Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Last Trophy

For many of us, it happened in elementary school when they stopped giving trophies for just being on the t-ball team, for others, it may have been after a successful collegiate career, but as adults, there are rarely times to win trophies. I recognized this last October when I placed in my age group in a half marathon. I was genuinely excited about winning, but I sort of downplayed it, and smiled it away. I had truly worked hard for it, but adults don't get trophy (it was a bottle of wine, but same thing). Almost eight months later as I start my training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, I am looking for a new personal best, but there will be no trophy attached. There will be no one at the finish line counting the seconds and placing a trophy in my hand. Did I really just win my last trophy?

Tonight is also the Gold Cup final. This is a soccer tournament of all of the national teams in North, Central America as well as the Caribbean. The US has a chance to win a trophy in soccer, in a real tournament. No, it isn't the World Cup, but it is a trophy, and if we win tonight (like they did when I watched the final live in 2007 in Chicago), it will be the last trophy for many of these players. I would imagine that none of them are thinking that way, but it will be the reality for some.

Tomorrow morning, I leave for ISTE11 in Philadelphia. There will be a lot of people there that will have been handed their last trophy, but there will also be so many people there that are keeping the hopes alive for more trophies for kids across the country in tiny towns and in no name schools. I'm also starting to truly believe that the local food movement is similar to the power of this ISTE11 conference. Passion, opportunities, and a way forward emerges from the energy of the masses. There will be no trophies given to the best people at the end of the week, no awards ceremonies, but there will be a chance to feel the power of WE that can infect more and more schools with the best ideas possible while providing a global safety net when failure comes for each of us.

I wish us all another opportunity for another trophy, but if we have earned our last trophy, then let us use all of our strength to keep this possibility alive for our students. Go USA. Go ISTE.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

This video needs to dribble into the learner of educators this summer.

Creating vs. Doing Excellence

There have been many times in life that I have participated in doing something excellent. I have been on excellent week long bike rides. I have hiked in an excellent way. I have been involved with experiencing excellence in my personal relationships with people. I have seen excellence, and I feel like I can point to excellence when I see it, but the idea of creating excellence in schools and kids is a different tack on this topic.

I was recently asked to describe a time when I created something that was excellent, and my mind quickly felt blank. I thought of high school athletics and a play that I participated in high school, but I struggled to think of something in my adult life. This left me quite perplexed about the idea of creating excellence. I have only been in my principal role for a year, and I plan to stay there until I have created a model of excellence, but I'm in the middle of the process. Do I really have something in life that is completed excellence?

I feel as though my life is a long journey with excellent strand running through it. This includes my relationships with friends, my family life, my love for kids and their growth, my drive to stay healthy, and many other areas of learning intellectually. All of these avenues though are on-going. It is really hard for me, and I would imagine a lot of educators, to realize that there are excellent pieces in what we do everyday, and even though these moments are part of the system, we really need to celebrate the little pieces of excellence that we are creating. Without this celebration, we may lose the energy to be excellent.

What about you? Are you creating excellence? Are you experiencing excellence? Are you celebrating small successes?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Passion Driven Leadership Gets Me in Trouble.

Fired-up, transparent, crazy, a little unpredictable...not always the list of traits that you walk into an education interview with to describe yourself when you are wanting to result to be a new job, but after ten plus years in the school leadership, these are adjectives that I wear with pride. They are the things that I lose when I am out of balance, stressed out or have lost focus on kids. Most importantly though, they are the things that let me walk in the door each day with an energy for life and learning. Here's a bit more about how each of these look on a daily basis.

Fired-up- Energy isn't default setting for middle school students. They don't wake up early to get to school to change the world, so it is my role to bring this energy to the table in the morning. One of the best examples of this is French Toast Friday. The first Friday of every month is a morning feast for my teachers and students. Though it was originally designed to be a teacher breakfast, the benefits are incredible for my students. They will rush from their morning spaces to the middle school commons just to get the last piece of French toast, a banana, or a plate of raspberries. It is amazing how cooking a little morning meal for student gets them in the right frame of mind to start the day.

Transparent- One of the best compliments that a teacher gave me was to tell me how much they appreciate my transparency. He said there is no guessing with you. You are totally out there. People know you as a person, a friend, and as a leader. This means working really hard to let me know when I'm upset, tired, angry, happiness or excited. Most would say that I am an awful poker player because my emotions are at the forefront of my leadership. Early in my career this meant comments that were truth, but not placed timely, but as I have honed my passion-based leadership, it means a genuine leader who can leverage change because everyone around me can trust an honest, straight forward answer.

Crazy- "You must be a little crazy to work at a middle school." This comment has been echoed over and over throughout my time as a middle school principal, but in some ways, it is correct. The crazy piece though isn't for doing the work that I do because I love every minute of shaping and caring for middle school aged kids, but the crazy comes from a place of pure joy. It isn't rare to hear me singing as I stroll down the hall or to see me running around the field playing soccer with the kids. The best example though is my announcer voice. I see a student in the hall, and in my best public address announcer voice, I introduce them as loud as I can. "Jennifer Martin everyone...Jennifer Martin." Student say why do you do that. I tell them that everyone likes to hear their name announced. They shake their head thinking he's just a little crazy.

A Little Unpredictable- The routine of school has moments that feel like hamster running on a hamster wheel, and I believe that it is the passion of the leader ignited in the greater school that helps to break this routine for true learning and gains. This starts for me by modeling the positive risk taking behaviors that I want my teachers and students to embrace everyday in the name of learning. This year, I agreed to let my adventure club students climb in the 100 ft oak tree on our campus. I unleashed our math teachers to teach without addressing all of our state standards because it brought greater learning for kids. I hooked our eighth graders to some incredible expeditionary learning that allowed them to be scientists on Mississippi River. It would be easy to set a routine that work, play only the hand that you are dealt each year, but it feels great for our system to be a bit unpredictable and pull a few cards from up my sleeve.

Certainly, these aren't the only traits of a passion-based leader, but for me, they are the ones that bring a joy to my calling. They are the way that I can operate in the world of education has so many negative stories, and yes, there are times when each of these things get me in some trouble, but I wouldn't have it any other way.