Monthly Archives: August 2016

A New Hope

The concept of hope has become quite intriguing to me.  My campus uses the Gallup survey with our students and one of the measures is how much “hope” our students have.  Unfortunately, what we have seen is that the answer is not much.  It’s not just my school, but nationally, results show our students lack hope.  While I know that the world our children face is a challenge, their chances for success are minimal if they don’t have hope that they can overcome difficulties.  Gallup defines the opposite of having hope as being “stuck”.  Stuck means you can’t grow.  If you can’t grow and improve, you become more “stuck” and even discouraged.

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Gallup Survey 2015 National Results: Hope Index

As I have thought a great deal about this dilemma, I begin considering “hope” as a verb vs. “hope” as a noun.

  • Hope as a verb is just a wish left in the hands of fate. Hope as a noun is paired with the verb “believe”. You believe that what you desire will happen because you trust and believe that it can.
  • Hope as a verb causes you to hold back a little in case it doesn’t work out. Hope as a noun allows you to give it all because you KNOW it will work out.Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 10.47.40 AM
  • Hope as a verb results in excuses for why it didn’t work. Hope as a noun results in facing brutal facts and making adjustments to move forward.
  • Hope as a verb makes you feel at mercy of the power of others. Hope as a noun gives you the power to accomplish your dreams.


I believe that being intentional in helping children develop hope is key.  That is why this year, as I enter my fourth year as principal (a.k.a. Episode IV), our theme is “A New Hope.”  I need to be clear jedi symbolthat it is not “Star Wars.”  Too often those attempting to make additional profit in high states testing attempt a play on words and market “STAAR Wars” products to educators. There is too much attention on this test which takes away from the focus on people.  Current accountability systems are often a vacuüm for hope. I have no fear of state assessment.  But “STAAR” is not what drives my school or our work with students.

On the contrary, my teachers are Jedi Master’s of Hope and work diligently to help  our young padawan cultivate their hope by helping them find pathways around barriers that stand in the way of the future they wish to create for themselves.  They do this using a Jedi

mindset and  building relationships, taking time for conversations to set goals, analyze progress toward those goals, and create new paths to achieve those goals to prevent becoming stuck.  They “feel the force” of  hope and help our students to do the same.

My campus has done intense training to become a “trauma sensitive” school.  Studies show one in four children are  to trauma prior to the age of four.  Trauma, especially ongoing trauma, can teach children at a very young age that they are stuck and have no control over their environment and thus create a mindset of “stuck”.  With much preparation and new tools, we will be a beacon of hope for these students until our students can find ways around their circumstances and stockpile some hope for themselves.

Public education is certainly different from when I was in school. It is even different from when I began my career.  However, we have to continue and adapt to prepare students for the world they face, which is fast-paced and constantly changing.  To do this, students must believe they can be successful in a world where the media floods them with stories that drain hope.  Yes, we must teach reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  However, instruction in “hope” seems to be a new necessary course.

Obviously, hope is a important component for student success.  Ihopet is the precursor to other critical skills of grit and growth mindset.  Without hope, there can be no grit and willingness to stick to challenging tasks. Without the grit to stick to challenging tasks, there can be no growth.  Without growth and improvement, purpose is lost. Hope is not a wish or a dream, but the key to making dreams come true. Because of this, our schools have to be the source of a hope for our students, because our students are our new hope for the future.

Hope Resources:

Shane Lopez, The Hope Monger and Author of Making Hope Happen


You Matter

you_matter-60919As we stand on the frontier of the new school year, after a tumultuous summer of racial division, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about where our country has been and where it is going. I worry for my children and my students and the future they face. I desperately want things to be better for them.

As I grew up, I believed that the civil rights issues of the 60s were healing because of the work of people like Martin Luther King.  He had perished, but maybe we had learned?  Then in the early nineties, we faced the O.J. Simpson trials and Rodney King incident to bring to the forefront that things had not improved.  Tension seemed to die down over time,  but now, we are once again faced with riots across the country and senseless lives lost.  People quickly categorized to make sense of things they didn’t understand without looking deeper. People on all sides of the issues feel invisible, devalued, and less than human.  As a result, there is anger. Lots of it.

 I’ve seen people react in anger to statements such as “Black Lives Matter” or even “Blue Lives Matter.”  The truth is, a simple statement of “____ lives matter” has nothing to do with saying that one group matters more than others.  The statement has more to do with the fact that there is a population of people who are angry, hurt, and feel like they are not seen.  They feel like they do not matter to others, so they say, “Hey, I matter! Notice me.  See me.  Respect me.”

Four years ago, I worked in a place that I did not matter.  Once, I was in a public restroom it-would-be-too-easy-to-say-that-i-feel-invisible-instead-i-feel-painfully-visible-and-entirely-ignored-being-ignored-quotewith a higher official who looked through me as if I was invisible even though she was two feet in front of me. She had even been someone who had previously mentored me and praised my work to move into a principal role a just a few weeks earlier. I would go to football games in this town where the leader of the district would walk up the stadium steps and greet everyone, shaking hands and kissing babies, if you will. Ironically, his big catch phrase was “You matter.”  Every time I heard those words come from his mouth, I thought “unless he decides you don’t.”  Others noticed this behavior and began to alienate me as well. Who could blame them? I mean no one wants to be in the “you don’t matter group.”  Being invisible made me both angry and depressed.  I swung on a pendulum of despair and rage.  I wanted to go up to these people and say “Look at me! I’m here!  I matter!”

When I left this place and was able to come to a new role as principal of a campus in another district, the staff at this school shared similar stories.  Their perceptions were that they were invisible.  People who lived blocks away didn’t even seem to know the school was there.  They said that when they were with others in the district and shared what school they were from, colleagues sighed and looked at them with pity. One teacher shared “we aren’t even on the map.” eyoreNo this wasn’t literally, but what it meant was they felt invisible as if they didn’t matter. Because I knew this feeling all too well, that became my mission.  To ensure that this amazing group of educators knew they mattered…to me, to others in the district… to everyone.  In one of our first meetings, I remember saying the words “We are Degan.”  It became our hashtag and has been in place going on our fourth year.  We put it on everything.  It doesn’t mean we were better than other schools (although I am particularly fond of this amazing school community).  It means Degan Matters!  We are here.  See us.

I am fortunate now to work for a district that values the concept of cultural proficiency. A district that recognizes we are all the sum of all of our experiences, not just one or even two.  I am grateful that they provide us with intentional experiences to begin crossing this great divide to see people  for all that they are and value them, not just tolerate, ignore, or even worse, dismiss them. They expect us to see things from the alternate perspectives so that we build the relationships we all need to grow and improve.

I don’t claim to be an expert in cultural proficiency or to completely understand perspectives from lives that I haven’t lived.

 A statement like this comes from hurt.  From anger.  It probably isn’t anything about you, other than to say “Hey, see me. Value me.  I want to 7816351058_c0d63f07e2_zmatter to you.” It’s time to quit making broad brush, quick judgments.  It’s time to start looking at others and seeing from their perspective.  It’s time to do better and be better.  Yes, it will take grit to work through centuries of old issues.  It will take grace as we learn how to discuss these things with empathy and compassion,  and it will take growth mindset to truly heal and move forward so that we can make this place a better world for our children and where this history can finally stop repeating itself.