YOU GOT TO TELL YOUR STORY

“A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

“You know a real friend?
Someone you know will look after your cat after you are gone.”
William S. Burroughs, Last Words: The Final Journals

I started running again a couple weeks ago, after quitting for two years. My wife Priscilla is one of those people who love running and unfortunately can’t do it anymore. Myself, I’ve never liked it all that much but recognize the physical and mental benefits it brings. It’s long been my belief that the biggest gift AA ever gave me was that it taught me that sometimes there is a benefit to doing things I don’t like to do. Not everything in life is “fun” or ‘entertaining”.

My favorite route is one that runs down Nolensville Road and cuts over to the greenway and comes back through Lennox Village. I run down Nolensville Rd for a very specific purpose. That reason being the thought someone I know may see me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to call attention to my self because I’m searching for validation but rather the opposite. By running in public view I am keeping myself accountable. Trust me, it’s much easier to stop and walk on the side streets than it is on the main drag. Knowing that someone may see me half-assing it pushes me harder.

If someone should see me, it also serves as evidence that I am not just talking about the joys and benefits of running, but I am also actively engaged in their pursuit. It may not always look pretty – trust me, there are no Nike commercials featuring the fat shirtless guy running down Nolensville Rd – but it serves as evidence that I attach real value to exercise and am willing to put the work in at any cost to reap its benefits. It’s part of telling my story.

It was back in 2000 when I committed to being sober. Despite my sobriety choice, I continued to work as a bartender on Elliston place, a part of town then known as the Rock Block. My reasoning was twofold. First at foremost was the need to pay the bills. Everybody loves you when you first get sober until you miss that first rent check. Than reality shows up.

The second reason was that the Rock Block was made up of people and places that I was extremely familiar with. I figured that these were my people and that after a decade my story was well written and so I could focus on the challenges in front of me. The block had given me a place to drink in relative anonymity, surely the same courtesy would be extended in my pursuit of sobriety. What happened instead was a stark lesson in how our story gets written despite our best intentions.

What no one knew was while in rehab I was diagnosed with diabetes, Since I was uninsured that diabetes went unchecked. The result was that my weight dropped from 200 lbs to 125 lbs before I finally was able to secure TennCare. Nobody knew about my diabetes, so they created their own story about my weight loss.

In the stories that flew, and were treated with veracity, I was full of shit about my sobriety and was actually using junk. Apparently – if local scuttlebutt could be believed – I had traded cocaine and whiskey in for heroin. Why else would I still be working on Elliston? Look at all the weight I’d lost and how gaunt I was? You know he was always full of shit and this just proves it, was a popular narrative at the time.

It didn’t matter that I spent most days scared to death that I wouldn’t be able to maintain my sobriety, the popular, and oft-repeated story, was that I thought I was better than others and I was nothing but a hypocrite. Nobody told these stories to me. They would sit across from me and tell me how proud they were of me, and then go across the street and talk about how thin I was and how often I went to the bathroom.

The only reason I know these stories is because after I started receiving treatment for my diabetes, I quickly put the 50 lbs of weight back on. With the added weight the junky story didn’t hold up. Some of my better friends would laugh and tell me the hurtful things that had been said over the past several months. Hurtful things that took root because I had allowed others to tell my story.

The number one message I would give to aspiring leaders and organizations is that if you are not telling your story constantly, somebody else is. If you fail to give people a clear and substantive narrative, they will provide their own and it’ll seldom be beneficial to you. It is not enough to just do the work and hope people will discover it’s value. It’s essential to continually communicate what you are doing and why. As well as what the role of others will be.

MNPS and its leadership find themselves in a similar position these days. Most of the leadership team has been employed by the district for over a decade. As such it would be easy for them to fall into the trap of thinking their stories have already been written and are well known. That’s a dangerous assumption to make and one that will set them up for failure. Our stories are constantly evolving.

Previous Director of Schools Dr. Joseph never understood the power of our narrative and that a major component of leadership is clearing obstacles. You may have the best plans, intentions, and strategies but if the path between those and your partners in execution is littered with debris, it becomes impossible to actually execute those intentions. I don’t have data to back it up, but I’m comfortable saying communication is among the leading causes of leadership failure.

Debris falls into 2 categories. Natural and self-created. Everybody comes to the table with different life experiences and therefore different ways of interpreting things, that’s your natural debris.

Successful leaders find ways to traverse those differences and create unifying messages that result in shared goals. Clearing natural debris requires constant self-evaluation, constant listening, a constant review of progress. And it means continually telling your story, therefore re-enforcing the goals you are asking others to join you in pursuit of. It sounds simple, but is anything but.

Then there is the debris that is self-inflicted. Those are the obstacles that are created by our own actions, intentional or unintentional. Playing music that resonates with a specific part of your audience creates self-inflicted debris. Making jokes of questionable content is another. Failing to acknowledge mistakes also contributes. In the end, Dr. Joseph built up so much debris that very little of his message was coming through.

But, he’s not the only one creating debris. Not getting information to principals about leadership structure and responsibilities in a timely manner is an example of self-inflicted debris. Not communicating the leadership status at Strattford HS in a timely manner is another example. Not continually communicating a consistent story about how leadership roles are being filled, is another. Having a process and repeatedly pledging your adherence to said policy is not sufficient if those impacted by the policies are not deeply familiar with them and cannot see ample evidence of policy adherence.

While Dr. Joseph’s departure cleared much of the debris, if new leadership is not careful, the debris will once again build up to a deliberating level.

Leaders can moan and groan about false messages, gossip, rumor, and inaccuracies in the public narrative, but to do so is to deny human nature and to put your success in other peoples hands. Leaders have to ask themselves with rigorous honesty, what am I doing to contribute to the spread of the aforementioned. Am I offering a substantive narrative that counters the negativity that is taking root? Or am I just assuming people will follow based on who I think I am?

It’s a personal favorite of mine when leaders send out missives to staff admonishing the trafficking in gossip. It’s a strategy not exclusive to education and probably serves as a harbinger to mishandling of policy. Name me one time in the history of gossip that telling people not to gossip has resulted in people not gossiping. You know what limits gossip? Transparency and giving a substantive narrative they can believe in.

Transparency is another one of those words, like equity, that we love to cite more than we like to adhere to. Being transparent is not something that happens on a convenient schedule and it’s not just telling the good news. But when fully adhered to it’s like spraying DDT on a field. Rumors are like weeds in that they thrive in fertile fields. Lack of transparency provides that fertilizer.

My current job is that of a special event bartender. Every time I go into a place I am cognizant of telling my story, both through my words and my actions.

My story is that I am reliable. I show up early. I don’t just do what’s expected and I willingly help in any manner you ask. I am knowledgable and experienced. I am respectful to people. No matter how many times I go into a place I never take my story for granted.

Reinforcing my story means that when things do go wrong – as they are bound to do – my clients approach me in a positive manner instead of a negative. It allows me to quickly resolve issues because I’ve earned trust and therefore I don’t have to spend time convincing people of the validity of my solutions or strategies.

Those who’ve known me for years are familiar with my commitment to transparency. When the Tennessean ran their hit piece last year, dredging up past transgressions, it was ineffective because those stories were well known to most.

The same will hold true with MNPS if they commit to truly operating in a transparent manner and tell their story before others tell it for them. Something we are not currently doing enough of. Continually failing to tell our story will not end well.

Leaders will often argue that they don’t have time to create a narrative, they are too busy doing the “work”. Don’t make that mistake. Creating the “narrative” is part of doing the “work”. The truly successful people understand the symbiotic nature between the two. The narrative allows for the work to be done which in turn, provides a better narrative to be written. In order for MNPS to truly reach the heights it is capable of, its narrative needs to be written and continually shared.

CHARTER SCHOOL THOUGHTS

We are far enough along in the charter school argument that some truths have emerged. Truths that some continue to deny in much the way flat earthers refused to admit that the world is round.

One of those truths is that we as a society can not adequately continually fund two separate school systems. As much as we like to wave placards that say, “Fully Fund Schools”, what that means is anybody’s guess and open to interpretation. The reality is that there is a limited amount of funding that can be dedicated to education. Just like the watermelon at your 4th of July picnic, the more you divide it the smaller and less fulfilling the slices get.

At this point charter schools are as much a part of the status quo as traditional schools. So I propose this question to you, if charter schools were the more entrenched system would you advocate for traditional schools as an alternative?

The argument can be made for successful schools in both systems and it can be made against failures in both systems. Much of the success of both is dependent on the socio-status of the families of those who attend. Even within successful schools under both umbrellas, there are children who thrive and those who don’t. Are we able to predict which schools are best for which children? If not, why are we encouraging others to take risks whose consequences only they will absorb?

We talk about “parental choice” like it was the third tablet Moses brought down from the mountain, yet every year thousands of parent refuse to vaccinate their children. A choice that is not only detrimental to their child’s health but puts others at risk as well. Are you willing to argue that those same parents who put other families at risk are equipped to evaluate educational options for their children?

At some point, we have to either recognize the financial damage we are doing to our schools by trying to fund two separate systems or we have to completely change the way all schools in Nashville are funded. If we are going to keep current funding policies in place, then we need to focus on building a better ship for all instead have of commissioning more lifeboats, many of which are hastily and ill-constructed.

We also have to recognize that parents shouldn’t bear the burden of their choice alone. Accountability shouldn’t lie solely on the backs of families. I’ve always said parents aren’t demanding more choice, they are demanding more quality. Funding two separate systems may honor the former but it doesn’t supply the latter.

QUICK HITS

The Tennessean has a new interview with Mayor Briley out today. It’s an interesting piece that paints Briley as a noble but misunderstood public servant. All of Briley’s missteps are conveniently covered in a single paragraph towards the end of the piece with their impact downplayed, “The mayor’s office has struggled to communicate its position and priorities: The removal of  — then replanting of — cherry blossom trees. Mixed messages on a private parking deal. A scooter ban — wait, a “temporary” ban.” 

My favorite passage is earlier in the article and attempts Briley as a down-home fellow. An effort that instead proves to be cringe-worthy.

“But just a few blocks away, the conversation with two men sitting on camp chairs is different. 

“Who are you,” they ask. “He’s the mayor,” replies a canvassing organizer. 

“You’re Beverly’s grandkid?” 

Friends pull up to the scene. One flips over a bucket and another stacks two cement blocks to use as chairs. One makes a call and exclaims, “I’m talking with the mayor!”

The men drink malt liquor out of brown bags as they talk about old Nashville and his grandfather. They’re a part of a dwindling number of residents who can recall both. “

Read the whole thing and form your own opinion.

In the same edition of the Tennessean, State Representative Brenda Gilmore is calling for us all to get behind interim director Dr. Battle. Ok…not sure what the impetus there is…but…ok.

One of my favorite rabble-rousers, Tequila Johnson, also has an op-ed in the Tennessean today and damn if the woman doesn’t make a lot of sense. She proposes that instead of banning scooters we should explore ways that they can benefit our city, especially out less served communities, through increased transportation opportunities and improvements to infrastructure.
We can make the scooter companies pay for these improvements, as part of their permit fees. That’s just the cost of doing business, and it’s a cost they should be happy to pay. Their users will be safer, and more likely to take more scooter trips. Build more infrastructure, grow your customer base. Sounds like a win-win to me.
A few years ago I worked after school care at McMurray Middle School. It was there that I met Carlos Calderon, one of the best teachers I have ever had the privilege to observe. I can’t even begin to describe the level of passion, depth of knowledge, and professionalism that Calderon brings to a school and it’s students. He’s now at Oliver MS and was recently awarded the Urban Green Lab Sustainable Teacher Award for Curriculum Integration. Well done and well earned.
Big congratulatory shout out to the McGavock High ⁦School Counseling team for being recognized as an ASCA National Model Program Award. This is an incredible honor and a very difficult recognition to earn.
Congratulations are also in order for McGavock High School teacher Susan Norwood. At this years NEA convention she managed to get an NBI passed on teacher pay. Quite the accomplishment for a first-time delegate. Let’s see what happens next.
Tennesse was well represented at the convention.  Delegates were also afforded an opportunity to talk with current presidential candidates.
Earlier I mentioned parents refusing to vaccinate their children. The Atlantic has a piece that shows how much those choices actually say about us as a society. It’s a very worthwhile read and sounds some warnings that we ignore at our own risk.
POLL RESULTS
Per usual, Monday is when we take a look at the weekends poll results. I think you’ll find this weekends particularly insightful.
The first question asks for your feedback on the Mayor’s move to raise teacher pay. The aforementioned Tennessean interview with Mayor Briley dismisses criticism of the move as purely politically motivated. I’d argue that poll results paint a different picture. 47% of you saw his move as nothing but a political ploy, a conclusion arrived at sans his opponents’ criticism. 24% of you responded that they’ll believe the raise is real when it shows up in their bank account.  Here are the write-in votes,
Sign of a politician desperately trying to hold on. He’s cooked. 1
Where’s my step raise? 1
Happy, but he’s buying votes 1
All of these options 1
right thing to do // but as part of an election? 1
We will not get a raise… 1
It’s only a political play and will probably disappear! 1
Extremely disappointed in a person I once respected 1
Hate that FOP and firefighters acting deprived. They got steps +better benefits! 1
It’s a political ploy and I desperately want a step raise.
Question 2 asked you who would you vote for if you could only vote for one At-Large Council Member. Bob Mendes was the easy winner, garnering 35% of the votes. A bit surprising to me was who came in second. It was Steve Glover with 20% of the vote. This race may be a lot more interesting than I anticipated. Here are the write-in votes,
None 1
If Howard joins wins he cannot be Stratford’s principal 1
Gicola Lane

Question three asked for your thoughts on the Inquiry Cycle. 46% of you were of the opinion that this was something good teachers already did. 24% of you were unsure what all the fuss was about. Most telling were the write-in votes on this one.

Gallman won’t be supervising principals. She’s an Ex. Officer and a pay raise!! 1
Flavor of the Month. Something that will be used until the next new thing. 1
IB Schools have done it for years while MNPS pulled funding for IB 1
Isn’t it just plain common sense all dressed up? 1
Let’s teach… 1
You hit it – fancy package for good instructional practices 1
Time, paper, and ink wasted on the obvious. 1
Quit wasting money at bransford. Cut the fat!!!! 1
More BS to take away from classroom 1

That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive. If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight, send it on and I’ll do the best I can. Send things to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support, and if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out.

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3 thoughts

  1. Another alternative to “fund one system or the other” is of course to slice the district into ?3? geographic sections. One could lasso all the charter schools into one contiguous system, rather like New Orleans, where families prefer high turnover faculty, young teachers, more testing, more computer screen time etc. Hillwood/Hillsboro/Overton could be lassoed into a more traditional traditional affluent public school system, rather like Williamson County, where families bring high expectations for achievement, support career teachers, 95% go to college, exempt from state mandates for “bottom X%”, etc. More affluent Northeast and East Nashville suburbs would make a 3rd sub-district. While this would not improve overall scores, it would certainly make a lot of people happy, which the charter school proponents say should be the basis for all educational decisions. And, it would satisfy all those Republican voices who claim our district is just too large as put together presently.

    Most importantly, this slicing would end the charter school war with a “OK, we surrender. We (like Williamson County) will pass on charter schools in our neighborhoods. But, You now are welcome to open all the charter schools you can pay for. Goodbye”. Peace might indeed be so much better than our current endless war…. Because right now, charter schools are doing NOTHING to improve performance of this district, other than make a few parents a little happier. But, if MNPS really wanted that primarily, they’d open more segregated magnet schools.

  2. This is where the discussion goes to having a County and a City Board and returning to a two tier system of Government with each their own Board, Council and head of County. Not.going.to.happen But as it sees fit your district is set to fail and with it Memphis schools as well. It is like transit the reality is that anything that serves the poor aka the other colors on the scale will find themselves with less and less and maybe they will leave. An entire City/State Gentrification if you will. Nashville wants the rich, the white and the educated. The word desperation and aspiration all coincide with this current state of Governance.

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