will be a viable solution was created.  It also opened the doors for next years planning. 

As a first year Assistant Principal, I discover daily that the adage "You can't do it alone" is absolutely true.  I realize that I have been working like Moses in the book of Exodus.  He was trying to do all the work of judging alone and when his father-in-law Jethro showed up, he set him straight.   Jethro told Moses he would burn out by trying to the work alone and then provided a plan for sharing the burden.  It has taken me most of the year to realize that I am doing too much alone and need to get some help and support from the staff, especially in helping manage student behavior. 

Some things I have learned from working with others and getting their input are:

1)  Remain humble- If I am seeking input and help from others, I must choose not to be defensive and, instead, take suggestions and potential criticisms in stride.  If I remain humble and just listen, I will learn much more than if I try to justify any previous actions.

2)  Listen - Everyone has some good ideas.  My job is to be able to listen to those ideas and help the group sort through and adapt the ones that will work in the current situation. If I am focused on my own thoughts, I run the risk of missing what may be the most idea or at least stepping stone to a solution. 

3)  Accept wisdom - Others sometimes have a broader view of the organization than you, especially if they have been there longer.  Accept their wisdom and use it.

4)  Trust other's motives - Unless shown otherwise by actions, accept that others have the best interest of the organization at heart.  Keep that trust unless/until it is broken.  Hopefully that day will never come. 

5)  Accept help - If someone offers to help, accept it.  It is okay to release some control and let another join in and help with the work.  They may do things differently than you, but if the result is the same, then it should make little difference.

6)  Delegate - Others have skills and abilities I don't have.  As a leader, I need to recognize this and allow them to use these skills for the benefit of the entire organization.  I realize that, if I don't delegate, I'm not only burning myself out, but I'm cheating others out of the opportunity to use their gifts. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Review: The Power of Full Engagement

The post below is a review I completed some time ago.  It doesn't go into great detail (you'll have to read the book for that), but hopefully will spur someone to pick it up and use the principles outlined by the authors.  Also included is a video of Tony Schwartz describing the 4 Principles for managing energy.  

The Power of Full Engagement:  Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Free Press, New York, NY. 2003. ISBN 0-7432-2674-7. 245 pages. 
The premise for the book The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz is deceptively simple.  The authors contend that the amount of time in a day is set and therefore cannot truly be managed.  However, the amount of energy that one has available is variable and can be managed for increased or decreased effectiveness.  According to the Loehr and Schwartz (2003), “energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.” (p. 4). 
The authors developed their theories while working with athletes.  They noticed that high-performance athletes worked towards measureable goals, had specific rituals, and alternated between periods of hard work and periods of recovery.  They also noted that the “performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environment dwarf those of any professional athlete.” (Loehr & Schwartz, p. 8)  Through their work with athletes, the authors developed what they call the Corporate Athlete Training System®.  The entire training program is included in the text; however, this summary only discusses the principles behind the training system without going into the specifics steps of the program.
This training system is based on four basic principles:
  1. Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy. (p. 9)
  2. Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and underuse, energy expenditure must be balanced with intermittent energy renewal. (p. 11)
  3. To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits (p. 13)
  4. Positive energy rituals are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance. (p. 14)
According to the authors, all of these principles must be in place and balanced for a leader to achieve at full potential.  
Principle 1 states that energy comes from four sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.  Physical energy is the fundamental source of fuel for our bodies. Physical energy can be increased through proper diet, exercise, rest, and correct breathing.  Emotional energy is related to how a person responds to various stresses. According to the authors, ‘the ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership.” (p. 92) Mental energy is what we use to organize our lives and focus our attention.  Loehr and Schwartz contend that the best use of mental energy is realistic optimism, or seeing the world as it is, but always working positively towards a desired outcome. (p. 108) Spiritual energy provides the force for action in all dimensions in our lives.  It fuels passion, perseverance, and commitment.  (p. 110) 
Principle 2 states that success is based on balancing energy expenditures with energy renewal. A person must balance periods of energy use with periods of rest and renewal.  It is possible to either over expend energy, such as working too many hours without a break, and under expend energy, such as sleeping too much, both of which lead to low performance.
Principle 3 requires that a person push beyond their normal limits in order to build capacity and increase energy.  This not only applies in the physical realm, but in the other energy areas as well.  For example, if one wishes to become more empathetic, they must practice empathy.  According to the authors, it is necessary to identify areas of weakness and then develop a strategy for building that area.  (p. 156-158)
Principle 4 requires that a person develop highly specific routines in order to manage their energy expenditures and sustain high performance.  These can run the gamut from stopping work at specific intervals to relax and reflect to scheduling date nights with spouses. These rituals should be designed to reinforce a positive trait rather than to remove a negative one.  Most rituals will take between thirty and sixty days to acquire.  To make lasting change, a person should focus on only one significant change at a time.  (p. 179) “It is better to succeed with small incremental changes and modest setbacks than to create a grand plan and fail completely.” (p. 186)
Implementing the above principles, according to Loehr and Schwartz, involves a three-step process:  Define Purpose, Face the Truth, and Take Action. (p. 15)  Defining purpose requires a person to answer the question, “How should I spend my energy in a way that is consistent with my deepest values?” (p. 15).  It also includes defining these values. Facing the truth requires analyzing how energy is currently being spent including gathering credible data such as having a physical and seeking input from family and co-workers. (p. 156-158) Finally, taking action involves developing rituals designed to “translate our values and priorities into action in all areas of our life.”  (p. 182)  
The process outlined by Loehr and Schwartz should not be foreign to educational leaders.  “Where does the school need to be in order to be most effective?”, “Where is it now, really?” and “What needs to happen to get the school to be its best?” are common questions asked by leaders about their school and its programs.  School leaders already analyze data and develop rituals, in the form of processes and procedures, to increase school effectiveness.  They regularly stretch their capacity as they learn new skills and apply new ideas to problems.  These very same processes, as outlined by Loehr and Schwartz, can also be used by the leader to achieve high performance and personal success in all areas of life by managing available energy instead of trying to manage time. 
Loehr, J. and Schwartz, T. (2003).  The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York, NY: Free Press.