MIA – The Update in Song Titles

I know – I’ve been MIA for over a month and yes, there’s an explanation.  As Allen Saunders said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans” and that has been exactly my story. Let me try to catch you up through the songs on my playlist that tell the tale since this all began.

“It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N Roll)” by AC/DC. 

So back in July, my Principal (“Boss Lady” LOL) and I sat down and came up with a plan to reboot the culture and climate of our school for the upcoming year.  When we looked at the data and added in our educational expertise (otherwise known as “teacher gut”), we developed a plan that focused on all the positive things the kids and staff were doing, highlighting and rewarding their hard work, and emphasizing the character traits and mannerly behavior we expected to see everyday in our school world, instead of letting the few things that weren’t working drive all our time and resources.  We bet on the 500 doing it right to take us where we wanted to go rather than getting depressed about the 40 that weren’t.  We knew there would be a lot of work involved, but we were feeling pretty pumped about the road we had decided to follow.

“Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

We shared our plan with the staff and then revealed it to the kids.  Everyone loved it and four weeks into it we had drastically cut our office referrals, suspensions, chronic absenteeism, and general climate of the building.  The district gave us an awesome full-time Social Worker and we added a fabulous Recovery Room teacher.  Both of them, together with our caring Counselors, helped everyone start shifting their thinking from punishment to skill replacement and from feeling under siege to feeling like we were back to being a fun place to learn again.

“Tick Tick Boom” by The Hives

And then our new Board of Education and Superintendent revealed their new vision and it felt like the top of the world fell on top of us.  Just about everything we thought was on track to go one way suddenly ran out of road. Every road map we had evaporated as new goals, new frameworks, and new thoughts began to emerge.  Not wrong.  Not bad – just totally different.  Now what?  To quote the song, “’Cause I have done it before, and I can do it some more, I got my eye on the score . . .”  So Boss Lady and I went back to the drawing board. How to keep our original climate reboot plan on track, while the adults in the building are stressing out from all the changes?  And how do we reorient and rethink our plans to now meet the new targets?

“I Will Not Bow” by Breaking Benjamin

When nothing is as it once was, there’s always a period of time where you’re stunned.  You stand at that crossroads – stop or go forward? Quit or blaze ahead into unknown territory?  As General Custer said, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, its how many times you get back up.”  True enough. Boss Lady and I are pretty bold, tough, smart gals.  It’s going to take more than this to keep us from succeeding.  Game on!

“Move Along” by the All-American Rejects

So we decided to set back to rights what was going wrong and . . . move along.

“What’s Golden” by Jurassic 5

Several Saturday morning strategy sessions, some research and quite a bit of data crunching later, we decided to take it old school.  Go back to “What’s Golden” and stay true to what we know works to grow kids (and adults).

“Well All Right!” by The Hives

As the song says, we all have troubles and woes – brush the chip off your shoulder, that’s how it goes. So back to the drawing board!  The past month has felt a lot like “swimming across the ocean in a concrete suit” but in the end, we’ve got a few plans. We shared our dilemma about how to salvage our climate reboot plan with our Social-Emotional Leadership Team, and they had some great insights and ideas that got us a refocused plan of action. We’ve been revealing our new course direction to our Building Leadership Team and staff a little at a time, and most are beginning to see it as a new challenge in a positive way, rather than as the end of the world.

“On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons

So now we’re into October and we’re feeling like yes – “it’s always hard when you’re falling down and it’s a long way up when you hit the ground – get up now, get up.”  We’re starting to feel like we’re back on the road to being on top of the world again.  The scary part is that once again Boss Lady and I are betting on our experience and our “gut” to guide us correctly to the finish line of this year’s “race”.  It’s exhilarating to run our own race, but it feels like we’re running the ridge, and it’s a long way down.  So we’re just going to keep our eyes – and our focus – on the target, take a big breath, and start running the race in front of us.

And that brings us back to where we started three months ago . . .

“It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N Roll)” by AC/DC

The thing is, easy never made anyone better and never doing ANYTHING that makes your heart race and your mouth go dry once in a while can’t really be called “challenging yourself”.  The truth is the things that seem daunting or fraught with uncertainty about the outcome are the things that force us to reach in and carve out something new from within ourselves.  It’s in those moments we redefine what we can do and who we are when we meet those challenges.  It might be a long way to the top, but I think I might just be looking forward to the journey this time.

So back on track and I’ll be posting regularly again.  Hope your journey is challenging YOU in all the best ways!

The Gut Check – Kirk vs. Gibbs

If you spend even 5 minutes with me you probably pick up pretty quickly that I’m a total data nerd, maybe bordering on freak. I LOVE data and stats!! (Hey, somebody has to!)   I love it for the same reason I love Math – it doesn’t lie, not in its raw form. When people start trying to spin, “interpret”, or otherwise translate for you what the data says – well, that’s where the shenanigans start. But in its raw, unfiltered form – it’s just the Truth. And I do mean Truth with a capital “T”. It’s blunt, stark, and brutally honest. Sometimes I find validation in that. Sometimes I get a Gibbs back- of-the-head slap (reference NCIS). Either way, it tells me the real deal.

But sometimes, my gut tells me there’s more to the data than what’s on the page. Sometimes, my gut throws a flag on the play and calls for a timeout to review. So what do you do when your gut says one thing, but the conventional wisdom or facts on a page suggest something completely different? How do you know which is the right call?

You don’t. It’s a leap of faith – in yourself.

You put your experience, your knowledge, your mistakes, and your successes in a big mental bowl, stir, and “add seasonings to taste as needed”. THAT’S the expertise part, there.   You’ve been in enough situations, been through enough, that you start to see patterns, guess at outcomes, and anticipate where the situation is going. You pull your mental bowl out, dish up some of your own brand of wisdom, and throw it into the current mix, hoping you’ve guessed right about what it needed to turn out well. Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes, not so much. But you learn from the experience either way and add it back into that mental bowl to make it even richer than it was before.

At least that’s what great leaders – and learners – do.

Two of my favorite characters to watch and learn from in the category of leadership are Captain Kirk from Star Trek and Agent Leroy Gibbs from NCIS. Two vastly different characters and yet both do a lot of relying on their gut when everything is on the line.

In the case of CPT. Kirk, he definitely embraces the idea of “turning into the danger” and being audacious and bold with his responses. His faith in himself and his team borders on the near incredulous and yet his faith is hardly ever misplaced. Things might not always go as planned, but his team is right there with him making it all come out right somehow. His thinking is divergent, and his actions and decisions are frequently swift. But he trusts his gut and it hardly ever steers him wrong. Why is that? Because he trusts in himself. He has faith in his own ability to set everything right – eventually.

Gibbs, on the other hand, is equally open to turning into the danger, but he frequently takes a more covert, methodical approach. He plays his cards close to the vest, but he follows his gut, even when it flies in the face of every other fact and order that he’s been given. Like a hound on the trail of a scent, he never sways from it until he’s run his problem to ground. And his faith in his team’s ability to back his play – and him – is absolutely unshakeable. He believes they will all follow their guts and get it right, so they do.

So how does one develop such a staunch faith in one’s gut? Experience and time.

I know this because I’m finally at a place where I’m seeing it for myself in my own life. I’m coming up on situations that I’m beginning to recognize – it’s not my first rodeo – and I’m drawing on that mental mix to guide my assessment of the situation and determine a response. I’ve succeeded and screwed up enough times to have a feel for the situation now. Part of it is experience, and part of it is trusting my own intuitions and knowledge. In a word, it’s confidence. I’m not always confident I’ve got it completely right, but I’m sure that even if I’m not, I can get there. I can fix it, figure it out, and make it work in the end, even if I initially miscalculated.

So what does this have to do with data?

Well, data is VERY compelling – and it should be. Usually, data tells you the whole story. But sometimes, the data is just downright frustrating. It’s elusive, teasing, and playing a little hide and seek with the whole context. Sometimes, the data leaves you with a cliffhanger decision to make. And that’s where your gut comes in. Your gut knows things that your head hasn’t put words to yet. Your gut is that hound on a scent, that primal guardian that urges you to action without a single reason to base it on – yet.

And there’s the real point. Over the years, when I have found myself in that situation again and again, and my gut wound up being proven right when it urged me one way vs. another, I started trusting and listening to it as I looked at facts and data. Over time, it became my Executive Officer, my right hand in the decision making process. I can only assume that this is the kind of evolution the characters of Kirk and Gibbs have gone through, as well.

So does it matter which “flavor” of gut check we adopt? Not really. What does matter is that we listen – and trust – that part of ourselves that knows more than our minds can express. And as much as I love Mr. Spock, sometimes there is more to be figured into the equation than just the facts and numbers. And they are equally important.

Sometimes, even more.