APPRECIATE YOU

“That is the way it is with a wound. The wound begins to close in on itself, to protect what is hurting so much. And once it is closed, you no longer see what is underneath, what started the pain.”
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

“At forty-five, I feel grateful almost daily to be the adult I wished I could be when I was seventeen. I work on my arm strength at the gym; I’ve become pretty good with tools. At the same time, almost daily, I lose battles with the seventeen-year-old who’s still inside me. I eat half a box of Oreos for lunch, I binge on TV, I make sweeping moral judgments. I run around in torn jeans, I drink martinis on a Tuesday night, I stare at beer-commercial cleavage. I define as uncool any group to which I can’t belong. I feel the urge to key Range Rovers and slash their tires; I pretend I’m never going to die.

You never stop waiting for the real story to start, because the only real story, in the end, is that you die.”
Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History

 

Two weeks ago I began watching HBO’s 24/7 Special focusing on 4 college football teams – Florida, Penn State, Arizona State, and Washington. As an alumnus, the Penn State episode particularly excited me. There was a period of time in my 20’s and early thirties when my life was a mystery to my father and the only subject we could have a civil conversation about was Penn State Football. Now that he’s gone, I really miss those conversations, but a deep emotional connection still exists to the program and I enjoy passing on the traditions to my son.

Penn State’s troubles since the early 2000s have been well documented. A program that was once referred to as the “Grand Experiment” – for its equal focus on winning and academics – was not so long ago, close to being discontinued. The team’s motto, Success with Honor, wasn’t ringing quite as true as it once had. A decade ago, the Penn States Football program was struggling both on and off the field, struggling to reestablish their identity.

It was with great excitement that I greeted the news in 2014 that James Franklin was taking over the Penn State Football team. The folks at Vanderbilt weren’t quite as excited, because he’d brought them a modicum of success over the tenure of his time there. In my eyes, having been born in Pennsylvania but not attending Penn State made Franklin the perfect blend of “respect for the brand” but not overawed, for the job.

I was right in my assessment. Since the 2014 season, he’s amassed 51 wins to only 21 losses. This year the team is 6 -0. Good numbers by any measure.

As I watched the HBO special, I was struck by what a salesman Franklin is. He utilizes every minute, every interaction, as an opportunity to sell the program and his vision for it. For example, on Monday nights everyone eats together in the cafeteria with their families and Franklin is shown circling the room and greeting those individuals. One coach remarks on camera about the fact that Franklin knows the members of his family and is versed in their lives. He goes on to cite this as a major benefit to coaching at PSU.

Throughout the show, Franklin is shown interacting with assistant coaches, players, university officials, and the community. Every individual he interacts with receives a verbal confirmation of appreciation. Some may find it hokey, but looking at Penn State’s culture and success rate, I would argue that it is successful.

So often you hear people decry the need for politics in execution. They’ll haughtily declare, “I don’t have time for politics, I’m focused on the work.” What they don’t understand is that politics is the work.

Success id based on relationships. You can understand pedagogy better than anyone, be the smartest person in the room if you can’t build relationships, you’ll always have limited success. Selling the vision leads to buy-in which leads to stronger relationships, which leads to wider success.

When HBO showed assistant coaches in meetings with different groups of players, the tenor remained the same as if Franklin were present. It was obvious that through his actions, not just words, Franklin had conveyed clear expectations and from there built a positive culture. One that was conducive to success.

I know that a Football team, even one at a major university, isn’t necessarily comparable to a school district of 87000 kids, but I do believe that the culture that Franklin creates is scalable. But it takes a commitment from everybody.

There is a common argument that success can’t be a top-down endeavor, that it has to be built up from the bottom. I disagree. Like it or not, leaders model expectations and behavior. Look at Dr. Joseph’s tenure as Superintendent.

He and his leadership team were notorious for either canceling meetings at the last minute, being late, or not showing up prepared. Now, look at administrators who worked for Joseph and are still working in MNPS and think about how much that behavior is still replicated. How many meetings still get canceled at the last minute? How many meetings do people still show up for unprepared?

It’s because for three years an unspoken message was sent that canceling, showing up late, or being unprepared was acceptable. Joseph’s team couldn’t have been more effective at establishing a protocol if they would have sent out an email establishing such behavior as policy. People look to leadership to see what behavior is rewarded, and what is disregarded, and model there own behavior in that light.

I know, I can hear the chorus now, “I conduct myself to my own personal standards, no matter what leadership does. How dare you think I would compromise my personal standards because a leader conducts himself in a lesser manner. I’m my own person.”

Bullshit. Sorry if that offends, but again bullshit.

It’s a lesson we teach our kids. Associate with people who act in a manner you want to emulate. Hang out with people with bad habits and you’ll develop bad habits. Why should adults be any different? It happens, unfortunately without us being aware.

We all work hard. We are all tired. We all don’t have enough time. A dozen times a day personal decisions are made on what to emphasize and what to let slide based on what’s recognized by leadership and what’s not. Why would the expectation be that people would do the extra work when it is repeatedly unrecognized and unrewarded? That’s foolish and unrealistic.

Culture can not be built from the bottom, or even the middle. It’s built from the top and infused downward. Unless top leadership establishes those tent poles that hold up a positive culture, you just have pockets of success. Those pockets will eventually wither and die because of a lack of support. The leaders in those pockets will grow frustrated and leave. I can cite countless examples from the last several years as evidence of that statement.

Luckily, MNPS has no shortage of examples at the school level who practices could be incorporated and scaled to build a district culture conducive to success. I know these leaders are going to hate me pointing them out, but I have to do it anyway.

Look at what Mathew Portell has created at Fall-Hamilton. Look at what Russell Young has done at West End Middle. Sue Kessler at Hunters Lane. Kevin Armstrong at Dupont-Hadley. Gary Hughes at JT Moore. Robin Wall at McGavock. Barbara Frazier at Gower. Christie Conyers Lewis at Lockland Design. Kellee Akers at Rosebank. Melinda Williams at Percy Priest. Kelly Hargis at Hume-Fogg. Those are just a few names off the top of my head.

Let me tell you a story here. About 4 years ago I was sitting at a board meeting where they are introducing all the new principals hired by MNPS and giving them a chance to speak. Nate Miley was announced as the new principal at Crieve Hall and he spoke of his plans to spend a year just listening. I chuckled to myself and thought, “Good idea because whether you want to or not, that community is going to make you listen,”

The funny thing is, he did exactly what he said he was going to do. He listened and he built a culture to be proud of.

I’m always loathed to highlight individuals because invariably it brings out the critics. None of the principals I cited are perfect, nor would any claim to be. There are legitimate complaints with all of them. My point is that these are individuals doing extraordinary work in which you could root a district culture. But when was the last time anytime anybody walked up to any of them, sans an agenda and said, “I see you and I appreciate you.” Nothing else, just, “I see you and I appreciate you.”

The same goes for teachers. As parents, we show up at their classroom when Johnny misbehaves or Judy gets bad grades, but do we ever send an email or stop in the car line and say, “I see you and I appreciate you.” That simple.

Teacher compensation has dominated the conversation of late, and rightly so. It is extremely important. But at this point just giving teachers, a raise isn’t going to be sufficient. MNPS needs a culture overall and the only people who can begin that are Dr. Battle and her team. But that’s going to take a concentrated effort of saying to people, “I see you and I appreciate you.” It’s going to take setting high standards and everyday self-evaluating whether we are upholding standards aspired to.

SCHOOL BOARD UPDATE 

Last week at the Metro Council meeting the four candidates to fill the vacant District 7 seat were introduced. Each only had about 8 minutes to address the council and in that light, all did well.

Not surprisingly SIEU and the Central Labor Organization have both endorsed Freda Player. Their justification is that they will always support a member and Player is an SIEU member. Questions have been raised over whether Player was the most qualified candidate for the position. The union didn’t meet with any of the other candidates, The choice was defended by noting that they were a private organization and as such, their first and foremost commitment was to their members.

I was under the impression that Player had left her position in the mayor’s office after Mayor Briley failed to secure re-election. That is not the case, as she still works as an advisor. In this position, she has greater access to metro council members than any of the other candidates. Recently new members attended an orientation session while Player was at work. I’m unsure of how much she interacted with those new members, but the opportunity was certainly there.

So much of this process doesn’t appear to rise to the bar of equity.

School Board Chair Anna Shepherd has written a letter of support for candidate Kevin Stacey. For those keeping score at home, that’s an endorsement from both the chair and vice-chair of MNPS’s School Board, as Amy Frogge has also voiced support for Stacey.

Councilman Dave Rosenberg, chair of the Council’s Rules, Confirmation and Public Elections Committee, sums it up best, “We are doing a four-month school board campaign in … minutes.”

SHORTCUTS

Executive Director Craig Hammond has been doing a little blogging of late. Those that have worked with Hammond know him to be a wealth of knowledge. Make sure you check him out at Engagement and Empowerment For School Leaders. (I know, not a great title, but you’ll enjoy his writing)

So if you are an MNPS teacher, odds are, you are wondering where your BEP money is. For those of you not familiar, teachers are given a couple hundred dollars each year to prepare their rooms. They usually spend out of pocket and are reimbursed by the end of August. Well, not so fast this year. I’m just going to leave HR’s statement here with a reminder of what I said earlier about culture.

Croft Middle School’s Beta Club is collecting socks for Socktober. If you have any questions, contact Brandy Stamper Kuhlman or Tammy Abernathy Bowers! Their Beta Club would really appreciate your donations!!!

Congratulations to MNPS’s hard-working and deserving staff for accolades and recognition of their dedication to students. Ruby Major Elementary was named Best Elementary School in the Nashville Scene’s Best of Readers’ Poll. Plus, Mandy Mann, who teaches at Ruby Major was named Best Teacher and Sara Hoyal, who teaches at Hunters Lane High School was named a runner-up. Well done. Once again, I won nothing.

Congratulations to former MNPS HR guru Scott Lindsey. Scott has taken the interim Chief of Staff position with Maury County Schools. He’s joining former Maplewood HS dynamic duo, Ryan Jackson and Ron Woodard. Both of whom are knocking it out of the park out in the country.

Voucher proponents continue to try and remove as many checks and balances as possible for schools that participate in the program. Previously they’ve voiced concern about TNReady testing and now it’s background checks. Apparently, they are afraid that the law, as it is written now, will make them have to do more than they want to.

Per ChalkbeatTN, “While all school employees should certainly undergo some form of background check to ensure a safe learning environment for students, the proposed rule would force schools to increase expenditures and make budgetary reductions to other critical facets of school management and instruction,” states a letter to the board from Justin Owen and Ron Shultis, leaders of the Beacon Center and its advocacy arm known as Beacon Impact.” What could possibly go wrong?

There seems to be some question as to whether it was actually ICE agents who visited a Nashville school or not last month. ICE says it wasn’t them and MNPS can’t go to the videotape because…they don’t save it for over a month. This is pretty concerning because MNPS has to have facts wired tight on a subject like this. There can be no margin for error. Perhaps we should also find a way to keep videotape for more than a month as well.

That’s a wrap for today. You’ll want to be here next week as we’ll be running the Dad Gone Wild interview with Chief Instruction Officer David Williams.

Furthermore, there are a lot of rumors floating around about changes at the central office. We’ll try and sort through them this weekend and catch you up on Monday.

Don’t forget to weigh in on this week’s poll questions.

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 and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is also welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity.

You can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

 

 

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