Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Thin Line Between Passion...and Anger



"Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion." Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

I am ridiculously thankful to be working in a school district in which the teachers are passionate about not only the content they teach, but more importantly, the young people they teach. One example of our teachers' passion for their profession is the number who have continued laboring since school officially let out for the summer on June 11. Since that day, approximately 25% of our total certified staff have spent one or more days attending professional development opportunities we have hosted or working on our curriculum maps and assessments. Some teachers have worked non-stop since school "officially" dismissed for summer. Passionate teachers like those in Deerfield Public Schools District 109 make it a point to enjoy time away from school, but I have been reminded so far this summer, how many of them also dedicate a large portion of their summer "vacation" to continuing their learning in order to continuously improve their own performance and, in turn, that of the students they teach. Teachers like these are clearly passionate about the job they do and the noble profession of education in general.

The fact that I work alongside so many passionate teachers warms my heart, as I have long been one to espouse the idea of teaching and leading with passion. In fact, when I assumed my first principal position about a decade ago, I began closing all my emails with the following:

TWP,

Jeff

Eventually, one brave soul at our school inquired as to what this "TWP" was all about and I shared that it stood for, "Teach With Passion." It soon became a catchphrase our school became known for and even made its way as a recurring theme into one of my books. Today, in my current role as a district level administrator, I find myself sending fairly regular emails to building administrators. On these, I typically encourage my colleagues to "lead with passion" by signing off with:

LWP,

Jeff

You might say that teaching and leading with passion, is, well, a passion of mine. So serving as a passion-filled educator is clearly a good thing, widely recognized as a trait for which to be known. Alas, a fine line exists between "Passion" and "Anger." At times, I find myself guilty of crossing this line. Each time I do, I end up feeling a bit embarrassed. More importantly, I am disappointed, because while I agree with Hegel in the above quote that nothing truly great is ever achieved unless there are passionate people involved making it happen, I am equally aware that not much--if anything--great has been achieved with anger.

Sadly, while working with teachers this summer, I suspect I crossed this dangerous line between passion and anger. It was silly, really; in an effort to convey my strong belief that our district provide a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all students that is tightly aligned to the Common Core State Standards, I  became impatient with a few completely legitimate and honest questions--and I lost my temper. Obviously, this is not an advisable leadership characteristic and it resulted in (temporarily, I hope) damaged relationships between teachers I respect and myself. Subsequent to the incident, I met with one of the teachers involved in an effort to clear the air. She was very kind, even saying, "We know how passionate you are about this..." While this is accurate, generally speaking, during the moment in question, I was not exhibiting passion; instead, I was exhibiting anger. It was not only uncalled for, it was counterproductive to the goals of the work I was trying to lead. I can only hope that I work to repair these relationships--and not put myself in the position of having to do so in the future. 
Our very best educators are obviously passionate about what they do. First and foremost, they are passionate about the kids they teach. In addition, they are passionate about the content they teach. They are also passionate about collaborating with their colleagues and pursuing professional growth opportunities in a variety of ways. Although Robert Kiyosaki, bestselling author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad suggests that passion is both a combination of anger and love, it definitely requires a whole lot more of the latter and a whole lot less of the former. Our very best educators are also aware that passion is a close cousin to anger and act intentionally to keep their anger in check, whether interacting with students, parents, or colleagues. Note to self: passion, good; anger, not so much. Keep your passion; let go of your anger. Here's to a passion-filled summer for all!

3 Worth Reading:

1. An Interview with Robert Kiyosaki: Passion = Anger + Love




Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cycling Through Another School Year

Yikes. As one who taught high school and middle school English for years, published several books, written several blog posts, book chapters, and a dissertation, and--much more importantly-as one who simply loves reading and writing--I am embarrassed to say that it has been far too long since I have written anything of substance (beyond, of course, the thousands of 140 character Tweets I have managed to share over the past few years). Thanks to "gentle" prodding from several PLN pals (in particular, Daisy Dyer Duerr and Maria Galanis) recently, I have resolved to get back on the bicycle--or the "writing cycle"--and hereby resolve to blog regularly again, starting now, with the re-boot of my blog, Teach. Learn. Lead. Repeat., which, in itself, refers to a cycle of teaching and learning as I experience it most often. Although the cycle of effective teaching begins with a great deal of intentional planning, I have found the cycle truly kicks into high gear for many great educators by actually teaching something. Whenever great educators set out to teach someone something, they invariably leave the experience having learned something in return. After first teaching something of significance and learning something in the process, these great educators often move to leading, sharing what they have learned with one or more colleagues, who, in turn, engage in this cyclical process themselves. Educators who are passionately engaged in this noble profession called teaching then repeat this process hundreds of times during the course of any school year until this cycle of teaching and learning has played out--albeit temporarily--as we reach the last day of school.


This past week, I experienced my 32nd "last day of school" as an educator (it should be noted that I began my teaching career when I was but nine years old!). As is usually the case, I look back on the year just finished and find myself thinking, "Wow; that went by fast!" I have always enjoyed the cyclical nature of our profession: each school year we start the cycle anew with a fresh chance to make a difference in the lives of so many. Throughout the year we have many traditional  "mile markers," along the way, from holidays, to report card marking periods, to parent conferences, to winter concerts, to sports seasons, to annual testing windows, and then--before we know it--to the end of another year. During each stop along this cycle, it is important to find time to reflect on how we are doing, while at the same time looking ahead to see what awaits as our most important next steps. At this time of year, it behooves us, of course, to look ahead to next school year to make sure the cycle of teaching and learning is even better--not only for our kids, but also for us, as educators--than the one suddenly, but quickly, beginning to fade in our rear view mirror. 

In our school district, we are extremely fortunate to have scores of teachers and administrators who are willing to devote a portion of their summer to growing professionally--both by attending district wide professional learning events we have scheduled and by agreeing to meet in content area and grade level PLCs to revise our curriculum maps and common assessments. As but one small example, our final day of student attendance was last Tuesday; the next three days, all twelve of our middle school science teachers and two instructional coaches met off-contract for full-day planning sessions in preparation for teaching to the Next Generation Science Standards in the future. The remainder of summer in our district is equally action-packed; although we all must find balance between our personal and professional lives and we all must step away from our jobs completely at times in order to refresh, I am proud to serve in a district where so many are willing to do so much above and beyond what is merely required. In speaking with PLN colleagues around the world who I respect greatly, I find that this passion for teaching and learning is not limited to our own district, but is, instead, widespread. Our very best teachers and leaders never stop learning and are always finding ways to improve from one year to the next.

Whether you are concluding your 32nd school year like me, or your very first year, or somewhere in between, I hope you will find time between now and the start of the next school year cycle to engage in these three actions:

1. Read. Hopefully, you will read early and often this summer, including all types of literature. I also hope that your reading includes at least one full-length professional book on a topic you are hoping to learn more about. In our district, we offered to buy one book for every teacher in the district who was interested in learning more about educational topics on which we are focused. They could choose among: Fair Isn't Always Equal by Rick Wormeli, A Repair Kit for Grading by Ken O'Connor, or The Leader In Me by Stephen Covey. I am thrilled that so many teachers took us up on this offer and look forward to learning their insights upon their return!

2. Reflect. In addition to reading, I encourage all educators to reflect on the year just concluded. Find some private time to intentionally consider what occurred in your classroom, your school, or your district office. What is one thing that went really well that you want to continue doing? What is one thing that you did not do but have learned about that you want to start doing? What is one thing you are currently doing that is no longer working or is no longer relevant that you may want to stop doing? Reflect on what you need to continue, start, and stop doing.

3. Relax. Although I encourage all educators to keep learning and growing year-round--including throughout the summer--there is no better time than right now to slow down, rest, and engage in an enjoyable activity completely removed from work. You have earned it. We are in a rewarding, yet very demanding, profession. We must take time to find fun in other areas outside of work.

If you are an educator reading this blog, thank you for your efforts this school year, for making a difference in the lives of students and colleagues with whom you interacted. Thank you for teaching, learning, and leading--and for your willingness to repeat the cycle again next year!

3 Worth Reading:

1. The Goal Should Be: Not To Finish by Drew Frank