Sunday, April 10, 2016

Is it Grit?

This past week, MHS Principal Mike McRaith (@mikemcraith) tweeted out a story from The Hidden Brain podcast (@hiddenbrain) that has had me thinking and reflecting all week.  The podcast was called "The Power and Problem of Grit" and can be found here.  Essentially the question this podcast poses is: Is it grit or stubbornness?  It's something that I'm sure everyone can relate to.

I asked that question fourteen years ago, as a first grade teacher.  I loved my students and my colleagues dearly and yet I struggled with the leadership.  It was the "drive by" method of observation.  People would walk through my classroom, scribble furiously and share none of what was written with me.  I tried to engage the leadership to get some of the actual feedback but to no avail.  I tried to get past the constant flow of people, the interruptions, and the scribbling.

I had multiple conversations with my then-girlfriend, now-wife, about what I was struggling with.  We often wondered aloud about the line between continuing to try to progress professionally and whether I was just hitting my head against a wall.  I did not want to give up on my kids and their families.  I did not want to give up.  I thought I would be considered a failure because I thought by leaving, I would have failed those kids.

We struggled through the year and we ultimately made the difficult decision to go to do something together back in Chicago.  A decision that was beneficial for both of us, opening up opportunities that we did not see on the horizon previously.  What would have happened if we stayed?  I'm not sure.  I do know that leaving raised a lot of questions for me as to my own level of grit (although I didn't know to call it that at the time).  I wondered about my level of "stick-to-it-ness."  I wondered where to find that line.  Is it grit or stubbornness?

That's why the podcast above resonated with me.  I've had that (and other moments) where the question of grit and stubbornness is not clear.  Should the choice be to stick it out, honor your passion and live with hope?  Or is there a different choice?  And does making that choice mean there is some "less" grit?  I'm not sure.  Either way, I wonder how many others have found the line between grit and stubbornness.  Would you be kind enough to share your stories in the comment section below?

Is it grit?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Find Your Balance

We said good bye to our Malachy last Tuesday, on a bright, sunny, spring afternoon, after she spent her last active moments playing with Her Boys with a tennis ball and posing for one final picture.

It was truly one of the hardest things My Wife and I have ever done together.  We sat with her in her final moments and said good bye together.  That night, we read Dog Heaven together with Our Boys and shared tears as a family, comforting each other.

We've decided on how we want to memorialize her in our own way, remembering the wonderful life she gave us and the wonderful life we gave her.  One of our dear friends has already picked out a piece of granite for us, we want to buy a tree to plant in our yard, and find a meaningful way to remember the almost twelve years she shared with us.

One of the other things we are doing as a family is wearing Lokai bracelets.  These bracelets are made up of one black bead, one white bead, and the remaining beads are clear.  The black bead holds mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.  The white bead holds water from Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth.  The bracelets are a reminder to find your balance.  From their website: "Sometimes you've hit a low, stay hopeful.  Sometimes you're on top of the world, stay humble."  Find your balance.

What a great life lesson, what a great leadership lesson.  I never had a dog growing up and so I never experienced the grief of saying good bye to a pet, that truly becomes a part of your life, your heart, your family.  Little by little this week, it's been easier to talk about Malachy, to share our story, to be in the house without her.  Such it is with leadership.  There are times where things are going so well, students' needs are being met and they're learning, faculty & staff feel empowered and engaged, and the community is supportive.  And there are times when one, two, or all three of those are out of kilter, and the balance is off.  Our challenge is to find our balance.  My balance is different than yours because my life and journey in educational leadership is different than yours.

I challenge us all to find what it is that defines balance for us, in our work world and in our personal world.  Often, just balancing those two realms requires a substantial amount of humility and hope.  If we can remember that those two elements will serve us when we need them, we can strive to be present and to find our balance.

Postscript: I want to sincerely thank everyone who reads this blog and who came to speak to me in person, who e-mailed me, who called me, who brought me coffee, who took me to breakfast, and who was my friend last week.  I feel tremendously grateful and overwhelmed by the support that I was shown last week.  Know of my heartfelt thanks for all the kind gestures I have received for my family and me.