Thursday, November 21, 2013

Being Grateful

In my recent exploration of Twitter, I have begun to follow some amazing and talented educators. One of my more recent follows is a current high school assistant principal who happens to be a former colleague of one of my close high school friends who now teaches in Marin. In a recent tweet, the assistant principal posted a picture of his staff room with books made available for his staff. Coincidentally, over the past few weeks, I've been purchasing selected books from amazon for our staff. These are books that they've either requested, books I've discovered via twitter, or assorted books recommended by respected educators. I've provided these books individually to staff members in hopes of encouraging them to explore deeper into their teaching practice. Thus far, all of these gifts have been very well received and I'm excited to hear the positive initial feedback.

Inspiring by the above linked picture, I set out to purchase 15-20 books covering all aspects of education and child development. The main purpose behind the purchasing and providing of these books were to recognize the desired professional development among the staff and to help provide the opportunity to expand their teaching practice. I felt that these gifts would be looked upon favorably. With my plan to introduce the books at a staff collaboration, I anticipated I'd have to stand aside as the entire staff fought each other gladiator-style in order to acquire their favorite book from the available selection. Instead, the opposite happened. Silence.

I continued the staff collaboration meeting for a few more minutes and then left to join one of the 8th grade teams as our teachers regrouped for the upcoming team collaboration. When I returned to the staff room, all of the books remained lined up along the wall. Not a single book had been borrowed.

Earlier in the staff meeting, I had shared a video on being grateful and showing compassion to others. Within the staff memo emailed out earlier that day, there was an article included on how blessed we all are to be living in the Bay Area  and working at Union among friends and family. With such a focus on gratitude and thankfulness, I was surprised at the lack of feedback and support of what I felt was my generosity. I even suggested to a few veteran staff members that they may like one of the book selections I made, hinting it was purchased with their interests in mind. Almost every teacher said "no thanks" to the offer. I was stunned.

Later that day, I spoke, perhaps even vented, with our school counselor, wondering aloud at the reaction by our staff. While perhaps it was a little much to expect The Hunger Games to break out in an attempt to get a book on Falling in Love with Close Reading, I had secretly hoped that all of the books would have been spoken for by the end of the first day. As always, our school counselor listened and offered some feedback, all of which was completely true. Yes, our staff (including our leadership team and perhaps our students and parents too) are quite busy right now and cannot commit to reading a book on the Common Core over Thanksgiving break. Yes, a few staff members are already reading a book I've lent them and didn't want to take a second book until finished with their first book. Yes, the teachers were in a rush to get to Team Collaboration as there's a lot to discuss during this limited and sacred amount of time. All of this is true, but to me it still stung a little.

I spent the end of the school day outside in the rain, trying my best to usher cars into the parking lot and then match said vehicles to their correct student. Given that it was a rainy day, we experienced at least twice as many pick-ups in the front parking lot as a normal Wednesday. I afterwards returned to the office and made plans to depart a bit early for the day after the lengthy Math Meeting the evening previous. At home, I shared with my wife my experience from the day. Much like the school counselor earlier that day, my wife rationalized the staff's response and remained positive about my project. She reminded me of something I would always say to her: "You can't control how someone else will respond to your gift." She continued to share that this doesn't mean you shouldn't give the gift. It just means it's not about the reaction; it's about your generosity and kindness. And she's right.

The following morning, I received an email from a parent. It said:

Good morning,

Yesterday was pretty crazy with the rain and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you being out there. (Her student) and I drove by and we saw you helping a student get into his car to help with the outrageous traffic and I said to (my student )how awesome it is to have such a hands on principal. Thank you for being ready to do whatever it takes to help things run smoothly. I really appreciate that you are out there and so visible to our kids. We are a lucky school to have you!

Have a great day--should be a bit easier no rain today.

Where I thought the appreciation would come from ended up not being my generosity with educational books for our staff but instead from a parent for something I enjoy doing and did so without any expectations. Today, after receiving this email, I made a few decision on how my Thursday would proceed. After all, if this simple email made such a difference in my day, shouldn't I follow its lead and attempt to encourage others to feel just as positive about their daily routines?

First, I was going to acknowledge as many staff members and school volunteers as I could today. Our staff puts in so many additional hours and takes on very challenging assignments, many of which are outside the public's eye and only privy to the principal - they deserve this recognition. Second, receiving this parent email invigorated me to have the best day possible and I set out to pay it forward for as many staff members as possible. It is very important to appreciate the efforts of one's co-workers, something I know I need to improve upon. Third, I've always struggled with thanking someone for just doing the job that they're expected to do. Surely this stems from my childhood and needs to be explored through professional means at some point, or so my wife, also a middle school counselor, tells me. That said, I don't think it's about mindlessly thanking someone for just doing their job requirements but instead acknowledging them for everything they do that truly makes a difference in the lives of their students, their own professional growth, or for the betterment of our school community.

Thus, my daily goal is to be more thankful of our students who stop to help a peer pick up their dropped pencil box that exploded open in the middle of the quad (yes, this happened today); our staff who did select a book and stopped by to specifically thank me for my efforts (there were more than just a few who did today), or our parent community who truly sees our relationship as collaborative efforts to raise socially responsible and academically prepared young adults (and I'm very lucky this is the template for my daily conversations with our school community).

I have more plans for the book wall. I've already set them in motion. I've also begun to "take requests" (some unsolicited) from our staff on which books they'd like to see added to the available selection. I hope to achieve my vision of a staff Reading Wall and I'll be quite thankful of everyone who borrowed, reviewed, or encouraged a colleague to check out a book. And for those who make a difference in my life along the way, I will be extremely grateful.

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