Education Can Break Generational Curses…if you believe.

Generational curses or cycles – any pattern , framework of thought, types of actions, expectations and skills or lack of skills that are taught or learned in family and are passed down which results in each generation repeating and living in same or similar lives with little growth or mobility from generation to generation.

Growing up I had a friend. We had attended different elementary school but went to middle school together (we only had one middle school in my town). He lived close to me in my new neighborhood. In school I was always an honor roll student and in the honor classes, but I quickly learned that my friend was not. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t in any of the regular classes …he was in “that” classroom.  Now as educator, I know the proper term was Special education or self-contained or small group. If I remember correctly, as kids say his family had never been “good” at school and I believe that previous siblings may have been in similar classes.

Nevertheless, we became good friends and played often after school and as kids often know…there are no labels or special education in play. On the verge of our 9th grade year as all 8th graders do, we started the process of registering for our High school classes and back then our “high school diploma track”. (College preparatory, General, Special Education or Vocational). There was no option or discussion in my house for me choosing anything other than College Prep.  One day as we concluded our play, I remember distinctly my friend talking with my mother about what diploma track he should take. He asked,” Do you think I could take those same classes your son takes?” My mom responded that” she didn’t see why not. He could always try it and if it didn’t work out for some reason, he could change it later.”

So, he did.  Four years later, he graduated as an Honor graduate. Four years after that he graduated with a college degree (scholarship). In the time since (because we are still friends) he has traveled the world far and wide and have been places that few people in my small town or his family have dreamed of going. Great and awesome story that I love to share because I am very proud of my friend.

However, there is a part of the story that I don’t often share. At our graduation, I distinctly remember my friend’s middle school teacher (it really was a small town) attending our graduation. He was in the crowd of well-wishers congratulating us all. He kept saying that he just couldn’t believe how far my friend had come since middle school. He couldn’t believe that a kid who in that small group class in middle school could barely do math was graduating with honors. He was moved to tears.

This is a part that stuck to my spirit and stays with me today as an educator: His teacher did not believe in him.  The teacher did not believe that the student could be more than the situation he was currently in.

Breaking Cycles/Generational Curses:

Former Georgia governor Roy Barnes spoke to my student leaders at the high school where I was principal once. Governor Barnes was alumni from the school, and I consider us friends…I mean I don’t “have his cell phone” type friends but I’ve been to his house a few occasions and have watched a UGA football game or two with him. In his speech, he spoke about breaking family cycles. “My brother and I were the first to graduate from High school. Once we did that everyone after us was expected to graduate high school. The cycle was broken.  Once I was the first to graduate from college. Everyone after me had the expectation or hope to be able to at graduate from college. That cycle was broken in our family forever.”

There are a lot of cycles and curses that can live in families from generation to generation. Examples of some family cycles can be poverty, poor education, poor health choices, addictions, racism, incarceration, routines, geographic location, types of employment, …even political views.  These cycles/curses can seem to lock students into a spiral and path that can seem automatic, inescapable, hopeless, trapping and without options.

However, as Governor Barnes explained all cycles/generational curses can be broken. And once they are broken, they are broken forever.  Education is the key to unlock them, break them and set our students free to pursue their dreams and destinies.

How We fail to believe in students:

Belief is required to break Generational curse /cycles. As adults we can often fail on this one thing with students. Educators can start to doubt students based on negative parent interactions, sibling’s behavior or their current circumstances that they see. “Well you know I taught the older brother (or sister) …” or “You know that family is ….” or “This student will never be able to …”

Parent can make the mistake of wanting the exact same education for their child …even if the education they receive was inferior. “When I was in school we did it this way “ or “I think this should happen in class because that’s the way I learned it. “ We often pass on educational curses by saying such things as “I was never good at math “thereby inferring that understanding of math is “genetic” and that students have a born excuse or limit. Sometimes we are the ones who limit students, and we have to learn to step out of the way.  

My passion as an educator grows from the belief that we must see past students’ current circumstances to see their true potential. We must believe our student have unlimited potential.  No “ifs”, “ands”, “buts” about it. We must believe in our students without limit.

As a leader you must push past the current circumstances of students and train others to do the same. You must also teach the students to see past their current circumstances too. Even now many of the students in our high schools are the first to graduate from high school, many are the first generation in America, and many are the first to consider future with collegiate aspirations or professional careers.  At one of the schools where I served as principal, I coined the motto and mantra “We are not what people may say. We are not what people may think. We are more than they can ever imagine.” This was repeated daily, on all parent communication, spoken at all assemblies and displayed for all to see.

My six grand children

As a principal you have to listen to your parents. Even when sometimes it’s difficult, critical, or hard. I remember being in a meeting with a grandmother who was expressing her frustrations with the school and her grandchildren. I had suspended one of her grandchildren (I don’t think it was the first time) and we were conferencing about what we could do to prevent the incident in question from recurring. I was raised to always respect my elders and so I simply allowed this grandmother to talk and I listened and didn’t interrupt…even though I was “the principal”. The grandmother laid out her frustration. Not blaming me or really blaming the school directly but she began discussing the experiences she had had with the school over the years. “I have had 3 grandchildren to come through this school and not one of them have graduated and I have 3 more.” I continued to listen. “I’m not blaming you or taking up for them, but something is not right about that.” Three of her grandchildren had matriculated through before I got there but based on the one, I was currently dealing with discipline wise …I understood how.

This grandmother’s approach was one which may have turned off or offended others ( her tone was rough and she was loud with a sharp tone ) and it would have been very easy for me to stop listening and said to myself ” well that’s not my fault because I wasn’t here then!” or as so often we do “ your students are misbehaving and that’s your fault at home because we didn’t raise them” or “ I can’t fix your family that’s not my job.”

However, I continued to listen as she continued to talk and gave me some of the history with the family and how she came to raise all of her grandchildren… things I knew and many I didn’t know. Then as I listened through all of it… I started to “hear” her clearly.  “Help me. Help my grandchildren do better. Help my family break this cycle.”

When the meeting concluded, I remember telling her I would do my best to get her that diploma for her. And just like that I had a new challenge. Despite my efforts and building relationships, I struck out with grandchild number 4 and number 5. No diploma. Due to circumstance beyond my control, they moved and eventually dropped out. However, 5 years later… Proudly, I was able to give grandchild number 6 their high school diploma. I remember seeing that grandmother at graduation sharply dress and beaming with pride. I am not sure if she even remembered our conversation at all. But I had because it made me a better principal and educator. I began truly seeing past the circumstance of my students, all of my students, and working to break their generational curses and cycles.  I pushed my staff to do the same and it changed our school culture. I found ways to exposed students to ideas, concepts and cultures that would cause them to think past their current locations and circumstances.  Creative scheduling, engaging conversations, creative course offerings, mentor programs, fieldtrips, career fairs, college fairs, academic competitions, innovative programs, increased rigor, guest speakers and unconditional love plus a principal and staff that built the best positive and caring relationships. We were not going to be the limitation to any student potential or the reinforcement to any family cycles or generational curses.

“We are not what people may say. We are not what people may think. We are more than they can imagine!”

Educator. Believer in Children. Breaker of Generational Curses.

Reflection:

  • How are you working to help students in your school to see past their current circumstances?
  • As a leader how are you ensuring that your staff and teachers are able to look past their students’ current circumstances?
  • What are some barriers and blockers of student potential in your school and how do you remove them?

Please continue to read my blog posts as I continue to reflect on how to lead past your mistakes. Please “like” my post, leave comments, follow my blog, and share your stories so that I can continue to learn too.

The Power of an Apology

The Power of an Apology.

It was one of those days. Actually… it had been one of those semesters. It was one of those impossible battles… where you’re making things work with “shoestrings and duct tape” types of semester. I was tired and battle worn. I had a meeting scheduled with a parent who was not happy because their student was failing …and of course it was the school’s fault. Due to some staffing issues, the class had been unconventional and had a change of teachers, substitutes, and some blended learning.  My staff and I had worked very hard to ensure instruction and learning during the transitions of staffing and had done everything in our power to make it work for the students. It was not perfect but as you do in situations out of your control you do the best that you can.

We had the meeting with a parent who was not happy. In the meeting from the school side was myself, my assistant principal and a teacher. From the start,the meeting quickly went downhill. I began to get agitated. We answered the questions as best we could, dodged the personal attacks and talked about the personal responsibility of the student to complete assignments. It continued down hill. My head started to hurt.

Then to my surprise the teacher who I thought knew the whole situation, started commenting and asking questions which was opposite and started to undermine the school’s position. The parent sensing division in our position pounced. The meeting tumbled further downhill.   I got even more agitated. Then as the teacher talked more it made the situation worse and started to undermine all of the work that my assistant principal had done for this class and students all semester. The parent became more aggressive. The meeting was in a death spiral of flames and smoke. I was beyond agitated but knew that I had to do something to regain control of this meeting quickly and made a decision. I cut the teacher off and told the teacher that they could leave and that they were no longer needed to finish the meeting. The teacher started to protest, and I again cut them off and said “That will be all. Thank you.”

In my mind, I needed to remove the teacher because they were unknowingly feeding into the parent’s complaints, issues and accusations. It worked. After the teacher left, the parent eventually calmed down, we regained control of the meeting and was able to finish the meeting in a somewhat positive nature.  I think we may have “agreed to disagree”. Meeting completed. Issue solved. On to the next waiting problem.

BUT I couldn’t. As I processed the day’s events at the end of my day, the meeting and exchanged bothered me. Why? because although I had won that battle (won is a loose term) … I felt I had made a mistake.

The more I thought about it, although I saved the meeting, I had made several mistakes. The first mistake was that I did not prepared my teacher for the meeting or give the teacher the needed information to be a productive part of the meeting.  This was not my teacher’s fault. The fault was mine as the leader. My assistant principal and I had talked, and we knew the whole story, background and situation. However, I let the teacher come into the meeting blind. That is never good. The leadership lesson that I learned (and still practice to this day)is that in any meeting whether contentious or not, I make sure that all parties understand the purpose of the meeting, the situation, all the available information, the school decision or position and any information needed to participate in the meeting.

The second and larger of the two mistakes was that I regained control of this meeting, but I had done so at the possible cost of embarrassing my teacher. I never want to dismiss or to make a staff member feel dismissed. This teacher was a good teacher and I considered them a good part of our positive school culture.  Anyone that has worked with me knows that I value relationships with the people I work with and serve very highly.

I could have continued with business as usual, but I felt that I made a mistake which needed correction.  The work of education is a hard job and you need good teachers, good people, to fight the fight with you.  I knew that I needed to make it right with the teacher, so the next day I called the teacher to my office.  When the teacher came into my office by their body language and expression, I could tell I had been right.  I believe the teacher was expecting me to write them up, fuss more or to chew them out.

I told the teacher that I wanted to discuss the meeting from yesterday. I told them very honestly what my intention was, but I told them also what it was not.  I continued to say that there were a thousand and one ways to save that meeting and in reflection I felt that I had chosen the wrong one and I apologized. I told the teacher that they were a valued member of our school, school culture and that I appreciated all of the work they did for children at our school. Most important I told the teacher that if anything I did made them feel undervalued, disrespected, or diminished in any way that I was sorry. Immediately, the teacher’s body language shifted, and I saw the tension leave their face and body.

Because I took the time to apologize to this member of my staff, the teacher remained a strong member of my staff and we still enjoy a good professional relationship to this day. I also learned the importance of preparing teachers and staff to enter potentially volatile meetings so they know all of the information and can better respond.

Leaders do not always get everything right or perfect.  Leaders can be wrong. When you make a mistake or error, you must be willingly to apologize when necessary. Some people see apologizing when you are in a leadership position as weak. However,I see it as the complete opposite. Your strength lies in your ability to admit when you are wrong. Apologies from the position of leadership can be powerful lessons for the leader but also powerful demonstrations for those who would follow you.

“I am sorry” can be three of the most powerful words in the leadership. Sometimes they will be accepted and sometimes they may not be accepted but that should not stop you for giving them when necessary. Remember education is a people business and you win with people. An apology can humanize you with your staff and it can repair strained or torn relationships or strengthen relationships. And apologies are not just for the adults …but that’s another blog post entirely.

Please continue to read my blog posts as I continue to reflect on how to lead past mistakes. Please “like” my post, leave comments , follow my blog, and share your stories so that I can continue to learn too.

LEADING Past My Mistakes: My 2020 Blog

Leading Past My Mistakes: New Blog Introduction

I once read a quote that said, “If you want to make everyone happy don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.” Leadership is hard.  To be a good leader and try to do things the right way is even harder.  In my educational leadership journey ,I have learned through experience this is true…very true. Along the way, I have made many, many mistakes. However, as a leader you don’t always get the option to quit when you make a mistake. A true leader must learn to lead past their mistakes.

In 2020, I will use my leadership blog to explore and reflect on some of the mistakes that I have had to learn and lead past.  These lessons came at various points of my career as a teacher leader, assistant principal and as a principal. To be better leaders, better educators we must reflect on our performance, look critically at our victories, look honestly at our mistake and grow from them all. Over my career as an educator and educator leader, I have tried to do just that and my experience (…and sometimes lack thereof) has afforded me many learning and growth opportunities.

The point of my 2020 blog is sharing so that other leaders can learn from my mistakes (no sense in repeating what you can avoid!). All names have been deleted or changed to protect the innocent… and some of my pride! The lessons I have learned have be invaluable to my leadership growth and improvement.  We have to be the best to make our schools the best and to give the best to our students. Your school’s success depends on your leadership being successful and you being an effective leader. Be encouraged because all leaders make mistakes and we get things wrong from time to time. What matters is how we deal with our mistakes, that we don’t quit and that we continue to lead past them.

 I hope that you join me on this journey in 2020, and even share in the dialogue as we all try to be better assistant principals, principals, teacher leaders and school leaders.  In 2020 our mistakes and fear of mistakes will not hinder our leadership because we will LEAD past them.

Please continue to read my blog posts as I continue to reflect on how to lead past your mistakes. Please “like” my post, leave comments , follow my blog, and share your stories so that I can continue to learn too.

“Hey Leader, What’s in your Wallet?”: What is on your Commitment card?

What is on your Commitment card?

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One wonderful summer day, I was out and about with my five year old son when he decided he was hungry. We decided on a local restaurant and settled down for a meal. As customary , we were greeted ,seated, and then greeted by our server. Our server greeted us with a smile , introduced herself , asked for our drink order and then left to fill the order. However, before she left she place a small business card on our table. I thought the card was a coupon on something to do with the menu. However, when I picked it up, my mind was blown. On the card in print were four commitments that the server was making to me, the customer.  Not only were the commitments printed but simply and clearly defined:

MY COMMITMENT TO YOU

Reliable- I am dependable and you can count on me

Responsive-I act quickly to respond to your needs

Knowledgeable- I can explain and recommend menu items

100%- Is what I will give you to ensure  your *Restaurant’s name* experience  is pleasurable

And at the end of the commitments was this phrase “ If for some reason, I did not meet my commitment to you, please let me know.”

This was different and I was impressed. Immediately I thought what if school leaders or teachers did this? How powerful it would be if as you hand out your business card to parents, students and stakeholders that they not only received your contact information but your leadership commitments and guarantees.

As an educational leader, you must be committed …accepting the position is not enough.  You must commit to the work, to the mission, to the students, the staff and the community. This is educational leadership 101. It is basic. Every leader and aspiring leader should know this.  However, as the leader, can you  and do you actually define and put into words your core commitments?

 Just as in the example above, can your commitments be summarized and clearly stated. What can teachers, students, and your community expect from you every time you step in your building. What can they expect every time they engage with you and communicate with you? What are your leadership guarantees? As a leader, you are a brand just like Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds or Chick fila. When you walk into the door of any franchise or store with a brand, you know what to expect. How do you define your leadership brand and leadership experience? What can the people who follow you or engage with you expect?

Commitments hold you accountable and to a higher standard. They are completely essential to the work that we do as leaders. They serve as part of our compass which guides our actions, decisions, and directions.  However, how often do we say them aloud or put them out in world for others to see? Is it because we are afraid that once we say them or publicize them, others may hold us accountable for them? Accountability is a part of leadership.  Holding yourself accountable and allowing others to hold you accountable can boost your leadership into the next level. It also allows you to clarify and narrow your focus because you cannot do everything but there are some things that you can do very well. As a leader you just must ask yourself, “What is most important to me and what do I want to be my brand of leadership? “

When you give someone your business card, you give them your job location, phone number and ways to reach you. Why not give them what matters the most about you?

I think I am ordering new business cards.

Reflection:

As a leader:

What are your Leadership commitments?

 What do you guarantee to those you serve?

What can people expect from you every situation, every day, & every time?

Do your leadership commitments extend to your students as well?

“Sometimes it’s not the seeds or the plants… it’s the soil.”

Leader How does your Garden Grow? Series finale

 “Sometimes it’s not the seeds or the plants… it’s the soil.” Part 5 of 5. 

Sometimes you find that despite your best efforts, your garden is not growing. You have planted good seeds. You have watered and nurtured them, but the plants are not growing.   As the leader of organization, you can find despite your efforts your organization is not growing, living up to its potential or is just stagnate. You have tried research-based practices, organizational strategies, great resources and have the best people in place but you are not seeing any growth or positive yields. Then you realize something profound. Sometimes the problem is not the seeds or the plants…the problem is the soil!

It is not what you’re are planting, it’s what you are planting them in. All dirt is not the same. All soil is not the same.   Soil can sometimes lack key nutrients that plants need to grow. This can be based on the region or the location. Moreover it can be based upon what was planted in the soil before. Certain types of plants or gardens can leave soil depleted.  Farmers rotate crops on certain lands so that it gives the soil a chance to recover. Likewise, the culture of your organization can be depleted. The culture of your organization can not be ready or can not be optimal to support or achieve growth.  The previous administration could have created a toxic work environment, or your current organization goals were too ambitious and over worked the soil and burned out the culture.  Whatever the case, as the lead gardener when you realize that the soil is depleted or not nurturing for your garden, you must fix it.  The soil is important because it nurtures your plants.  The culture provides the inspiration for your organization. It is what connects all the people in your school community.  It keeps your organization going day in and day out. It brings out the best in everyone and allows every to be their very best.

How do you fix the soil? This is an important question to answer. Dirt is dirt, right?  How do you fix the ground? A school is a school, right? The answer of course is no it is not. Every school is different, and every school culture is different.

When a gardener realizes that their soil is lacking, they find ways to nurture the soil. They add the nutrients to the soil.  They bring in fresh soil(ideas) and mix it into the depleted soil.  They are careful which plants they plant and when they plant them. Some gardeners even bring in outside help(shout out to all cooperative extension agents) to analyze their soil so that they can find exactly what it needs and what it is lacking.  Leaders in turn must look at the culture of their organization and find ways to fix and adjust it.  If you want to have a certain type of achievement or to meet certain goals, the culture is important to the seeds that you want to plant. By analyzing your soil can figure out exactly what is wrong with it and what the plants need to thrive. A master gardener will spend time learning. A leader must become a student of their organization. Perhaps morale is low in your organization. Maybe the work load is too much for members or maybe the people are willing but do not have the skills to do the work. In education, your school may not have the community support or stake holder buy in that your school needs. There could be a lack of resources in your school for your teachers and students. Maybe the soil of the school does not give or show enough gratitude and appreciation … after all it takes a lot of effort to push through dirt and mud to bloom.

Building relationships are important for the leader so that they can understand what the soil needs to nurture staff growth.  Through good relationships a better understanding of the history of the culture or your school can help you gain valuable information into why the culture is how it is and has developed.

Just like a master gardener knows that some plants are more resilient than other plants and thrive in the soil when other plants have not, a leader will know that there are staff member who have thrive when others have not. There are always teachers and staff who have remained with a school through good times, bad times, abundant times, lean times, good leadership and bad leadership. A good leader will take time to build relationships with them to listen and better understand the culture of the school …the good, the bad, and what is needed. Leadership is a people business. You win with people. You can not win without people and you cannot win consistently if you do not know your people.

Leaders need to realize that major culture shifts can take time. the leader must plant carefully and be realistically of what they plant. You don’t grow Oranges in Maine (at least not without massive effort and resources). It can take a while to build the perfect soil …sometimes through trial and error. However, you can find ways to be creative within the culture you have now …slowly making changes adding in additives here and a boost to the soil there.  Leaders can plant small ideas with big yields or easy wins that can boost confidence and morale. Leaders can sprinkle in small rewards and recognitions to boost the growth. Leaders can build relationships with their staff so they can better support them and grow a supportive culture.

Everybody can afford a little Miracle grow every now and then!

As leader:

  • Do you have good soil to nurture your planted seeds?
  • What are the needs in your organization’s culture that need to be addressed?
  • In what practical ways can you affect or address your culture to make it better for students? For teachers?  For parents?
  • What relationships do you have with people in your building? What do you know about them professionally and personally?

Read my blog posts and reflect to see “How your garden grows.” Please leave comments so that I can “grow” too.