Kolton Houston’s had a rough 3 1/2 years. He was suspended by the NCAA just before the beginning of his Freshman season at Georgia following an All-American high school football career. One year later, he was banned by the NCAA for failing the same drug test. Last week his claim that he failed those tests because a doctor injected him with steroids following shoulder surgery in high school appear to be validated as the NCAA reinstated Houston – on his birthday no less. As good a story as his perseverance may be, I would probably not have cared very much and would certainly not have penned this post if Houston’s comments in response to this news had been more in line with what one might have expected. However, I was deeply impressed with what I heard and took two lessons from what I saw and heard.
Kolton never gave up. This entire ordeal took him slightly less time than a college career usually does, but he never conceded the obvious and gave up football. He continued training, practicing, and participating with the team to the extent that he was permitted. He took dozens of drug tests and underwent three separate experimental and “risky” procedures to try to flush the unwanted steroids that had become trapped in his body. His persistence puts me to shame. How often do interpret a series of obstacles as a sign that I should refocus my efforts? How many times have I been one more push away from breaking through the frustration that has been plaguing me? This guy’s actions quietly remind me that persistence can make a dogged staying of the course seem heroic in the end.
Most impressively, Kolton did not become bitter. By all appearances, his love of the game drove his determination, not a determination to prove the NCAA wrong. I would have expected Houston to underscore the fact that he had always been “innocent” or to make a statement suggesting that his struggle should serve to point out the flaws in the NCAA’s drug testing policies. But he did neither. Not only did he decline to verbally thump his chest when asked his opinion of the entire process, he said nothing that could be construed as anything but positive. In fact he stated during the interview aired on ESPN that while others may say that he had been wronged by the NCAA, they have a rule and rules are made to be followed. Again, this young man’s maturity reminds me of how far I have to grow. I’ve had an overdeveloped sense of justice for a long time. I am a very patient guy … unless I believe I have been wronged. Kolton Houston provides one more example of personal character that I aspire to: my actions can not be dictated by my circumstances or by that actions of others.
I’ve never met Kolton and will probably never come into personal contact with him. But he left a great impression on me last week and challenged me with a few simple words. I hope I can show half as much character as he did if I am ever in a similar situation.
I’ve figured out why summer isn’t my favorite holiday any more. It’s because I am a principal. More specifically, it is because I do all the work that make a principal’s job what it is and am deprived of the best benefits. I’m not around students. When you are crazy about students, there is always something to appraise and admire and applaud. I’m around teachers a lot less. When you are crazy about empowering teachers there is always something to learn together and solve together and win together. But students and teachers go away during the summer. They deserve a break, but for me being away from them means losing the main motivation to plow through everything else. Here’s the best thing about summer though: it comes right before a new school year begins!
Summer is an amazing time to look to the future. Teachers and principals write our New Year’s Resolutions in July and August. We have hope. We have crazy dreams. We have plans. We have a burning itch to take one more crack at shaping the future of the human race. We don’t draft those super-fancy acronymed documents because we have to; we are describing how we will take the fight to ignorance and apathy and anarchy this year.
In painful honesty, this summer has been excruciating for me. At the same time though, I am gazing into a future that is so bright that I have exchanged my sunglasses for a welding visor. I therefore do here highly resolve to accept the role of agitator and innovator; of disruptor and mentor; of collaborator and victor. Three realizations make this a decision that can not be avoided in good conscience:
1) I work with a team of teachers that is unlike any I have known before. With due respect to them, there are not individually the brightest edustars I have called colleague. They are each and collectively committed (often rabidly) to growth. It is incredible to see a professional conversation break out spontaneously on Twitter between teachers at 10:00 on a summer night or to see half the parking lot full (of secondary teachers’ cars) on a Tuesday or to have teacher after teacher say “hey, what about this” or “I’ve been reading this” or “why don’t we consider this”. I imagine that Chuck Daly must have felt a little like this in the summer of ’92. As coach of the original Dream Team, winning was a foregone conclusion. The outcome was not the question; the question was how magnificent and beautiful a performance he could lead that team to produce. Our team’s season tips off officially in 19 days. I can’t wait.
2) I am writing this post from Mooresville, NC where I am participating in a team visit to a school system renown for their 1:1 digital initiative. I have learned at least one whole separate blog post worth of stuff in the last two days. The most encouraging take-away I have collected so far, however, is that our school and our system are on the right path. We are ready (and very willing) to be the kind of schools that prepare students for the future that is waiting for them. We are here learning from eagles and the best news is that we are not ostriches! When as teachers and schools and a system we acknowledge that the future should guide our teaching to a far greater degree than the past, we position ourselves to help ensure that future wiil be as bright as it can be.
3) The Prayer of Jabez was a little book that was popular several years ago. Central to the book is a prayer that appears in the book of 1 Chronicles in the Bible. Jabez prays “‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” I am having a Jabez kind of summer. A more secular way of expressing this idea is that my professional learning network is growing at an incredible rate. I have connected with many amazing and (in some cases) well known educators this summer – some in person and some through Twitter. I am making plans with principals within my system and across the county line to establish strong collaborative ties between the two of us and between our schools. Several mentoring opportunities have come my way. I have had the opportunity to share some of my learning with others through presentations this summer and have more sessions lined up before school begins. I am pushing and prodding and encouraging my teachers to share their learning with others – and they are doing so. For me, all of this stems from a very simple belief: every time I learn something, I accept the responsibility to share with someone else. If I learn professionally and never share with others, I am selfish and am in danger of becoming a stagnant pool. Running water is so much more healthy.
As this summer winds to a close, consider these very simple questions: what is your New Year’s Resolution? Will start or join a revolution this year? The young people we serve deserve that kind of commitment from you.
If you are inclined to share, I’d love to hear about your resolution or the revolution you are plotting.
An Open Letter to Myself:
In case you haven’t noticed, summer vacation is exactly half over. The fact that you are reading this (and that I am writing it) suggests that the first half of the summer was not fatal. I know you have plenty to do, so I’ll keep this brief. The following is a recap of what I have learned this summer and some suggestions to help you wind up to the start of the Fall semester successfully.
1. Daniel Pink is right. Since teachers are people, they ARE highly motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. How else do you explain the fact that the teachers at Rock Quarry Middle School spent the entire last day discussing, exploring, and unanimously ratifying the RQMS Grading Manifesto and attending the inaugural EdCampRQMS voluntarily. If it wasn’t the sense of immense value in the work they were doing, what did motivate them to describe it as the “best last day ever”? Don’t forget this as you plan for next year. Don’t give into the temptation to seize control. Make protecting your teachers from bureaucracy a priority.
2. This technology thing might actually catch on. In the past four years I have gone from an accidental “tech guru” to place of fanatical belief in the role of technology in learning from now on (at least until the Apocalypse and/or the cylons attack). I’ve been integrating technology into my instruction since the first year I was a teacher, but I believe it is simply foolish and irresponsible to ignore all the ways that technology can amplify the learning is already happening in our classrooms. I’ve specifically become convinced of the value of social media as a professional learning tool in the last year – particularly Twitter. The impact on my own learning was so great that I made joining and starting to use Twitter a strong recommendation on the RQMS Faculty Summer Reading list. I don’t have any particularly unique ideas to share. What I do have are experiences that are different from other educators. I can learn from them and let them learn from me. As you continue to plan this summer, keep working to make the case for this kind of dynamic, self-directed (and almost always) very powerful approach to professional development. Get more educators around you connected; keep modeling the best practice you know; above all, keep sharing and learning.
3. This just in: you are a human being too. You make a point of always keeping in mind the fact that the students and teachers and parents and even folks you report to are people before any role they have. You’ve done no better than mediocre at remembering this about yourself over the last year or two. When you get tempted to think that the work you do is indispensable, recall that human learning and even formal education got on just fine without you for several hundred years (or many thousands). You matter, but don’t burn yourself out trying to do everything at the same time. Don’t stop exercising when the school year starts (again). Don’t stop reading yourself to sleep at night. Don’t stop doing crazy yard work just because. Tickle the girls just a few seconds longer. Spend time with (just) Lori more often. Get those jumping stilts. Check off a few more summits.
As everyone knows, all great lists are supposed to have either 10 or 101 items. Make up the other 7 (or 98) yourself – you seem like the kind of guy who might have an idea or two to share.