Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Molly and Her Bike

As shared previously, my wife and I adopted twin girls from Russia in the Fall of 2011. We were told by multiple doctors, both in Russia and via Skype, that while the girls were a good bit behind having been institutionalized in an orphanage for 16 months, they would surely catch up to their peers in three, maybe four, definitely no more than five years down the road.

My wife and I, blinded by our future daughters' adorable faces coupled with our own strong desire to build a family, ignored the obvious signs and moved ahead with the adoption process. Little did we know that our adoption agency would be investigated a few years later by the FBI and eventually close their doors after similar investigative pieces about their adoption practices. It turns out that the adoption agency we trusted may have been withholding medical information regarding our daughters. Looking back, we are stunned we didn't see all of the signs.

Neither Molly or Kenna could crawl when we brought them home. Molly eventually started to move a bit better but her words were increasingly delayed. Kenna didn't fully walk until closer to age three, and even then with an uneasy balance. My wife and I would spend our evenings sitting across from one another, feet to feet, teaching Kenna how to walk and balance back from mommy to daddy.

Doctor visits turned into multiple diagnoses which turned into multiple therapy appointments which turned into my wife a shuttle service for no less than six weekly appointments for the girls. When you add in our attempts to include them in gymnastics (they were the five year olds in the two to three year old class, often at the back of the line, working one to one with an instructor) as well as every service we could squeeze out of our somewhat stingy school district, the care that Molly and Kenna necessitated became a full time job for my wife.

Sometimes, they give the look of what most people would call "normal kids". They smile and laugh, try their best to make friends, and often ask questions that are age-appropriate. They also act like "normal kids" when they have nuclear meltdown tantrums in the chips aisle of Target because their father refuses to buy them their own individual Goldfish packages. (Dad gave in after a few minutes; the screaming stopped thereafter. I tried my best.)

But often, it is very clear that something is different with my Molly and Kenna to the casual observer. They stare a bit longer. They yell out at inappropriate times and for no reason. Their speech still struggles along. Letters and numbers seem to be their enemy.

And worse, due to just diagnosed sensory issues, they'll scream at any loud sound, such as a motorcycle's engine, and often run anyway to get away from the noise, even into oncoming traffic.

Due to a lack of social cues, they'll often hit when angry, especially if one of their siblings has taken something that they were playing with within the last 48 hours but hadn't touched in the interim.

With the severe attachment issues they have with my wife, our time spent together as a six person family often ends in tears, anger, and frustration for everyone.

My wife and I have come to understand that they may never live on their own, they may never be able to have sustainable jobs in the workplace, and that they may never be able to do just the normal things that all kids get to do... like ride a bike.

This is hard.

We want our kids to be successful, no matter what the level they can rise up to. We want to take away societal limits that falsely prevent our kids from reaching their true potential. My wife and I are both educators, both with a soft spot for the autistic, the needy, the lost. As parents of two very special needs kids, it is a challenge to accurately predict where they'll end up and how to best get them to where they need to be for a sustainable life, whatever that looks like.

Back to the bikes.

Molly and Kenna have been asking for new bikes for over a year now. We previously had some pink princess bikes bought off Amazon, put together imperfectly by moi, and eventually discarded without the approval of my daughters. The bikes just weren't safe, even with their lopsided training wheels. Molly and Kenna would often fall, often due to their inability to control their bike. Time after time, they would end up in tears after a horrible bike riding experience.

As a parent, I had given up on them ever riding a bicycle. Given their physical, intellectual, and sensory needs, it would just be something they could never do.

Regardless, with Christmas upcoming, Molly and Kenna had different ideas. Whenever they would get asked what they wanted from Santa, it was the same answer, every single time: We Want A Bike.

Knowing how Bike Riding went the first time, I had little desire to repeat the experience. I knew that it was just something they couldn't do.

Fast forward to the morning of December 24th and the question being asked one more time to Molly and Kenna. Their answer was the same. My wife looked at me and said, "we're going to have to go get them some bikes."

That morning, with the help of my father in law, the girls went to the local bike store and tested out a few bikes. Nothing was purchased until I returned later that afternoon to pick up their new bikes. Kenna was getting a semi smaller bike with training wheels. Molly, however, was getting a larger bike without training wheels.

Two thoughts at this time: (1) This doesn't make any sense; she needs training wheels, and (2) This isn't going to end well; prepare for doom.

The bikes were the last gifts of Christmas morning. The girls were thrilled. Immediately following the family breakfast, they wanted to go bike riding. I was chosen by my wife to be the one to take them. I did not get a vote.

We walked across the street to the park. I had a firm hand on both bikes and girls, not wanting the upcoming chaos to start too soon. We walked a half block to our starting point of the park's biking loop. Helmets were on. Girls got on their bikes. Dad was ready for kid tears. And then this happened.

Day 1 with a bike

No words.


My wife calmly said, "yes, Todd, as I told you, my brother said she didn't need training wheels and would be fine."


"Well, from the video you just sent me, it looks like she does," responded my wife.

And Molly did.

She rode around the park no less than 30 times, never falling once. She learned how to use the hand brake. She somehow figured out how to make tight turns. She slows down when she's approaching someone in the path ahead of her. It didn't make any sense to me at the time (and it still doesn't), but Molly somehow eclipsed my predictions of her potential.

Molly and Kenna rode to the library, all the way down Newell to Channing, across Channing to the other park, around that biking loop (with a hill, no less) so many times, and then back home. This was just the first biking experience of the day. We went out later Christmas afternoon as well and then again twice today. It's safe to say that tomorrow will be filled with biking opportunities as well.

I'm now wondering what other limits I've placed on my daughters that are holding them back rather than letting them soar. Maybe they are ready for the Stanford Dish. Maybe they can take on a few leadership roles (ie chores) in the household. Maybe they are capable of so much more than what I thought.

Maybe all of our students are capable of so much more than we think.

From Day 2 - Notice the "feet trick" Molly does

Happy holidays, everyone. Here's to another 12 days of nonstop bike riding!

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Chat with our Leadership Kids

Every so often I visit our 8th grade leadership class. Comprised of 32 of the most amazing students ever, our leadership class has a rather competitive application process to join. Each year, I'm dazzled by the work and compassion of our leadership students. That said, every year brings a new class filled with new personalities and avenues of growth.

I'm a huge fan of our current class. They're fun, bright, kind, silly, and hardworking. They also struggled at times with tasks that call for a bit of independence and initiative. Knowing where they should be as a class at this point in the year, I decided to give them a "this is where you are, this is where I need you to be" chat today during 4th period.

And of course, I followed it up with a letter home to their parents shortly thereafter.

The point of the parent letter is to help frame the conversations from 4th period, specifically the conversation that I wanted to share, the conversation that I may have shared, and the conversation that the kids believe they've heard.

I've found that all three conversations are often quite different.

As I follow up with students, I try to get a sense of the message they took away our time together during 4th period. In speaking with the leadership teacher, I get a second perspective. By including our parents into the conversation, I'll be able to hear and learn from what the students' takeaways truly were. It's possible that they were fine with the pep talk. It's also possible that some students were not pleased with the constructive feedback. I'm ok if they didn't appreciate the message but I want to be able to shift away from the "I didn't like what you had to say" and begin to talk about "you know, there are a few improvements we can make."

I've copied the message to our leadership class parents below. I'm also going to be sending a copy to the leadership students as well. They are fantastic kids; we're very blessed to have them here at Union Middle School



You are receiving this email if you have a student in our Union Middle School 8th grade Leadership Class. This is not an urgent message; I'm just going to share a conversation I had with the Leadership class during 4th period today.

Over the past few months, I've been able to have numerous individual conversations and even some all-group conversations with our leadership students. I've met weekly, if not more often, with Mrs. Carreras, the leadership teacher, on the group's progress, what they're doing really well, what they may need some support with, and just a general overview of the program.

As a leadership teacher for many years, Mrs. Carreras has been able to compare how independent, how strong, and how "leadsership-esque" her students are from year to year. We discuss how each class has their own personality, their own strengths, and their own possible improvements. Almost always, we see a rather young, silly, talented group of 8th graders from August mature into these amazing, 8th grade award winning young adults by June. The transformation is pretty remarkable.

One struggle that Mrs. Carreras has shared (and that I've personally seen with this year's class) is that the 2017-18 UMS Leadership Class is a bit behind when it comes to class expectations regarding initiative, professionalism, and independence. Individually, I don't see the same issues, but collectively, as a group, there are been a few data points lately regarding events where it feels like our leadership students aren't performing up to their abilities.

This week, I had the pull the weekly Highlights Videos. This is the first time I'd had to do such a thing. 

The video in question had two separate dress code violations, one leadership student shoving another leadership student out of the camera shot, an interview that was of rather low quality, and an overall lack of professionalism, even for 13-14 year olds, that I wouldn't expect at this point in the school year.

Today, during 4th period, we showed the highlights for the students with the preface to see what could be done differently. For the majority of the video, our leadership students were giggling and laughing at their performances. When we ended the video and asked for their thoughts on the video, only one student raised their hand. This student suggested that they act a bit more professional in the video. I agreed.

And then I explained why I had to pull the video, for the reasons described above. I shared that while these videos can be silly at times, there is an expected level of professionalism that that's currently missing. I asked how can I effectively address dress code issues on campus with non-leadership students when the other students see the leadership students not following the dress code themselves. I asked what they're telling our 6th graders what's ok at UMS when they're shoving other students on the UMS highlights presentation. I reiterated that there is a place for the silly parts of the highlight videos, but we are at the point in the year where they need to revisit why they applied for leadership, what talents they have that prompted their inclusion into the class, and what kind of legacy they want to leave for future leadership classes after they promote in June. 

We discussed a few other topics as well. The common theme was a need for an increased sense of initiative. If the DJ is showing up late to the dance, take the initiative and get the speakers out ASAP to see if they're a viable back-up plan. If we want to have an inside-the-quad turkey trot this Friday (of which I'm having nightmares about, for the record), take the initiative and create a segment for the UMS highlights video that shows a scaled map and action figure running the route. If the dance lines are too long, take the initiative and come up with five different possible solutions and start testing them out.

Essentially, we want our leadership students to be a bit more self-supported and less reliant on Mrs. Carreras for explanation. At this point in the school year, we would expect Mrs. Carreras to be more of a guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. There are times where we do see this initiative from our leadership students. Our goal is to provide more opportunities for them to show this growth and demonstrate their progress.

As I shared with them during 4th period, I absolutely adore this group of leadership kids. They're funny, bright, talented, and destined for much greatness. I also know they're capable of much more than what they're showing right now. Both Mrs. Carreras and I are available to help guide them along the way.

So tonight, if you'd like to have a conversation with your leadership student, I'd be interested to know their thoughts. I often fear that a student will clasp on to one bit of constructive feedback rather than seeing the overall message of support. Additionally, when I asked for questions multiple times during my time with them today during 4th period, they were rather reluctant to speak out and share. Please let them know that I'd be glad to meet with them to discuss anything I've shared and will be making multiple reappearances in their class over the next few weeks to support them.

As a closing, when I asked them if they wanted to be in Leadership, the majority of the class yelled a resounding "yes". I realize that not all students may feel this way and we are always willing to move a student into a different elective if they're feeling that leadership is not what they want to do for second semester. That said, as I shared with them today, I believe in every single one of our leadership students and told them "you were selected for a reason" for the class. I'm hopeful we'll see a renewed focus and initiative over the next few weeks and the remainder of the school year.

They're a great group of kids. Thanks for sending them our way.

Todd Feinberg, Principal

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Different Spin on my Back to School Night

Tonight was my 8th Back to School Night at Union Middle School. Every year is a bit different, but truly just more of the same. Our (amazing, national champion) cheerleaders perform for the first few minutes. Our Home & School Club (HSC) president follows with an introduction and shared how our HSC supports our school and students. The principal then closes the introduction and sends the parents on their way.

While we followed the same format tonight, I decided to change up my portion of the night. Instead of sharing slides full of text with the yearly updates, I decided instead to talk to our parent community about what it's like to be in middle school and how we can all work together to support our students.

Below is my speech from tonight, each paragraph tied to a slide shown on the overhead screen. I've included the slides below as well. Thanks for reading!

Hello everyone,

I am Todd Feinberg, your principal.

Normally, this is the time of the night where I talk for a good ten to fifteen minutes. I discuss our SBAC scores (which were very good - Math scores went up a lot!), our Chromebook 1:1 initiative, our school mission and vision, among many other things. All of these topics are available on the slides link and will be sent out later tonight as well.

Instead, I’d like to talk about Union Middle School and maybe even middle school in general.

Middle School is hard. It is hard for our students. It is hard for our staff. It is hard for you, our parent community.

To me, a middle school experience can be perfectly described by the following gif:

(Notice how she gets up every single time)

Seeing how challenging the academic and social scene of middle school can be, I hope you agree with me about what Middle School should be.

It’s where students and teachers can grow and take risks.

Where students learn and are excited to learn each and every day.

A place where kids get a bit of time and freedom to figure things out… to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

When I talk with my staff -- and let me once again say that this is the best staff I’ll ever work with -- we talk nonstop about how to best support our students.

We discuss how they need to be the ones our students can count on, someone who our students can rely on.

After all, I don’t just want our staff to cultivate, to grow our students’ academic gifts, but also encourage their inner kindness as well.

And if you don’t follow our teachers on twitter, please do. You can follow them, follow the school account @goteamums or the school hashtag #teamUMS. On Twitter, you’ll see how we celebrate the positives of Union Middle School, how we make these positives so loud.

And our parents… As I’ve shared before, our parent community is a huge part of our school’s success.

For those 6th grade parents in the crowd… from your emails and texts, I can definitely sense the anxiety about middle school that we share. Please don’t worry about The Wrong; try to be excited about everything that is Going Right.

Know that there are times where you think you are helping your student… but please consider that what they may truly need is something else altogether…

Parents - We encourage our students to share their appreciation with their teachers. Please consider doing the same as well, perhaps together as a family?

And for all of us as a school community…  

Please join our staff in reminding our students that they need not solve all of the world’s problems they’re presented with. Please encourage them to just be themselves. Tell them it’s going to be ok.

Remind them that they matter to you, to us.

Encourage them to share their ideas, no matter how silly.

Try to be the example you want for your student. I’ve found that teenagers don’t always listen to our words but they do watch and mimic our actions.

Encourage them to try hard, always give their best.

And I promise you… I will try to make this middle school adventure for you and for them the best possible experience I can. You can text me via the Remind App. Many of you do. A lot. Late at night. Often. And while we have over 1000 students, please know that we care very deeply about how to best support your 1.

I promise to best support your student both here at UMS and beyond.

And yes, there are times we may disagree. That’s ok. Just know that I make decisions that are very well-vetted and with much care and compassion for our kids and school community. Not some of the time... all of the time.

And above all else, always remember that tomorrow is another day to enjoy, to start anew.

Welcome to Union Middle School. Enjoy your night. Follow your student’s schedule. If you need a new schedule, stop by the office for a copy. Thank you.

(All images attributed where possible; most taken from Imgur/Reddit/Twitter)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Graduation Speech - 2017 - Union Middle School

Good Evening Everyone,

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Todd Feinberg, and I have been privileged to have been the principal of Union Middle School over the past five years. It is an honor to stand in front of you all today and truly means a great deal to me. I genuinely care about each and every one of my Union Tigers. I hope you all will keep in touch.

I’m going to start tonight with a positive. Actually, this entire speech is positive. As I shared back in March when I spoke with our 8th grade class, we love so much about each and every one of our 8th grade students.

We love your spirit.

We love your compassion toward others.

We love your curiosity, your growth, your silliness, and your seriousness.

You are a breath of fresh air. You make us smile, laugh, and have just the right amount of crazy to keep us adults on our toes.

So to impart a bit of wisdom on this already-wonderful group of three hundred plus young adults, I reflect back on two student stories from my time at Union Middle.

The first story began seven years ago.

The year is 2010 and I had just joined Union Middle School. As I’ve shared previously, I had spent that spring contemplating leaving education altogether. On a whim, I applied for and eventually was selected to be the assistant principal at Union.

One of my first student interactions was not with a middle school student, but instead with a 1st grader. This 1st grader would stop by a few times a week with her younger sister and hang out in our main office while their babysitter finished up her day.
This 1st grade student was incredibly friendly, extremely bright, and just loved to joke around. Of course, I called her George (because why not) and over the next year or two, almost every afternoon, we would challenge one another to word searches, admire her artwork, and just simply laugh at the silliest of things.

You see, this 1st grader embodied many of the traits I see in all of you, but most of all what stood out was how she, also like many of you, excelled in how to build relationships with others.

We adults are often told that relationships aren’t the only thing, but instead they’re everything. How we connect with one another. How we share a little bit of our lives with each other. How we forgive and how we love to make others smile.

Thus, my first bit of advice for the Class of 2017 is to always focus on your relationships.

Take a moment this summer (hint hint) to write a letter of gratitude to your favorite 8th grade teacher. Sometime tonight or perhaps this weekend, acknowledge that extra effort your family provided you over the past three years to reach tonight’s promotion. Just always try to be your best self; these relationships you plant today, no matter who silly and simple they may seem, always have the potential to grow into something beautiful.

And when we speak of relationships, I’m not talking about 300 day streaks in Snapchat or five trillion emojis sent back and forth over a ten minute “conversation” - Relationships are built upon human contact and concern, meeting with someone to hear their story, and share a little bit of yourself as well. We all could try to be a little more present in our digital lives.

And to that 1st grader seven years ago who through their kindness made such a positive impact on my own professional life… George, or whom many of you know as Alexis B., wherever you’re sitting here tonight as part of our promoting 8th grade class, thank you.  

The second story is from the current school year. It involves a student who was new to Union Middle School for their 8th grade year. She was overflowed to our sister school Dartmouth and didn’t arrive on our campus until late September, only knowing one other UMS student prior to her arrival.

As a student myself who started 7th grade as the brand new student across the country, I was amazed at how effortlessly this student made it look. She sought out a group of friends who would raise her up if she was feeling down. She excelled academically. Often, when she crossed the sidewalk to leave school each day, she’d often say a quick “thank you” to whatever adult was there to help.

Obviously, much like our promoting class of 2017, she’s an amazing student and individual.

But what impressed me the most about this student was during a music assembly, back in March.

Our students had recently completed a swing dancing unit, the first such dance curriculum for Union Middle School students in a long while. As our amazing band students were about to perform, our band director, Mr. Kay, shared with the students in attendance, “If you want to get up and swing dance, feel free!”

The band began to play and, much like I’d expect for a group of middle school students, no audience member flinched. You could see people pretending to stand up as if they were going to be the first person on the dance floor. You may have seen a few friends joking with each other, trying to convince one another to start dancing. Regardless, no one moved; no one took that risk of being first.

Until this student, who began her 8th grade year at Union Middle having to rebuild her entire social and school persona from scratch… she stood up, grabbed her friend’s hand, and began to swing dance in front of the six hundred kids in attendance.

A few students gasped, some chuckled… until two other students joined on the dance floor. And then two more. And then ten more. And then seemingly everyone fled from the bleachers and began swing dancing. It was quite a sight to behold: kids just being kids, blissfully free from the social pressures of being afraid to stand out.

And I reflect back on this one student who led the charge. This one student who started a mini dance dance revolution at our music assembly that morning. I remember being incredibly impressed at how bold she was to take this chance, to ignore what someone would say, to not worry about what she looked like if she ended up as one of the only students dancing.

Thus, my second bit of advice for the Class of 2017 is to not be afraid to stand out, to stand up, and allow yourself to be who you are.

What I found so remarkable about this student, who you all know as Courtney S., is that she did something I could never have done as a 8th grade student and probably many of us here today would have strong reservations doing as an adult.

Courtney wasn’t afraid to be the one leading the charge. She took a huge risk and showed how leadership can take many forms. I believe that all of you have the capability to be a strong leader in whatever it is you do. Don’t be afraid to be a positive trendsetter and don’t be afraid to be the first follower either.

There is a third quality I wish for our graduates to reflect upon. Truth be told, I feel like it’s something that our 2017 graduates already do quite well.

It is a trying time in the world today. One of the most challenging roles of your educators, your parents, your grandparents, truly anyone who wants to impart wisdom upon you, is trying to make sense of what’s happening outside our school gates, in your communities, across town, throughout our state, within our nation, and across the world.

For our Union Middle School community, it has been an especially challenging year. Family members we’ve lost. The private troubles of your classmates that were never shared. It has been one of the toughest last months of school I’ve ever been a part of - many of you have kept me up at night, worried whether or not you’d be ok.

Knowing how challenging it is to be a teenager in today’s society, I offer the class of 2017 my best advice possible: be kind.

Kind to your classmates, kind to strangers, kind to your parents, kind to your neighbors. Please be kind to yourselves as well. Just be kind.

When a special needs 7th grader was having a hard time around another group of students, you rallied at their side... walking them to school, spending lunch with them, and making sure they felt included.

When Bryan Stow shared his story with you during a school assembly this past February, you chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from an upcoming dance to his foundation.

We have watched you comfort one another through the crises of middle school. We see the hugs (which are still for high school, by the way) you offer your classmates when you know they’re having a bad day. Your little random acts of kindness do not go unnoticed by your teachers, your parents, and most importantly, from your classmates. I wish more adults in this world, especially perhaps in the today’s political arena, had your kind, helpful spirit.

As Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

To the Union Middle School class of 2017, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your kindness. I wish you all weren’t leaving just yet.

But I think the world needs you more than we do right now. Go out and continue to shine. We are going to miss you.

Congratulations everyone and thank you for the past three years.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An Invitation To Lead

It started with the most innocent of conversations.

I was speaking with Jon Corippo, the Director of Academic Innovation for CUE. As are most of my conversational experiences with Jon Corippo, I am mentally taking notes on everything he's saying - it's like edu-gospel for academic leaders.

Jon is sharing parts of his vision for how to change the status quo of education. I find myself nodding to everything he says. It was all about how we need to address the student's learning experience. As I said, gospel.

"We have to put the learning back into the hands of the students." Absolutely.

"If you're not sitting around the lunch table, sharing how awesome your students are and how amazing their work is, change your lesson design." Couldn't agree more.

"Hey, are you interested in joining the CUE Rockstar Admin Staff at a future conference?" Uh, wait a second.

I didn't know if he was serious or not. I replied with something along the lines of "I would love to" and "sure, be glad to help." Inside, I was thinking to myself, "oh no, he's mistaken me for a different edu-Todd! I'm not sure how to get out of this!"

Because in my own thought process, I couldn't discover a reason why THE Jon Corippo would find anything in value in what I could share with my fellow administrators. Zero. None.

I had only been presenting at various edu-conferences for a year or two at this point. The attendance had been spotty at all of my sessions. The participation therein borderline iffy. I wasn't sure what I had to offer to another edu-administrator other than a solid 60 minutes where they could catch up on their emails during my presentation.

But I said "sure!" and didn't expect anything to come of it.

Until about a year later, I got an email somewhat out of the blue. I knew that the CUE Rockstar Admin camps were approaching for the upcoming Fall. Here in my inbox sat an email, asking if I would like to serve as part of the faculty for the Admin event. I froze.

So this is a real thing? They're actually asking me to participate?

I scanned who else had been invited and would be part of the presenting team...

Michael Niehoff. Brandon BlomTraci Bonde. Jennifer Kloczko. Jon Corippo. Plus me.

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things is not like the others. One of these things is not like the others.

Michael Niehoff is edu-famous for building Minarets High School from the ground up with Jon Corippo. Michael has actually been the lead trainer for our USD administrative staff for the past year or two.

Brandon Blom, the Roseville principal who writes blogs that I copy and paste for my weekly Meeting in a Memo. I regularly stalk his #PrincipalsinAction twitter posts.

Traci Bonde was one of the admin faculty from my own CUE Admin Rockstar experience. She's been at the Ed Tech Admin game for close to two decades now. She's one of the "legend" CTOs in our edu-circles.

Jennifer Kloczko has been an inspiration for my own principal leadership over the past five years. If she's presenting at a conference, I'm usually there and in attendance. Just recently, at Fall CUE, I liberally swiped one of her ideas (internal Staff Website) and transformed how our #teamUMS staff accesses their school information.

And Jon Corippo, quite possibly the biggest edu-game changer on the West Coast as well. Five amazing, legendary edu-figures. Plus me.

I still secretly suspect that it's a mistake that my email was included on the invite list. But I'm getting past that feeling lately. My new goal is to make the most of the experience.

Here's why: This is going to be one of the best learning experiences of my education career. Am I ready for this opportunity? Perhaps, perhaps not. Am I going to seize the challenge and recognize that I have been selected by someone for a specific reason... that I have something edu-awesome to share with my administrative peers? Absolutely yes.

It reminds me of what Erik Burmeister, my predecessor at Union Middle School, said to me when I first applied to follow him as the #teamUMS principal over five years ago.

I told Erik "I don't think I'm ready to be a principal."

He replied "No one is ever ready. Don't worry - you'll eventually be ready. And when you are, you'll already be there."

So from one innocent conversation to the stage of leading and working with administrators on how to become a Rockstar Admin. It should be a fun ride -- I'll be there!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dear 7th Grade Student: Don't Give Up

​Dear awesome 7th grade student,​

​I'm writing you tonight to share the results from the week's ​elections at UMS. 

By now, you may know that I've already called the respective individuals who were selected for each of the five ASB officer positions. 

By now, you've probably figured out that you did not receive a call, that all of the positions were filled, and that you won't be serving as an ASB officer at UMS in the fall.

I know it can be a bit challenging to receive the news that you were not selected for a position that you campaigned for, that you put yourself out there for, that you spent time making posters for, and that you worked extremely hard to make happen.

I say that I know how you may feel because I myself ran for secretary during my 7th or 8th grade year in middle school. I'm not sure which year it was (i'm old), but what I do remember is that I ran against just one other person. It was me or her. 50% chance. Great odds, I thought.

In the end, it was her. 

I was really bummed. My friends had run. One of them had been selected as an officer. He was celebrating while I was just confused and disappointed by the results.

What hurt the most was that there was no closure or notice from anyone at the school to help explain what happened. The winners were announced over the loud speaker and that was it. 

When I sat in my social studies class and waited for the results to be read over the loud speaker, I started to get a bit excited. After all, I had a 50% chance of winning. My friends said that they all voted for me. I had spent the last two weeks saying hi to everyone in the halls. Surely this counted for something, right?

They read the results for everyone to hear and I realized that I had not been selected. I looked around the room and felt that everyone was looking at me. Self-consciously, I suspected that everyone was internally doing the math in their head: "Todd had a 50% chance of winning and he lost! He finished LAST!"

The rest of the day was a bit rough. I didn't eat with my friends that lunch. Instead, I chose to do a bit of homework in the library, but truly, I was hiding and a bit embarrassed by the news. It's hard to be 13, to put yourself out there, and to fail.

But as I've grown older, I realize that I didn't fail. If anything, I succeeded.

No, I didn't win some random secretary position at some random middle school way back when. Instead, I gained a bit of perspective that sometimes things don't work out how I hoped they would have but it doesn't mean that there won't be another opportunity that I need to be prepared for.

Essentially, you need to make sure you just don't give up.

The loss of the secretary position stayed with me for a while. 

Fast forward to college. I finally managed the courage to run again for an elected position, this time in my fraternity. I end up elected treasurer and am re-elected for my Junior and Senior years. (Disclaimer: I'm not sure anyone else wanted the job)

Fast forward a few more years and I'm being interviewed for my first teaching position. Didn't get it and instead I'm immediately called back to interview for the job I ended up loving for my first five years in education.

And then, I apply for two administrative positions despite having five years of classroom experience. Reach the second round but was the runner up. Came up short. Replayed my second round interview in my head over and over again. A week later, I ended up being selected for the second one.

Two years later, I applied for an assistant principal position at my high school alma mater. Didn't get it. Reapply a year later. End up getting selected this time around.

My point, awesome 7th grade student, is that you're going to be selected for a lot of awesome opportunities in your future. You're also going to lose out on others. All of this is absolutely ok. Just don't give up trying. 

I'm proud of you for putting yourself out there and running for office. You did a great job. Thank you for being a student at UMS. Thank you for being you and making UMS a special place to be. 

I look forward to your 8th grade year and seeing how you continue to be awesome. Keep it up.


Your very proud principal

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