"Southwest Airlines is now boarding passengers B31-60 from Chicago Midway to Houston Hobby" crackled over the speakers in the terminal. I walked down the tunnel behind the ninety people before me, suitcase behind me, stepped into the plane and made the right turn. The realization then hit me that my choices were going to be very limited. I moved down the long walkway looking (and possibly praying) for a not-middle-seat. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t pass up those middle seats. We know this isn’t what you want to hear but that’s all that’s left.” Wonderful.
On to plan B: find a middle seat between two (preferably smaller) people. Totally doable. So, I find my seat, stow my suitcase into the overhead bin and shove my backpack into the storage under the seat. You know, the one that's not really big enough to store anything? In my seat, I strap my seat belt around my waste. As we move slowly towards the runway, the pilot announces that we have been cleared for take-off. The force of the engines smashing me back into my seat and my stomach swaps places with my small intestines as we begin to ascend. Within a few minutes, the pilot announces, barely loud enough to hear over the roar of the engines, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached 10,000 feet. You may now use your..." and the horror begins. “Waaaaaaaaaahhhh!” I think to myself sarcastically, “Great! I love crying babies. Especially when they’re sitting close to me on planes.” As she continued to cry, and people around her became more and more visibly annoyed (possibly including me) I had to remind myself, “Brent, you’re a daddy too and you’ve been there. You know, with the eyes glaring at you. Every eye within earshot of your baby.” That would be umm, all of the eyes on the plane because well, you’re on a plane. And YOUR baby is screaming.
I began to think about what I could do to take her focus off of whatever it was that had her worked up. What could I do to help her calm down? As I sat across the aisle from her, those big, tear-filled brown eyes made contact with mine. So, what did I do? I waved. Lame. She continued to cry and the tears continued to flow. Strike one.
She looked to her daddy and back to me, continuing to wail. This time I waved and added a big smile. Still lame. Tears like a waterfall. Strike two.
I went back to eating my delectable pre-made airport sandwich and Fritos searching for option three. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her looking back at me again so what did I do? I looked over and put both hands over my eyes. When I slowly opened them up, I saw a big, toothy grin. Grand slam! She giggled and looked at her daddy, back to me and back at her daddy. He glanced over and saw what had made her big alligator tears stop flowing and a smile flash across her face. In an instant, the panic drained and a grin of relief came across his face. Without even opening his mouth, he said "thank you."
Why do I tell you this story? Because it reminds me of our classrooms. And, no, not because we have crying babies. Ok, maybe some of us do at times, but that's not my point. Could I have quit when my first and second attempt didn’t work to help calm her? Sure, but why? Because people nearby might think I look like an idiot playing peek-a-boo with a baby I don’t even know? Because of the frustration of failure? Seeing her sitting in daddy’s lap, giggling and playing with his hat was worth looking like a fool and the failed attempts. Sometimes, as educators, we get frustrated or feel foolish when the attempts we make fail to meet the individual needs of our students. Do we quit? No. We make adjustments and try again. And again. And again…until we find the right fit. Because every failure we experience is worth it for that light bulb moment.
I refuse to quit trying when it gets difficult. Hopefully you will too. Keep pressing on and find your “peek-a-boo" because #KidsDeserveIt.
This piece was originally written for LeadUpNow.com and can also be found here.
As of the publish date of this post, I have been alive for 13,738 days. Of that time, 219 days have been spent as a junior high Assistant Principal. That's only 1.6% of my life. However, as I reflect back on that short amount of time, I think there are some small, yet precious gold nuggets that we can all mine out. Here are a few of them:
219 days of listening:
If you want to be a great leader, be a great listener.
I have struggled much of my adult life (and probably childhood too) with the skill of being an intentional, active listener. Over the past several years, as I became more acutely aware of this flaw in myself, I have worked hard to refine this skill. Being an adept listener is likely at the top of every strong leader’s list. If this is an area of struggle for you, like it has been for me, may I suggest a few tips that I have picked up along the way?
As my favorite leadership guru, John Maxwell, puts it, “There is no quicker way to earn respect as a leader than being slow to speak. It’s called listening…”
219 days of asking questions:
Ask questions. Even the ones you think may be dumb. It is ok to not know what to do. We simply can’t stay “not knowing what to do.” Find another admin on your campus and ask questions. If you are not comfortable asking anyone on your campus, use your professional PLN on Twitter (then find someone on your campus who you can be comfortable asking). We all need to surround ourselves with people who are smarter than we are (see: next point).
219 days of smarter people:
This one’s fairly easy. Spend time around people who are smarter than you and revisit my first point. If you’re not connected to a PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter, here are some awesome “eduleaders” whom I have a great deal of respect for:
219 days of daily GOOD convos with students:
Because of the nature of the Assistant Principal role, there can be a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to building positive, healthy relationships with students. I’ve worked diligently this year to have more encouraging convos than corrective convos with my students. No one likes to feel constantly beaten down by talk of what they could be doing better. The building up has to happen too and it MUST outweigh the not-so-fun stuff. Eat lunch with various groups of students. Visit them in their classrooms. Call them to your office and make a parent phone call...for a GOOD reason. If we want our corrective convos to hold any restorative weight at all, we must build a healthy bond through the positive ones first.
219 days of growing in empathy:
Get to know your students and staff. Ask questions about them that don’t pertain to school/work. Learn what makes them feel valued and act on what you are able to. Don’t be overbearing but dig into their world. Let them know you care. Celebrate the good. Jump in the trenches with them things get tough. Hurt with them when there’s sorrow.
A lifestyle of keeping my focus on something greater than myself:
I live my life as a husband, daddy, and educator for more than just mere satisfaction, pats on the back, and the huge paycheck (riiiiight). I view these three areas as callings placed on my life and will never be my best if I’m not leaning on someone greater than myself. MY strength, endurance, and willpower only take me so far. My eyes must remain on Jesus at all times and all costs. If I lose sight of this, everything I do becomes mechanical and unemotional with no real reason to keep going. So, I’ll keep my focus where it is, keep pressing on, continue growing, and give the glory to the One to whom it belongs.
In the hands of great artists, pencils can create amazing artwork but periodically they need to be sharpened. Can a dull pencil can still be used? Of course. But is it as effective as it could be for as long as it should be? No, it's not.
You see, when a pencil is sharpened, it is taken to a blade of some sort that shaves off the pieces that are no longer needed in order to make it a more effective tool. This simple analogy is why I've chosen my #OneWord2017 to be "sharpened." I need to be sharpened. I am in need of constant growth and improvement. I need God to remove from me the parts of me that are making me less effective in all aspects of life (inside and ourside of my home) and make me a more effective tool for His purposes as The Artist.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NASB
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.