Category Archives: grit

Hitting the Wall

Hitting the wall is a term often used to describe when a runner’s body just completely exhausts all of its energy while running a marathon. I must say, I am not a runner. If you see me running, you should probably run, too, as there is something chasing me! However, running and chasingI have found that this term has become meaningful to me this Spring. First, I felt I hit the wall in blogging. It wasn’t that my ideas, thoughts, or opinions were lacking, I just could not find the energy to get them on paper. It was probably a combination of so much energy being expended just in the day-to-day of running a school, but also, pouring your heart and soul on paper is a bigger challenge than I imagined. Putting yourself out there completely exposed, not always knowing how your words are received can be depleting, especially for someone whose “love language” is words of affirmation. Silence kills me!

I found this video and laughed so hard while making so many connections in my  life.

One of the most powerful connections was an analogy of hitting the wall in education. For three years, I have been the principal of a campus in the middle of a great transformation. Our campus was in danger of being designated “improvement required” when I walked in marathon runnersthe door because scores on state assessments were in a free fall. As a result, my staff and I have been running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. We have had to transform our understanding of teaching through a deeper understanding of the standards, practices that allow us to engage all learners at their levels of need, and a true comprehension of our students, many who come from backgrounds of poverty and trauma.

It is exhausting, to say the least, and a few weeks ago, I could see we were all about to hit the wall. So if our analogy of “hitting the wall” was appropriate, it aroused my curiosity to see what it is that runner’s do to avoid hitting the wall when they are likely very close to the finish line. What I found was some great advice that is more than relevant to educators in their last month of school:

1. Train-Whether a runner or an educator, proper training is essential.

Our students are continually evolving and so should we. We must learn how to become more efficient in choosing where to expend our energy so that we are always getting the most results. We cannot afford to use our precious resources on worrying about things we cannot change or on strategies or tasks that don’t get results.

measure of a man

2. Proper Nutrition-Hitting the wall is actually about the body and brain reaching glycogen depletion and no longer able to function effectively. Runners have now created complex formulas of when to consume which specific types of foods to have the fuel they need to finish the race. For educators, I think our nutrition is different. It is a mental nutrition of both learning and being around those who nourish our souls.

I think it is interesting in what I read about how runners also consider the need for complex carbs at a certain time while wanting simple sugars at other times. I think this true for educators. Sometimes we need to fill our brains with words of how wonderful we are and what a difference we make. Other times we need to feed on constructive criticism that helps us to contemplate how we can grow and improve, but always from people who have our best interest at heart.
3. Slow Down-I read that if a runner feels they are nearing the wall, they need to slow down to a “conversational pace” or one that they could speak with someone running next to them. How often as educators do we beginning moving so fast and become so out of breath we don’t realize we can’t carry on a conversation. If you are so out of breath you can’t have a conversation with those around you; it’s time to slow down.

4. Have the Right Goal-I think one of the things I admire about runners is that even though there is a sea of runners, they really aren’t running against those around them. They are competing against themselves. They want to better their own time, not beat break throughsomeone else. Education has often been a competitive sport. “I want my scores to be better than theirs. I can’t share my ideas because I need to beat them.” I think we can all take some insight from runners, just as their bodies and abilities are not the same, neither are our classes or background experiences. We shouldn’t focus on someone else, but simply to reflect on ourselves and work to improve and get better each day, shaving a few seconds off our time as we run through each day.
5. Mental Toughness/Positivity-Ultimately, there is still times when a runner has done all of the previous steps exactly right and still begins to hit the wall. At that time, metal toughness and positivity prevail. A runner who thinks about his aching muscles and how too tough to killmuch time is left is doomed to fail. However, the runner who can focus on how much he has already accomplished and how close he is to his goals is more likely to recover. As educators, this time of year can be tough, but if you hyper focus on all that is not right and all that is left to be done, you too, are doomed like the runner hitting the wall. We must focus on each small accomplishment, celebrate each milestone, and remember we will accomplish whatever we set our sights on that is of value enough to have our actions align with our goals.

As we are running at breakneck speeds from April into May, I hope that each of you can focus on the goals you have to accomplish this year. Remember to slow down if you need to so that you at “conversation speed”. Maybe some extra nourishment is in order with a conversation with a trusted colleague.

Editable vector illustration of a man winning a race
Editable vector illustration of a man winning a race

No Excuses

I am fortunate to work in an amazing school district.  It is a district where the community has established values for educating our students in ways that prepare them for the 21st Century.  The primary focus is on understanding learning standards and valuing others and their diversity.  Nope, I didn’t mention test scores.  Amazing, right?

Don’t get me wrong.  We want our students to achieve proficiency on their tests. We just know that if we are educating our students in meaningful ways that include involving our community, integration of the meaningful use of technology, engaging students with choice, flexible seating, and collaboration they are more likely to learn.  If we teach at high find a waylevels, students will be able to transfer these skills to a test, but more importantly to LIFE!

As a part of this amazing district, we are also a part of an amazing group of districts called the North Texas Regional Consortium. These districts have banded together to proclaim higher standards for our students than skills encapsulated on a test.  They organize dates that allow campuses to visit each other and discuss the types of practices we value.

My campus always participates, whether it is as a host or someone who sends others out to visit.  Last year, during one of the times that we had visitors, a teacher approached me and said, “So you’re a ‘No Excuses University School.'”  I’m sure the look on my face was showing my lack of understanding as I said “Huh?”  She repeated herself, and I replied, “I have no idea what you mean.”  She said, “But you have to be.  You’re doing all the things.”  I said, “I’m not sure what you mean.” 

when-i-lost-my-excuses-i-found-my-results-298x300If nothing else, she peeked my curiosity. Long story short, I looked NEU up on the web. I saw that we were doing most of the concepts they valued: Creating a  “Universal Culture of Achievement,” Engaging in Collaboration, Using Standards to Drive Instruction, Using Assessment to be informed, Being Data-Driven,  Having Effective Systems to Manage Data, and Implementing Effective Interventions.  The focus was working with high poverty schools. Yes, this sounded like something my campus needed to be a part.

 I took a group of teachers to one of their institutes last Spring.  The most powerful thing I heard was about how often it is the adults making the excuses for why students cannot achieve. We say we believe all students cannot learn, yet we pigeon-hole students into a path that will never allow them access to higher education.  The group of teachers and I that attended knew immediately these were “our people” and within three months we had applied and become and No Excuses University School!  


I don’t think it matters if you are a high poverty school or not. The truth is; all studenexcuse limitts need teachers as advocates who prepare them to attend college so that they are ready if they choose.  A college degree is a statistical game-changer when it comes to financial success and avoiding adult poverty.  I don’t think educators make excuses because we are lazy or don’t care about kids.  Teachers make excuses because our hearts break for some of the difficult things students have already endured in their lives or because we have tried everything we know to do and just don’t know what else to try in helping our students. 

A “no excuses” mindset is not easy.  It’s something we have to practice. We began our year writing down our past excuses and throwing them in the trash.  We then wrote new pledges that said what we would do instead of using the old excuse.  Colleagues hold each other accountable for this daily. At my campus, we tell our students and parents that every student will be proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Math, and we have challenged ourselves to look at any students who are not growing whether they are currently at the top, middle or bottom of our achievement continuum. .  It has been amazing to see our teachers and students rise to the new expectation.

I believe if you want to get results, you first have to have to get rid of all the reasons why you can’t and start believing that you can!