What Pecan Trail is about and has meant to me is right here: a culture of kindness and investment. These things on my wrist are where I take my pulse. It's where I read my heart. Because of the people, the belief in community, and the investment in our shared space, my heart beats strong. It beats steadily because I know we are there for each other: students, families and staff alike. It beats continuously because I know our commonality extends beyond our logo, our colors and our walls.
#ThisIsPT. What does it mean to you?
Loyalty. This word has such strong meaning for all of us. Loyalty is about championing, defending, protecting who or what is important to us. Most of the time it is about loyalty to the people in our lives. Maybe it’s a grandma, or a cousin, a teacher, sibling, friend or any other person who means something to us. These people give us our sense of who we are, our sense of what we are capable of doing, our courage to show up in the world.
For our students, loyalty seems to have extra significance. Their world is so defined by the people in it, the people they care about and who they believe care about them. Our students show us what it means to be fiercely loyal.
When we choose to challenge a person, make assumptions about them, or judge them because of who they are loyal to, then we best expect a reaction. We’ve gone after the center of their world: their source of certainty, importance and belonging in this world. Loyalty to them will create a strong reaction to this. Most of the time loyalty is seen as a virtue, as a strong character trait. When we see loyalty show up in a student, that strong reaction is often misunderstood as something different … as defiance, disrespect or worse. What may seem confrontational, disruptive or loud, is really about showing up for people they believe in. We just express it differently. Loyalty is a great trait to have and should be seen and understood and valued for what it is. It is a student saying, “Hey, that’s my people. Be careful. I care enough about them to show you in a strong way.”
I’d do the same for my people. Loyalty. It means something to each of us and gives us a sense of empowerment and belonging.
Ya’ll. I was going to write an inspirational post about the importance of giving grace. Truthfully, I felt this was one area that I was doing well. Boy was I wrong.
After reflection, I realized I am gifted at giving grace to people who I think deserve the grace. Yep. Read that sentence again. “I give grace to those who I think deserve grace.” This defies everything that is true about giving grace.
I want to wholeheartedly always assume positive intent. And this is hard. Because I judge. What do I need? I need my friends and family to call me on it. Make me see the positive intent. Challenge my thinking. When a student is acting out, please don’t allow me to judge the behavior. Ask me to think about why the child is acting this way. Help me to see and understand his/her perspective. When a co-worker seems distant, ask me questions. Make me think and feel from their perspective. When a parent is upset, remind me to always remember how I want someone to treat my child. When my husband is taking on so many additional tasks, remind me… well, honestly he’s got a great catch :) Seriously, remind me to give grace, because he is taking on so much more to support me as a principal.
Giving grace and assuming positive intent is rewarding and it’s challenging. It’s challenging because sometimes we have to admit we are wrong. Not fun, but necessary.
Who do you decide to give grace to or give positive intent to? More importantly, who are we not giving grace to? And who are we not assuming positive intent for?
We all need grace. We all need positive intent. Let’s do this for each other.
Room 209. When I was given permission to take a room on an elementary campus, I was totally excited. The previous months were spent in a portable building near Central Office. It was one large room and one person … me. After the name of the new school was selected, my portable was aptly renamed “Pecan Trailer”. I knew I was fortunate to have a place to work and blessed with the task of preparing for a new school. The view out the windows was nice. I could see trees, Central Office and Consol. Yet, after years of being in schools, I was used to tons of interactions with people every day. My face to face interactions in Pecan Trailer were infrequent and sometimes I wondered if the book “Left Behind” had actually come to fruition. I made up reasons to visit Central Office many days so I could interact with the wonderful people there. When the option of moving to Greens Prairie Elementary came up, the idea of being back on a campus was really exciting.
So, I set up shop in Room 209. I had no idea what to expect. Truthfully, I had no expectations at all. I figured my days would be spent on the computer or the phone getting things ready for Pecan Trail and would at least see a person pass by at least every 30 minutes or so. I knew people would be kind and accommodating, but figured we’d pass in the halls and I’d go about my business of focusing on the building going up next door. I just wasn’t all that sure what the view from the new office would be.
That all quickly began to change shortly after I moved into my new Room. Through the window on my door, I could see the smiling faces of kids passing in the halls. As I started to leave my door open, I could hear the voices associated with those smiling faces and could also hear the laughter and fellowship of a staff truly invested in what you do each and every day. As I began to wander out of Room 209 and walk the halls and enter classrooms, I could experience the community of Greens Prairie Elementary.
I recently learned a definition of Community as “Community is a shared responsibility for the condition of the space you belong to.” This definition so captures my experience of your school. Everyone is incredibly invested in the education of young minds and hearts at your school and having an environment of acceptance and support. You are invested in each other and committed to your common mission. I have been so honored to be a small part and a big beneficiary of your community. People have stopped in to Room 209 just to say “Hi” or to share a funny story. The students who have stopped in or said something to me in the halls are students who know they are valued and believed in by everyone here.
It is hard to sum up all I have learned from you, but I have learned much. The grace you have shown me in taking me in and treating me as one of your community members is humbling and will stay with me. I hope to make Pecan Trail into the kind of community you have built here. Thank you for your kindness, your humor, your time and your space. The view from Room 209 is amazing and will be treasured by me always.
Today, I resolved to unpack my boxes in my temporary office and put my things in order and get organized. I thought I needed my materials and stuff to be where I could get to them and use them so that I could feel on top of my responsibilities. I thought my things would make me feel capable of accomplishing the tasks ahead of me to get Pecan Trail established. As I was putting my things where they belonged I came across these hands that Bobby made one day at Kemp … when he was 16.
I remember that he had seen other elementary students doing this project and jumped right in without anyone asking or prompting. Seeing this 16 year old complete this along with elementary students reminded me that THIS 16 year old was still just a child that day. He wasn’t the impulsive, quick-tempered teenager so many of us too frequently treated him as. He was a child. The staff at Kemp chose to look further and to see that side of him. They treated him as the fun, intelligent child he truly was. For that, Bobby was grateful. So, today, as I unpacked my things to prepare for a new school, I am reminded by a 16 year old teen-aged child to also unpack all the relationships that have brought me to this point. I need to make sure these relationships that have given me so much are within my reach each day. It is the people and relationships that make the school, not the things.
Bobby Ray Perry and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ... always reminding me that if we treat each other according to the possibility we see in one another, then that is who we will become. If we limit what we see, we limit what we all can be. Choose to see the potential, and that is what we can become. Thanks, Bobby. Ten years after you created these hands, you are still here to remind me of what is important. Thank you for supporting and believing in us when we didn’t always show you the same in return. This new school will be built on those experiences and we will make sure all students are loved as the children they are and loved for the potential that is waiting to be seen within them. What will I choose to keep within reach as I approach each task each day? My things or my relationships? Bobby's hands will be right there to remind me to make the right choice. Always.
Reflecting on times where I have been involved in innovation, this quote rings true.
“The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper and reimagines the world.”
- Malcolm Gladwell
That clean sheet of paper has only the names of the people we love. And their problems become our problems. Which leads us to seek real solutions. Which takes us away from what we’ve always done and into a new place where every idea is welcome.
Just a few examples:
We were innovative because we had the common belief in all of our students and knew we needed to start with a “clean sheet” and be open to all possibilities.
But here is my hard truth. I'm innovative in ideas I believe in. As I'm reflecting, I know I have been guilty of shutting ideas down. As a dear friend told me, to be truly innovative, all ideas must be on the table, even the ones that are near and dear to our hearts.
We can all share examples where we were open to innovation and it made a lasting impact. Are we open to ideas from every source or do we limit our acceptance of innovation to certain people and specific topics? Are we vulnerable enough to share the ideas we've squashed?
Terresa Katt, principal at Forest Ridge, posed the question, "Is there a way to meet the needs of the dyslexia students so they don't need to miss out on an elective?" Me: "No. It won't work in our schedule."
I simply said "no”. I advocated for high school students to be taught at an elementary campus and still shot this idea down with a simple, "It won't work in our schedule". She stirred something in me. I started to wonder why we were so tied to a master schedule. I knew I needed to be better but wasn’t sure how to accomplish this. So, three years later, a team of innovative people created the schedule. Three years later, students can receive a necessary intervention and attend an elective. Innovation is a process that begins with a seed, often in the form of a question that shows up in an everyday conversation.
I am so thankful Terresa Katt, an innovative educator, posed that question and challenged my thinking.
When I first became a principal at Kemp Elementary, I wanted to invest my time creating a positive culture for our community. I soon got sucked into the standardized testing world. The focus became test scores and it worried me. I reached out to a former professor, Dr. Thomas Sergiovanni, and shared my concerns. He quickly responded, sending me articles and books that all stressed the importance of a strong culture in a school community. He reminded me of what was really important, moral leadership and leading from the heart, and it has left a lasting impact.
Fifteen or so years later as I now prepare to open a new school, I wish I could reach out to my friend and mentor once again. I know he would be excited about the endless possibilities and eager to challenge my thinking.
So, I have pulled those same articles out of the file and started reading them again.
In his article, “Perspectives on School Leadership: Taking Another Look” he poses this challenge:
“Could you stand up in front of your faculty and say ‘Well folks, one of the things I’m going to ask is that you don’t follow me’? I think it’s about the healthiest statement you can make, so I suggest you try it, if you really mean it. Of course you’ll need to put the next sentence in as well: ‘Don’t follow me, but instead meet your obligations to our shared sense of purpose and to your responsibilities.’”
And there it is. People don’t follow a leader. People follow a shared sense of purpose: core values, a moral imperative. That is what impacts a school culture.
Dr. Sergiovanni continued his proposition by challenging leaders to have posters all over the building to publicly share what we are about, what we truly believe. Posters that state: “Five promises we make to our students” “Five promises students make to us” “Five promises we make to each other” “Five examples of excellent student work”. And the list continues...
When our shared promises and commitments are displayed for everyone to see, we announce our values and purpose, and we are all held accountable to those commitments.
What will the posters look like at Pecan Trail? I don’t know, but I am excited to find out.