Tag Archives: goals

Failure is an Option

So having just seen The Last Jedi, one of the most memorable moments for me is the return of Yoda and his wisdom: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”  Ironically, as a society, we tend to spend a great deal of time trying to avoid failure, trying to convince others we didn’t fail, and justifying why failure wasn’t really our fault.  Entering 2018, I think we should embrace failure as a teacher, not an excuse, but a way to improve.

Failure can help us learn to take risks.  Personally, I know that it is through my failure that I have reached a point where I had no choice but to choose something different.  I spent a great deal of time trying to make something work that just wasn’t meant to be. However, when I took a leap of faith and went in a different direction, everything just fell into place. Failure shouldn’t paralyze, it should energize us to find new solutions.

Failure can help us learn a needed lesson that we must face head-on.  Many times, there is a lesson to be learned from failure, a test that must be overcome before we can move on.  When we try to avoid failure we just face that same lesson again and again in a different context.  We must find the way to overcome that challenge before we can move forward. That very lesson may be the critical step before a gigantic breakthrough.

Failure helps us learn to appreciate what we have. So often, we are always thinking about what we want or what we don’t have.  Sometimes, failure helps us realize the blessings. It helps us get rid of what doesn’t work and cling to those things and people that make us better.  We need to thank God for the unanswered prayers in our lives.  I have always found that when a certain path in my life didn’t work out, it was because God was preparing a much better option, one that I couldn’t have even dreamed of for myself. Failure helps the successes seem that much sweeter.

Failure is certainly not an excuse to give up, to blame, or to settle for less. It is a great teacher, and if you listen, one that can make you better.Failure takes grit to work through it, the grace to face it, and a growth mindset to rise above. After all, as Henry Ford said, the only mistake is one from which we learn nothing.

30 Powerful Quotes on Failure

What Really Makes a Great School

So, I talk a great deal about my amazing students, my incredible staff. All true. Today I am grateful for my unbelievable parents. Last night, I shared a situation at our PTA Meeting and 5th-grade performance, I shared a situation with them and asked for their support. Their commitment to our school and community is unbelievable. This might be a given if you were talking about a roomful of people from the same backgrounds. I have families from all walks of life, all different viewpoints. One thing is undeniable-they love our school. I had a situation where an outsider made some judgments based on paper scores and a school rating website. I asked them to be more vocal about Degan and they stepped up to the plate.

And just as a public service announcement, STAAR is only as good at telling you about a school as you compare apples to apples. It doesn’t tell you that my current fifth graders entered 1st grade with only half knowing their letters and sounds. (Because some of these kiddos just didn’t have the opportunity to have quality learning experience before coming to school and not because their parents didn’t love them with all their hearts. It’s all about access to resources!!). I can tell you that these same students were only about 61% passing STAAR on math as third graders. These same kids were over 70% passing in math last year and after our first district benchmark was over 90% and ABOVE the district average.

Before you judge a book by its STAAR scores you might want to dig a little deeper to see the untold story. Does the TEA accountability report tell you that? Does it tell you how my diverse students wrote their own performance? Does it tell you how they “circle” and as a group work through their issues with each other and show value? Does it tell you about how innovative they are and how they use technology to create products to show their thinking or that one of my students is creating a documentary on being an NEU school and how that has affected her? I mean really, if kids could pass the test when they walked in the door does that prove a school is good versus one who grew kids like I described?

Oh, don’t worry. We are taking care of STAAR too. Not with test prep or drill and kill. But rather by deep learning. My students will accomplish whatever they dream of because they are amazing, they have incredible teachers, and because of our parents….they are the best in the world and support their school. They aren’t afraid of diversity and are willing to do whatever it takes, too.

Celebrate Success (Even When It’s Someone Else’s)

It’s pretty easy to celebrate your own accomplishments.  I mean, you know your journey.  You know what you have been through to carry out the goal.  However, it can be harder to celebrate the success of others.  It got me thinking.

  • Do we not celebrate the success of others because of the competitive world we live in?  Maybe we don’t celebrate because we are fearful that someone else’s success diminishes our own.  Maybe it makes us feel a little safer with our own status.
  • Do we not notice? Let’s face it, it’s a fast pace world we live in. Maybe we get so busy, we just don’t see anything going on with anyone else because we have hyper-focused on our own circumstances.
  • Do we doubt the impact our “congratulations” mean to someone else?  Maybe we think that the other person will question our sincerity or even value our acknowledgement of what they have accomplished.

Recently I had a colleague of a campus that had been through a tremendous challenge to help her campus meet some specified accountability standards.  While I had not directly experienced the steps and measures they had gone through to achieve the goal.  I knew it was certainly arduous.  Her team rallied. They invested.  They learned. They reflected and they grew.  Most importantly, they never gave up.  It was huge accomplishment when they achieved this task they had worked on for years.

As I watched them celebrate, it hit me how important it was that not only they celebrate for themselves, or be acknowledged by superiors, but that they be acknowledged by peers and colleagues.  I didn’t know whether my words would really matter to them, but it just seemed important.  When we live in a world where education is constantly under fire, we must stand together in good times and in bad. It just seems like it’s easier to acknowledge and feel pity for someone’s struggles. We must not compete against each other, but celebrate each educational organization as a part of the great big “whole” of public educators who make a difference for children.  That is why my teacher leaders did a twitter storm of celebration for this campus marrying their hashtag and ours to celebrate their success.

I don’t think it matters if you are a district, a school, or a teacher of a classroom.  As Susan Phillips says “Celebrate the success of others.  High tide floats all ships.” When you are in a battle, you unite your armies, not battle over who is the frontline or the support. Both are critical to winning longterm.  We must recognize that every success of any campus is asuccess for all public educators.  It’s a check in the win column to tell the world what a difference a group of educators can make in the lives of children when they have a common vision and purpose. Congratulations, Central Elementary! You have accomplished great things.  You have shown grit, growth mindset, and grace under fire!  You did it and you make us all look good because of that!



No Excuses (Especially on Saturday)

Two years ago, my campus learned about No Excuses University. It happened accidentally when a visitor to our campus said, “Oh, you’re an NEU Campus.” I had no idea what it the world NEU was, so I looked it up. Basically, it is the implementation of best practices for instruction, combined with a passion for the learning of all students. It is a fierce commitment to adults not making excuses about why a child cannot succeed in school, but rather doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers and ensure that all children (no matter their background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability) are proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics so that they can go to college if they choose.

In trying to be aligned to this belief, my campus has looked at the students who we believed were not quite ready to hit that “proficient or advanced” expectation and created what we call NEU Saturday. This is a time where selected students come to school on Saturday for two hours so that they have a little extra time to learn. I need to be clear. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with our state assessment. My commitment is not to a test, but to these children’s being prepared for their future. If we do that right, they’ll be fine on a test, but the test isn’t the driving force.

I love this! Learning isn’t about worksheets! It’s about relationships, relevance to life, and things that can connect with the learner!
Because we aren’t bound by constraints of tutoring for a test, we serve all grades. YES, all grades, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They come and a band of teachers welcome these children with open arms and celebrate the child’s commitment to his education. So many of my students are still learning that things don’t just happen to them, but through the choices they make, they have the power to change the direction of their lives. I tell each one of the students that they are the “chosen” ones. That their teachers specifically chose them to come to this special time because of the grit, growth mindset and commitment to no excuses they make every day.

We feed them a full breakfast. While I know it is big talk in Washington D.C. that breakfast doesn’t make a difference in education, that is just plain malarky. When people are hungry, they can’t think about anything, but their stomach growling and “hangry” is a reality. Many of my children rely on the food from school as their primary source of nutrition. It’s just a sack breakfast with cereal or a muffin, string cheese, juice, and milk, but knowing my students are getting one extra meal over the weekend makes a huge difference.

Then for the next two hours, I have an incredible staff that pours into these children. They talk with them, hug them, and provide them with meaningful learning. They do cool activities with Versa-tiles, read, and play games with higher-level thinking and strategy. There’s not one test prep material. Only opportunities for the students to think, discuss and problem solve in meaningful situations. The best part is that these students say this is the best day of the week and and ask to come back on Sunday, too!

There’s lots of criticism about public schools and their effectiveness. I haven’t seen that. Public education is the heart of our society’s future. It takes ensuring that all children have access to a quality education to ensure they have the tools to become productive citizens in the future. It is when we take off the constraints off and allow educators to do what they love and teach that this happens. They do whatever it takes because this is why we get into teaching: to see all children succeed. No excuses.

Why I Won’t Have a STAAR Pep Rally at My School

Pep Rallies before a standardized test have become a common occurrence in schools. A campus principal’s email can be flooded with people who want to get paid to be a part of these “pep rallies”.   I have been a part of this practice in the past, but since becoming a principal, I have been against this type of practice.  Why, because a ” STAAR Pep Rally” makes the important thing the test.  It sends the message to those people outside education that “the test” is what is important.  I am here to say a standardized test is the LEAST important thing that happens during a school year.

A test is what happens on one single day to measure all the learning that takes place in the course of a school year.  For it to be an accurate measure, all the variables for that would have to be absolutely perfect.  Students would have to have a great night’s’ sleep,  a well-balanced breakfast, a supportive emotional environment before school, and all the supports they need to be successful.

Let’s face it.  Some students have trauma at home. Many don’t have basic needs met.   They don’t always have the nutrition they need.  They may not get adequate sleep. Even our students with disabilities don’t have access to all their IEP interventions because of the rules of the test.  The variables are not the best case scenario for some kids.  How in the world could we expect the test to accurately reflect all they have mastered?

Here is what I am willing to rally over:  students, teachers, grit, growth mindset and all they have accomplished over the ENTIRE year.  At my school, we do this every Friday. Today, on the eve of our standardized test, my students did come to the cafeteria to meet with me.  The rest of the building lined the hallway to applaud their hard work and let them know we stand with them. It was not a STAAR Pep Rally.  It was a celebration of people who work hard to grow in their learning. It was caring about the people enough to let them know they were loved, supported, prepared, and in control of their destiny.

When students arrived, I shared with them my story of having to retake the GRE to get into graduate school to work on my doctorate.  As I sat down to take this test, I felt angry and frustrated.  I felt like there were some words that no one used, so impossibly worded questions, and I just felt there was no way that that test could accurately encompass who I was as a principal or a learner.  It hit me that this was how some of my students felt.

I told my students that there was no way that tomorrow’s test could define them either.  There was no way that this test could fully share with legislators or the public how much they had learned this past year. What I did tell these students was that they were in control, that they had the power to control their destiny. I shared with my fifth graders that sometimes, working hard at a test can give you a benefit.  That while my test couldn’t define me, it could gain me access to a program I wanted to be a part of to improve my life.

For them, working hard to “show what they know” could prevent them from retaking this test in a few weeks, but it would be their choice.  I told my fourth graders that while they weren’t facing a retest, the evidence does show that every time they pass a test like this,  it increases their chances of passing the next one.  No matter what, I told them they were in control.  I wanted them to know they were prepared and had everything they needed.  If they wanted it, they could achieve it.

I think that is what it is all about:  empowering students to know that they have control over their education.  The focus should never be on a test, but the people taking the test and continual reminders that even as children, they get to choose, they get to decide how to define themselves.

 We put tremendous pressure on students to “pass.”  The truth is our actions should support our beliefs.  At my campus we don’t have a test pep rally, we have a “hope rally” every single week where we celebrate teachers, students, and the power of education together as a campus.  While today I did bring students down to meet with me before they take their test tomorrow, it was never about the test.  It was ALWAYS about the people.  Whatever happens, tomorrow doesn’t really change anything.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want all of my students to do well because I know it makes their life easier in the long wrong. However, I know what my students have learned, how they have grown, and how much they have overcome and it far exceeds the constraints of a multiple choice test!

Unchartered Waters

I have certainly been blessed in my career.  I have had some amazing professional opportunities that have prepared me for the campus leadership position I hold now.  Even though I changed positions on a regular basis, I gained some extensive knowledge in from a variety of aspects in education.  I am tremendously grateful for the districts I have served and their immersion into the Visioning Document to guide my leadership principles.  I am most blessed to serve an amazing campus with precious children, supportive families, a great community, and an incredible staff of committed educators who are willing to be risk-takers and do whatever it takes to do what is right for our students.

In year four of my principalship, I am fortunate to see much of the initial five-year vision I set upon my arrival coming to fruition.  Our students are becoming strong readers, writers, thinkers, and problem-solvers.  We have re-established relationships with our parents and are beginning to have some connections with our community at large. We have received recognition for strong practices of  transformation. We have gone from a campus with declining results, to a campus on the verge of an explosion of greatness.

I should feel great, right?  However, in the past few months, my major emotion has been that of anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great pride in my students and staff.  It is because of my deep commitment to them that I have anxiety of how to proceed as we accomplish the last of these goals.  My passion for being the very best for them has created my stress.  I started my leadership journey with a clear vision.  The path has been very clear and the results have come.  My worry rises from as we see our initial destination in view I am plagued with the questions:  “What next? Where do we go from here?”

That’s what happens when you create a learning organization.  You create people with a growth mindset who are intent on getting better every day.  My work as a part of the Principal’s Visioning Institute has resulted  in my own deep self-reflection.  I absolutely believe in the Visioning Document. It has framed our initial transformation.  But I have reached the point where I am standing on the horizon looking at an unclear path.  My past “self” would have said I’ve done what I’m good at, time to move on.  But that is not what I want for my future “self”.  I have more goals, higher vision, than just what has been accomplished so far.  I’ve just not been at this stage of transformation and simply “rinsing and repeating” will not help us to continue to up our game.

Part of my anxiety that because I have such great people, I am fearful of not having a clear plan.  These wonderful educators have worked so tirelessly to achieve our goals thus far, I want to continue to ensure their success.  However, since I am headed into unchartered territory, it is hard to know what to expect.  I just don’t want to lead them down the wrong path. I want to make sure we are prepared with the right tools and that my navigation equipment is state of the art.

These past two days at the Principal’s Visioning Institute have been much needed to face my leadership fears.  I’ve been more quiet than usual, but soaking up every word and putting into my current context to prepare for the next stage of our journey.  It has helped me to see that while I may not be familiar with the next stage of my journey, others around me are and they are ready to help.  I have a great map with the Visioning Document and its related tools.  I have a fleet of other leaders navigating the same course of redesigning education to meet the needs of 21st-Century Learners. Most importantly, I have a fantastic, fearless crew of educators at my side. Any perils of the unknown we face, we will face together.

Ultimately, these past two days, I have realized that it’s okay for leaders to be unsure, but you can’t dwell there.  You have to find your tools, your supports, and make a plan, even if

it’s unfamiliar. You can still see the horizon.  It’s just time to start planning for the next stop in my campus’ journey. It’s time to harness my grit, my growth mindset, and God’s grace

and move forward because a current destination that is currently great won’t remain great as time moves on.  It’s all about the journey, not the destination. It’s time to set sail. Our next port is waiting.

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.


When Things Get Messy

So I have a couple of blog posts that are in the midst of composition and then October hits. October is traditionally a hard month.  The adrenaline from the beginning of the school year wears off a bit and the demands of what is required to achieve goals for the year is now the reality.  This school year has been an unusually challenging beginning for my campus. It’s not that there were any events we haven’t dealt with before, they just seem to come wave after wave and in multiples! It’s been messy for sure.

Today I saw this:



I love this. We always have the power to choose our response to adversity. My staff and I have faced some crazy situations this past nine weeks, but I am always impressed by their ability to put children first and approach each challenge with grit and growth mindset.

I once had a superintendent who referred to the profession of education as the “people development business.”  In education, we aren’t creating machines that can be put together by following a blueprint or a set of instructions.  Each child we touch turns out differently and can be unpredictable even when using a similar formula.  Working with little humans can be messy, but it is always worth it because the joy of watching a child learn and evolve to their potential is always exciting.  Besides, it’s when things get “messy” that the real learning occurs, for everyone, not just the children.

Caution: Sabotage Ahead


You would think progress toward a goal would make the work easier.  However, as I have learned with weight loss, it seems that whenever I get closest to my goal, something inevitably happens and instead of being 10 pounds from my goal, I am once again 20 pounds away.  Some experts say this is because our body has a “set point” and it keeps our bodies in this range.  However, I think that I subconsciously sabotage myself. Maybe I have become so comfortable being at a certain weight, living a certain lifestyle, that I’m not sure if I can “be” this new person, so I unconsciously sabotage myself out of fear.

I think the same thing can be true with professional goals.   Before becoming a principal, I worked at a place for fifteen years where I repeatedly hit a barrier preventing me from caution-aheadsuccessfully achieving my goals.  While I wasn’t comfortable, it had become my norm.  Being in a new role in a new district, I have been able to move past that, but I am definitely in the land of the unknown, professionally.

I think my staff is experiencing the same phenomenon.  There was no one that worked harder with children that this group of educators.  However, no matter how hard they worked, they weren’t getting the results they wanted.  The first couple of years the work was hard, but we didn’t yet see the fruits of our efforts, so that felt “normal.”  However, recently, our flywheel has begun to move.  The work is getting a little easier.  The payoffs are starting to happen.  It just gets better from here, right?

However, as we started this year, there was a huge sense of discombobulation hanging heavy in the air.  I could feel it with myself and with the staff.  I kept asking myself how we could feel more anxious when we have reached a place where we are getting settled in strong habits, and routines and our students are starting to make the gains we desire.  How could we feel unsettled if we know what to expect?  Or did we?

That was a giant realization.  We don’t know what to expect.  We are on the frontier of unchartered territory.  We don’t know what it feels like to have our students make these kinds of gains, and we worry if we can maintain the momentum.  Questions of “what happens if we can’t?” bubble just beneath the surface.

Fear is a powerful thing.  Fear goes immediately to the primitive part of our brain geared for survival, the amygdala.  Because our most important task as living organisms is survival, the amygdala has the ability to “hijack” our brain’s higher order thinking emotional-intelligence-an-essential-mind-skill-set-for-social-workers-11-638functions in order to protect us. Fear turns on the amygdala which urges us to “fight,” take “flight” or “freeze” even if survival is not actually at stake.  However, this prehistoric part of our brain doesn’t discriminate between a saber tooth tiger or a potentially failed goal, and any of those actions sabotage forward momentum and progress. So it is imperative to keep our amygdala in check and stay in our higher thinking brain to move past the fear and continue moving forward.  A challenge isn’t a saber tooth tiger; it is an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.

No one intentionally undermines their progress to an important goal, but it does happen. So how do we keep our amygdala off and prevent self-sabotage?


  • Be aware of your surroundings.  As with any time you are entering a situation with uncertainty or potential danger, you must turn off autopilot and intentionally choose your actions.  If you are on autopilot, that overprotective amygdala may steer you away from the very opportunity you need to push through. Recognize that you may feel uncomfortable, but discomfort is not life-threatening so that you can keep moving forward.
  • Recognize that you will be stepping out of your comfort zone and make a plan. Growth and learning occur outside your comfort zone. Plan for what you will do to increase your comfort as you face the unknown. Let go of things that don’t matter.  Plan for what you will do if things don’t go as planned. Plan for what you will do when things go right! Just be careful when you are making your plan not to over-think.  Over-thinking tends to lead to anxiety and turn that amygdala on as you become overwhelmed with what to choose.  Keep it simple and trust your gut.
  • See what you want, not what you don’t. Our brains are powerful and attract what we think about due to the “Law of Attraction.”  If we want success, we have to create a mental image of the success.  If we think about failure, we are unwittingly willing it to happen.  It can be difficult to have a growth mindset and see yourself being successful in a situation you have never experienced. So find an example of someone being successful in the area you desire, and put yourself in their shoes to imagine accomplishing your goal.
  • Have grit and don’t quit. Even when it gets hard, keep that amygdala turned off. Don’t run and don’t stop.  If you are not growing you are declining (more laws of nature). If you have worked this hard to get this far, you don’t want to lose even a smidge of progress. Even if it doesn’t work out with your first attempt, you will learn information you need to try again, improve, and get closer to your goal.
  • Give yourself some grace.  Too often, our mindset is that we must be perfect.  Trying to be perfect can become an excuse not to try.  Perfection scares us and flips the “amygdala switch” because our brain is smart enough to know perfection is impossible, especially in a first attempt.  

Self-sabotage to keep oneself at their “comfort” set point is normal, but those who are successful in reaching goals, know the strategies needed to push past existing set points to establish a new equilibrium of success. Use of these strategies don’t mean the journey will be without twists and turns, but maybe at least without detours of self-sabotage.  As educators, this becomes especially critical. Not only must we master this skill to ensure we reach our goals of students success in our classroom, but also if we hope to teach these skills of grit, growth mindset and grace to our students so they can navigate their own pathways after they leave us.


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