Friday, December 23, 2011

Lessons From The River

With some time off during the Holidays, I recall a talk given by Jack Roberts, Executive Director of the MHSAA some years ago. Over the previous summer he and his wife had spent five days rafting the Salmon River across Idaho, from almost the Montana border to almost the Oregon border, 85 miles in all. At the conclusion of his trip, he brought back from the river three things:  a black eye; poison ivy, and three teachable moments that he shared.

The first teachable moment was this.  Before the group “put in” – that is, put the rafts in the water – they were told to “point positive.”  They were told when in the lead raft to point not at the trouble – not at the rock or hole in the water before them – but to point away from the trouble.  Their path would show those who follow the better way to go, not the way not to go. What solid leadership tips! Show the good course, point out the better way, point to the good example and emphasize the good and the positive more than the negative. Point positive.

The second lesson from the river rafting, which Mr. Roberts readily admitted he did not appreciate until suffering the shiner, is that one must pull the deepest in the most turbulent waters.  One must paddle the hardest when the waves are the largest. If you cease paddling in the rough waters, the boat swamps.  If you pull hard, you can reach the top of the waves or pull through the waves and successfully navigate the rapids.  You survive the troubled times by working, not resting. This was another tremendous tip for both our personal and professional lives?  Pull hardest and dig deepest in the most difficult times.

The third lesson from the river was that when the rapids end, you need a breather; you need to “eddy out.”  An eddy is the quiet water behind the rocks where your boat can sit safely, without moving, as the river’s fast current races by. It is the place to rest, to gather yourself, to collect people and paddles if you had a spill.  It’s the place to recall past adventures, to plan for the next adventure and to prepare for the next rough water. We all need to find some quiet water to eddy out. 

Three lessons from the river:  (1) point positive; (2) pull the hardest and dig the deepest in the toughest times; (3) eddy out after turbulent times to evaluate the past and plan for what’s ahead.

When do you eddy out? Perhaps it can be early in the morning before the day starts or during some quiet time on a Sunday evening? In the summer, perhaps you can spend time at a loved one's lake cottage as I have been privileged to do for the past decade or so?  During the Holidays I for one plan to use the relative calm of fewer calls and emails to eddy out, to evaluate past practices and plan for the upcoming year.

May you and your family enjoy a very happy Holiday Season! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mike's Dash

After learning of Mike Price's tragic passing early last Friday morning, I spent much of the weekend reflecting about Mike and his impact upon his family, friends, students, co-workers and our community. 
No doubt many of you have read the poem below by Linda Ellis but perhaps it is worth re-reading:
The Dash
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on his tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of his birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That he spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved him
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard;
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
Mike's dash was rich and full; his contribution to the lives of those he touched was significant. 
I will always treasure my conversations with Mike at our daughter's basketball and soccer games. Listening to him speak with such pride about his children always brightened my day. 
RIP Mike, you will be missed! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Is Our Championship Game?

While attending the Big 10 Football Championship this past weekend, I had an opportunity to take my son's picture with the Big Ten Championship Trophy - what an impressive piece of hardware! As a matter of fact, the sports world is full of impressive trophies - The Stanley Cup in hockey, The Lombardi Trophy in football, the World Cup in FIFA soccer, the Borg Warner Trophy at the Indianapolis 500, etc.  

At the HS level, our Saline teams have the opportunity to compete for Conference, District, Region and State Championships. For Hornet graduates who continue their careers as collegians, their teams compete for Conference and National Championships. The fact is, teams play for a championship in virtually every sport. 
The opportunity to challenge and compete for championships provides coaches, students and even fans with a definitive, tangible goal to pursue. Further, it helps them maintain a laser-like focus while pursuing those goals. As we continue to examine our schools and make decisions about our future, ask yourself the question, “What is Our Championship Game?” The closer we move to having a singular answer, (or even a select few common answers) the more clearly we will be able to define our goals and maintain our own laser-like focus in the Pursuit of Excellence!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


As the district breaks for two days to celebrate Thanksgiving, there is much to be thankful for.

Our schools are populated with wonderful children, eager to learn, be challenged and prepared for the next phases of their lives. Our classrooms are filled with a cadre of talented and passionate teachers and para-educators who work with our children on a daily basis, in many cases forming life-long bonds with their students. Our schools are led by a team of extremely competent and caring administrators who work tirelessly to make sure the children and teachers can work in a safe and secure environment that is conducive to learning. Our parents eagerly partner with our teachers and administrators to provide support for their sons and daughters. Finally, the remainder of our staff - coaches, class and club sponsors, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, the technology staff, the community education staff, the business office, secretaries, bus drivers, cooks, custodians, and the central office team all work collaboratively to facilitate the educational process.  

On behalf of the Human Resources Department please have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Swing at Strikes!

Baseball is often referred to as, "America's Favorite Pastime." It is a game played with 9 players per side in stadiums both majestic and cozy, by grown men and by young children.

Regardless of the age of the participants or the venue the game is played in, the strike zone is defined as an area 17 inches wide, (the width of home plate) that extends from roughly the batters knees to the letters. A pitch thrown inside that area is referred to as a "strike" and a pitch thrown outside that area is a "ball."

Despite the relatively small strike zone, the very best hitters in the game fail 70% of the time! To achieve even this level of success, great hitters know the strike zone well and rarely swing at balls. However, pitchers are crafty... throwing curveballs, sliders & even knuckleballs - pitches that start inside the strike zone but ultimately end up outside the strike zone as balls. Because of the movement of the pitches or even the optical illusion they create, batters often swing helplessly at these pitches outside the strike zone because they initially looked like strikes. As you might suspect, a batter who regularly swings at balls dramatically lowers his or her batting average.

Organizations that clearly define their "strike zone" - areas where they can focus their time, talent and resources, achieve the highest level of success possible. Conversely, those organizations that consistently swing at "curves, sliders & knuckleballs" - find their time, talent and resources drained without much, if any chance of achieving success.

Swing at strikes!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To Be or Not To Be More Like Business...

As school districts struggle to balance their budgets, the concept of running schools like a business continues to be a frequent topic of discussion. For those of you who are Jim Collins devotees this dialog is meaningless, for the distinction should not be between business and social sectors, but rather between good and great organizations. 

The business world is full of companies we would be foolish to emulate - Enron, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, General Motors and Chrysler to name a few. All were profitable at one time or another and some even set the standard within their respective industries. However, each has either failed outright or required millions of federal bailout dollars to survive. For us in schools, like the astronauts on Apollo 13, "failure is not an option!" 

Therefore, our goal should not be to be more businesslike, as this is clearly no precursor for success. Rather our goal should be to get better. To be an organization that makes the very best use of our available resources, (people, time & money to name a few) so that we educate our students better than we ever have. As Collins says, "this is not a business concept, this is a great organization concept!" 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

As we observe Veterans Day, take a moment to reflect upon a quote from President John F. Kennedy - "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

We Are the Decisive Element!

Dr. Haim Ginott once said, "I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized." 

All educators wield the same power. Our actions, demeanor and approach create the climate and weather, make others lives miserable or joyous, torture or inspire, humor, hurt or heal and escalate or de-escalate issues. We are the decisive element in the lives of others!