For 2020, I’ve taken some time to really figure out what I want to come out of this blog. Do I want to continue moving in the same direction? Do I want to change anything? And the only thing I can think of is that I need to be more consistent in writing here. People have shared that they enjoy seeing the transparency. They enjoy getting admission to the all the things that are beneath the surface of someone who has such important jobs (father, husband, brother, principal, believer, mentor, etc.), and I oftentimes get asked, “How in the world do you balance all of that?” The truth is that I don’t, and it’s one of the things I’m working on for 2020….taking time to take care of myself.
Honestly, I sometimes feel like I’ve taken on too much, and in those moments I have to find my quiet place for a quick prayer to try to get my feet back under me. It’s easier said than done, and being unbalanced makes the weight heavier in places where it doesn’t need to be. I’ve also installed some apps on my phone that help with meditation because with all of these things going on, my mind, and I assume those in similar situations, can become cloudy and unfocused, and that happens to me often. I can be talking to my team or friends, and my thoughts will escape me completely. I have to pause and just listen for a moment, and usually those thoughts will return; it’s interesting how depart with me having no recollection of what was forthcoming. To manage, I tell people, “Well, it must not have been that important,” but most times it is, so I’m working in that area. My mother-in-law says that one losing his or her thoughts comes with age, but I know they are just brain breaks that God gives me for a moment of pause and peace. I take it in when Mama says, “You’re becoming an old man, son,” because I also know that we have to get old or die young. One comes with wisdom, and one comes with pain to those left behind. I would rather not be part of the latter in either of those situations.
If I am completely honest with you, I can disclose to you that I am also in process of looking for a therapist because I know that all of the things I’ve experienced from childhood to now are purposeful. Some of those things I can make sense of, and some of them I can’t. Those that I can’t filter through sometimes cause me anxiety, and I do have questions simply because I know that those experiences are meant to be mirrors or examples of lessons I’m supposed to take with me in my journey through life. In finishing up my second year as principal, I think I’m more aware of who I am and what the role entails. Going into the job, I had one focus- students- and anything that was in the way of their success had to go or be removed. Now, it’s been revealed to me that my sole focus isn’t just students, but people and building strong relationships. That’s ultimately where the magic happens. I can remember when my principal was out of the building, and it just felt different. I can’t explain it, but other educators know what I mean by that eerie feeling that finds it’s way through the doors when the boss is off campus. There are teachers in our school building who’ve come to my office with problems, and we’ve talked through what they should do to ameliorate those situations. I’ve talked with some teachers in how to navigate through nonsense, both personal and professional. I’ve talked, or counseled, some parents dealing with family crises that have crept through the school doors with the children. It’s a real thing. Some of them have cried on my shoulder because life can be difficult (yes, even for parents and adults who educate students), and I’ve wondered how I could carry the weight of the trauma our students face daily and the weight of the world that our teachers and parents have on their shoulders. The answer is I can’t, but the outcome has been a stronger sense of prayer and a stronger focus on making our school what it is intended to be…a place where lives are changed so the community can be changed and continue to grow. It requires more than I can offer individually and perhaps more than we can offer collectively as a faculty, but much has been given to us, and I know our victory and progress lie right ahead of us.
I was listening to a podcast, which is kind of the new thing I’m into now, and one of the messages talked about how God can sometimes isolate us to change those around us. It’s not always the intention that we learn from them, but sometimes it’s a matter of them experiencing Him through us. In those instances, we are the change, and it can hurt or make one uneasy. I’ve learned that praying a prayer about being used to do divine work requires divine faith and focus, and if either of those are missing, hearts can get hurt, which we can’t afford in such an important role as principal.
This year has been rocky with teachers being out and some different inconsistencies that I can’t discuss in detail here. But through it all, I’ve been reminded that God works miracles through rocky situations. If it’s too easy, He can’t get the glory, and it’s during times of trial that He causes one to triumph. Last year, the admin team and I had a chance to visit the Model Schools Conference in Washington, D.C., and we had a blast interacting with other educators and having some professional learning on what we could do to make our school better. I can recall being in a session and saying, “Lord, if it’s in Your will, I want us to share our story next year” because I oftentimes find revelation in so many things, especially things that are work related. I made a simple statement where I made a request and also imparted a timeline. Like, who am I to give God a timeline? It was a courageous moment, but I felt it, and the team and I talked about it because part of me wondered if, in fact, we were a model school or not. What made us a model for other places? Why would people want to come and see what we did at Kennedy Road? What stood out? Truthfully, we had made some huge gains, but there were other schools that were much better than us and I could admit that. But one thing I also had to do was to shake off the doubt that came after the request was made because the doubt couldn’t exist where I had initially imparted faith. The two can’t coexist. So the team and I resolved that we would submit an application to present the following year, and I found myself up late in November getting the last details into the application. We didn’t hear anything for a couple of months, and then there was an initial interview, which I knew I’d blown. I wasn’t ready and couldn’t find my notes to speak to the work. I winged it, and felt like I’d let my whole school down, and after the interview, I prayed the prayer, “Lord, if it’s in your will and if you think we need it, release this to us,” and then I went about my day.
Fast forward to last week, and I was scheduled for a second interview with the Model Schools team. This time, I’d taken some notes and wrote down some things I wanted to make sure I covered during our 15 minutes together. Before the phone call, I prayed the same prayer, “Lord, if it’s in Your will and you think we need it, release this to us.” The call went well, and I felt in my spirit that we were well-represented. A few days later, the email came that told me that we’d been selected to present in June 2020 for the Model Schools Conference. What a blessing! The tripping part is that the doubt came in again, and I started again to wonder why people would want to visit our school. We weren’t the same school as we were last year, and we had and still have many things that we are working to resolve and improve. The data suggested that we were slowly making some gains, and needed a rehaul of our behavior system, so how could we share this with someone? How could we open our doors and show people what we were doing? So I asked for a sign. It’s amazing how things work together and for the common good. On yesterday, we had to have our Kappa League meeting at my school because the library we normally use was taken. During that time, a mom and two of her other kids decided to wait on our meeting to finish, and they sat in our gym. The two boys shot ball, and their mother and I spoke for about five minutes. She started to tell me about the challenges she faced with her son’s current school, and she wanted advice on how to deal with some difficulties she was having. I navigated her through what we do at our school and let her know that it would probably be beneficial if she took the initial steps to help her son do better. Her immediate reply was, “What I need to do is move in your district because I can tell that the vibe is just good. Like, you sitting up here talking to me makes me feel like my sons would do well here at this school.” I thanked her and we laughed about a few other things, but it was in that moment that confirmation was sent to me. No, we’re not a perfect school, but we do have some practices in place that can help make school a life-changing place, and I’m proud of the work my team has done and continues to do.
So here we are, in a place where we are about to reap some of the rewards of our past work, and collectively we preparing for the transition to year three. Honestly, it’s a weird space, but it also is mind- boggling that we’ve gotten all this time behind us. People often say that the magic happens in year three, and others have told me that we’ve made too much of an improvement to continue up the hill of increase. At this point in my life, I’m choosing and trying not to doubt anymore. I’m just trusting God to lead the way. I’m excited that the faculty and staff can proclaim that we have a “Model School” because I know how hard they work, and it feels good to see the work pay off and to receive the accolades. All the other stuff causes unnecessary anxiety, and our kids’ lives are in our hands. We can’t be unsure of what we do when there is something that is so important that we’ve been entrusted with improving and shaping. As we continue through the rest of this year, I’ve made a vow to take time to work on me and take care of myself and those around me. I’m also letting my faculty know to do the same because the work is hard. Hard, however, doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but oftentimes builds into a strong collective of people that are hopeful. It just takes more commitment. Buy-in won’t cut it. Commitment is the solution. I’ve also made a vow to celebrate more and make more connections with people in the building and throughout the community. We saw many examples of what this looks like during our visit to the Ron Clark Academy last week, which I’ll save for another post. And I’ve also made a vow to make sure the students and staff at our school have a chance to reap the rewards of their hard work. It’s much deserved, and I’m proud of them. Through the struggles, the changes, the challenges…through it all…we’re still standing, loving, and helping build great people. That’s what I want us to be a model of, and I can’t wait for us to share our stories, struggles, turnarounds, and testimonies with others.
As always…be great…be accountable.