I do a lot of reflecting on and writing about being on a journey. My journey has had ups and downs. It’s had victories and defeats; successes and failures; and everything in between.
I am on a journey to be ELITE. My staff is on a journey to be ELITE; but there is no destination. Instead, as Tim Kight explains,
“We must be better today than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we were today.”
These words have power. These are words to live by.
Every step matters
As I continue to reflect on my journey and help my staff do the same; it’s important that we are aware of our current location on the journey. We must recognize and understand our strengths and weakness with clarity and then look ahead to what’s next. In order to get to the next level we must continue on our journey, but we must do so one step at a time.
Every step along the way matters. Each step is a chance to be “better today” and then “better tomorrow”. As we focus on each step along the path of our journey we can carefully and thoughtfully move forward. We don’t need to know what is ten, twenty, or thirty steps ahead on the path. But instead, we must focus on our current step and our next step. Then, slowly, step by step we will become better. We will continue to move closer to ELITE.
If we misstep, and we will, we will take another step. In fact, these missteps mean we have gotten to the EDGE of our current capability and pushing through is what makes us ELITE. If we’re not making mistakes we’re not at the EDGE. If we’re not at the EDGE, we’re not ELITE.
Leading the Journey
As I continue to reflect on my leadership, I need my staff to help me. I need to know the answer to this question:
What do you need from me, for you to perform at your best?
Teachers-please follow this link to answer this single question.
Here is your staff update for December 16th.
I read the following post a few days ago. The post is entitled, "Overcoming Obstacles".
I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. So, today with John Riley's permission, I'm sharing it with you.
Listen, I'm 285lbs and have no business attempting to run any race. I'm so big that when I sign up for a race I'm labeled as a Clydesdale. Thus my #TeamsClydesdale anytime I post a picture of me attempting to look like I enjoy running. This past fall I embarked on 3 races. An obstacle course race, a half-marathon, and a 5k Reindeer Dash. I shouldn’t even think about running races with obstacles. Obstacles that take you over ravines, 20 ft walls, giant slip-n-slide, 40ft towers, 100 ft cliff, monkey bars, rope climbs, and absolute insane terrain. That is the joy of Mud Guts and Glory. A 10K beast and one of the best obstacle course races in the Midwest. One that have ran 5 times now. A few years back I stumbled upon this race and found out that it helps support at risk youth. What better way to give back and help others than putting yourself through so much pain. Sounds like fun? Right!
While I have ran this race before this is the first time I've written about it. Why now? Because I've been reflecting on all the experiences and realized I need to share them. This is a total team effort. Each year I send out a mass email to family, friends, and colleagues. It’s more of a Bat Signal for someone to be cray-cray enough with me so I won’t kill myself. You see it’s better to get hurt when you have someone to share the pain with. The usual suspects jumped on board and they are about as crazy as I am. We hit the starting line around 10AM and at the sound of the gun we were off. The race was set a little different this time as we ran the course in reverse compared to previous attempts. Noticed I said attempts. Many start the race but a few of us fall victim to injury...exhaustion...cramping...and fear of heights. If you do not complete an obstacle you get to do some penalty burpees. Yes...we pay for this torture. If you decide you are not in any shape to do the penalty burpees you lose your wristband which then forfeits your Gatorade beverage when you cross the finish line. It is by far the best tasting Gatorade EVER! This was the first time I had ever completed all the obstacles….well except for the high rope climb. Simply because 285 and gravity are not friends when it comes to a muddy covered rope. One of my best friends blew out his ankle as we passed through a ravine. He had to be escorted off the course via a 4x4 Gator. That kind of sucks the wind out of you when one of your teammates go down. After all, who is going to help a Clydesdale get over the 12 ft walls. As we progressed through the course we were feeling pitiful about ourselves and linked up with some other runners that had smiles on their faces. Clearly there was something wrong with these people. Who enjoys that torture enough to smile? They were great to run with as they kept it light hearted and told us stories that helped us forget about the pain.
One part of the race is called the gauntlet. It’s a relatively flat stretch that has the biggest structured obstacles back to back. It can be brutal! Now pay attention because this is where the magic happens in this race. This is where the life lesson comes into play. This is where a Servant's Heart was ultimately displayed and one of the greatest acts of leadership I have ever witnessed. As we traversed over the 40ft tower and climbed our way through 4 bacterial infested mud pits we hit the dreaded Monkey Business. A picture is included for your viewing pleasure or click here for a quick video.
We had about two miles to go until the finish and I was feeling every bit of it. This obstacle had knocked me off three previous races and I had to settle for penalty burpees. Muddy and tired we climbed the first side and noticed a bit of a hiccup at the top where some kids were waiting to cross. As we waited we struck up a quick convo and found out they were from Lord’s Gym in Cincy, which is a non-profit organization that reaches out to at risk youth in the area. These are the kids this race supports and it was the first time we got to enjoy the course with them. One of their peers was stuck halfway up the other side. The young man was clearly struggling with how to overcome this obstacle. He was in tears, his grip was weak, and he was completely exhausted. He had two options….figure it out or fall in the pit taking the penalty burpees. He simply kept saying “I can’t….I can’t...do it. Help!” His peers were somewhat laughing at him and others understood his pain as they were on the ground failing to complete the obstacle. About that time a young man that we had connected with (I still can’t recall his name) decided to jump into action. He climbed over and positioned himself beside the teenager. I could hear him coaching this kid up to gather the strength to finish. After about five minutes of hanging upside down the kid was able to maneuver to the next rung...and then the next one…. until he had completed the obstacle. Meanwhile, as I waited for his lane to clear up I noticed the kid had no shoes on. I thought that maybe he had kicked them off. That was not the case. When I reached the other side of the obstacle I gave him a big High Five and his new coach was kneeling down beside him. When I asked about his shoes he simply said… “I took them off in the van because I didn’t want to get my only pair dirty.” Say what!!! That’s right. He had been running the course with no shoes on. I’m not even sure how that is possible. This was not easy terrain. With shoes on it kills your feet. Then it happened. A simple conversation that lead to me writing this post.
What size shoe do you wear?
I think a 10.
Here take my shoes so you can finish the race.
His new coach/mentor, that helped him get through the obstacle, was literally taking the shoes off his feet and offering them to the kid. A kid he did not know. A kid that if passed on the street would probably be completely overlooked. This simple act defines what I believe to be the greatest act of leadership. To simply serve others before yourself. Put the needs of others first and push them to accomplish things they believe they can not. When you are willing to forgo your own comforts so that others may succeed….that is Leadership!
For the next two miles we ran as a pack. A man with no shoes continued to encourage a kid he did not know to finish the race. Numerous time the kid would say….I need to quit and each time the man would inspire to keep going. Statements like….”The pain you're experiencing now are nothing compared to the JOY of finishing...KEEP GOING! Your struggles in this race will make you a better person when hard times come in the future….When you think you can’t in the future you will remember this moment and realize you can!”
We still had numerous obstacles to complete and several times we found ourselves helping this kid over walls and obstacles he never would have completed without shoes, without support, and without people believing in him. As Victor Rios implies, the greatest teacher (coach) believes in their kids so much that they trick them into believing in themselves!
It’s not about the goal….it’s about who you become in the process! Obstacles are blessings in disguise. It’s how we navigate them in our daily lives that truly defines who we are. We can’t go around them. We can’t take the easy way out. The best way to tackle them is to overcome them head on. Don't treat them as a roadblock to your path but as part of the path.
Find your pack and run your race! So, who in your life needs your shoes? How can you step up to be the one that places the needs of others first? Such a simple yet profound way to live life!
Time to get to work!
Here is your staff update for December 9.
“Just when I thought we’d arrived, I realized that we’d just begun”
My staff and I have been working together for the past year to redesign elementary education. This task is by no means easy and is, in fact, quite overwhelming. Each day we are trusted to provide the best education possible to each one of our 508 students. This responsibility can make it difficult to want to take a risk out of fear of failing these children about whom we care so deeply. But, my staff does not back down from a challenge even though we may feel a little uncomfortable or unsure along the way.
We are on a journey to redesign, rethink and restructure education as we know it. As part of our journey we created an educational experience for our students called J.W. YOUniversity. This experience occurs for an hour once a week for 6 weeks. We surveyed our students to determine their interests and created courses for them that aligned to four pathways: Global and Community Partnerships; The Arts; STEM; and Health and Wellness. Then teachers created a short commercial for their course. Students watched the commercials and selected their top three courses. We placed each student in a course of their choice that they would experience for a 6-week session.
The result was more amazing than we ever could have expected. Each week during our YOUniversity time students in grades K-5 are working in mixed grade level groups learning about things they are interested in. Engagement is high. Student misbehavior is nonexistent. The classrooms are noisy with productivity. And, when we dismiss students back to their classrooms, they don’t walk in silent single file lines. Instead, they are simply told to head back to their homerooms… this is when the magic happens. Students happily meet up with their friends and there is a buzz of excitement as they share what they learned and find out what their friends learned. Thursday, as our students were heading back to class one of them said, “I am going to blog about this!” And, in that moment, I felt like we’d arrived. I felt like we had achieved the authenticity we’d be looking for. But, that thought was fleeting. My excitement turned to thoughts of “what’s next” and “why are these experiences limited to an hour once a week”. Just when I thought we’d arrived, I realized that we’d just begun.
J.W. YOUniversity isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. As my staff, students and I continue on our journey we must ask ourselves tough questions:
Where do we go from here?
How do we make school a place where kids come to work on things they’re passionate about and deeply interested in?
How do we do this and still ensure that we’re providing them with the rich literacy and math experiences that they need to continue to grow and meet grade level expectations?
When we provide these enriching opportunities are we “giving up” academics or are we “redesigning” academics?
What’s next for us?
We are on the edge and we need to continue to leap.
Here is your staff update for December 2.