Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Power of an Oath

It's easy to get into a routine.  We go to work everyday; we teach lessons; we lead faculty meetings; we email parents; we supervise carpool ... and the list goes on.  We make a million decisions every day, and many of them, we're barely aware of.  We get bogged down in the minutia and the mundane.

So how do we rise above the "grind" and stay mindful of why we do what we do?

I'm glad that every physician in this country has committed to practicing by an established collection of standards.  The field of medicine is so important that every doctor takes an oath to embrace and support a common set of values. A few years ago, I gave my teachers a copy of the Hippocratic oath at a faculty meeting.  I asked them to read it and to underline the words or phrases that resonated with them.

As it turns out, there is much in this oath that reminds educators of their own profession.  When we read the following phrases, it is hard not to apply the ideas to what we do (or what we should do) in school.

"I will gladly share knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow."

"I will not be ashamed to say 'I know not,' nor will I fail to call on my colleagues when the skill of another is needed."

"I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being."

After some discussion on the relevance of the Hippocratic oath to the work of educators, I asked the teachers to write their own professional oath.  I asked teachers who felt comfortable, to post their oath outside their door.  As is normally the case, my teachers exceeded my expectations!  They articulated their professional values and commitments in some profound and poignant ways. Two of them are below:

These oaths are posted outside their classroom, and I know that they have had an impact on many of the visitors in our building.  I also wanted the students, staff, and parents to know what my commitments were as the school's principal, so my oath is posted on my office door.

I wish I had written and posted my oath 23 years ago.  These oaths keep us connected to our core values.  They communicate to our students and our colleagues what they can expect of us.  Most importantly ... they remind us why we come to work each day.  In the near future, I'll be encouraging my teachers to post their oaths on their school website.  I cannot imagine a parent who would not love to read the values, priorities, and commitments of their child's teacher.

So what are your commitments to your students and your colleagues? How are you accountable to them?  Consider writing and posting your own professional oath.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Box of Rocks in my Office

To my recollection, there was only one school project that I ever really cared about.  It was the only project in which I totally invested myself ... the one project that I remained proud of longer than the grading period in which it was turned in.

In the fall of 1983, I walked into Mr. Navarre's 8th grade Earth Science class.  Little did I know what I was in for.  Mr. Navarre was an old man that came across to most of the students as a grouch.  He didn't smile much, and the threw erasers.  But what really sticks with me about that class, was this old man's love of rocks.  This was not just his hobby; it was his passion.  Every summer, he drove around the country collecting various rocks and minerals, and over the year, he proved not just his commitment to share his passion ... but actually to share his rocks.  Our major project for the year was to follow very specific step by step instructions to construct our own rock box. (I remember it was very tedious to cut all the partitions, but I remember being diligent with it because I wanted mine to look good.) When we finished it, there were spaces for 50 different rocks and minerals.  And here was the cool part:  for every rock that we memorized the minerals it was composed of, the location it was found, and the use for it, he would give it to us free.  I committed myself to learning all 50.  I really wanted Mr. Navarre to be proud of my work.

So during the 1983-1984 school year, I made this rock box. I took these pictures several weeks ago.  Over 30 years later, this project still sits on a shelf in my office.

Here's the crazy part ... I don't like making things, and I never liked rocks.

But oh ... Mr. Navarre was so passionate about rocks, and he made it clear that there were only three middle schools in the country where students made rock boxes that were this extensive.  I even remember him touting the fact that the cover that we glued on was fire proof.  He was so excited about what he taught us.  He loved those rocks.  And he brought this passion, energy, and enthusiasm into the classroom everyday.

And so I learned to love the rocks.  Mr. Navarre's passion rubbed off on me.

I've thought about Mr. Navarre many times over the years.  Every time someone asks me about a teacher who had an impact on me, he is who I think of.  Think about it ... if you can get an 8th grade boy excited about rocks, thnn you have got it going on as a teacher.

And so I keep this rock box in my office as a reminder ... as a symbol.  To me, it represents the importance of passion, energy, and enthusiasm ... the power to get an 8th grade boy fired up about rocks.  Wherever I go ... and whatever I do ... I hope to always bring some "Mr. Navarre."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Hug that Changed Me

Years ago, when I was a high school assistant principal, I had Eric in my office.  He had been in my office many times before, and I don’t remember why he was in my office that day.  He was what we called, a “hard” kid.  He was tough, in a gang, and saw little value in school.  I had learned that the misbehavior of students was only the symptom of other issues going on, but I often got caught up with the need to be "efficient" in my job.  At times, I felt like my office had a revolving door.  For some reason that day, I decided to try and connect with Eric.  I asked Eric a lot of questions about his life, his family, and his goals.  It was very evident that he had it rough.  As far as I could tell, he had very little going for him and had very little support.  At the end of our talk, I asked him about the last time he had a hug.  I remember very vividly his response because it crushed me.  He said, “Mr. Steele, I don’t even remember.”  I walked around my desk, and as I hugged him, I said, “Eric, I don’t know where you’ll be in ten years, or what you’ll be doing … but I want you to remember that there was a guy who cared enough about you to give you a hug.”
I have no idea where Eric is now ... or what he is doing.  I don’t know if he remembers that hug. 
 I do.  
When I think of that hug, I’m reminded of why we do what we do.  I’m reminded that we see students every day who desperately need our time, our support, and indeed, our love.  Students walk our halls; they sit in our classes; and we have no idea what they’re dealing with. We get frustrated when they’re tardy, when they’re out of dress code, when they are not prepared, when they are inattentive and disengaged.  When I think of Eric, I remember that sometimes … a student might need a hug more than they need our “lesson.”