Tag Archives: middle school

Riding Tall in the Saddle

As a young principal, I wish someone had sat me down, unscrewed the top of my hard head, and poured some common sense into my empty skull.  I would have been a much better leader if they had.  I learned about leading through trial and error with, unfortunately, more error than I would like to admit.  I now realize what many of my colleagues and staff could have told me years ago if I had been more inclined to listen – I blew it as often as I got it right.  Looking back at those early years, I thank the good Lord in heaven for having a sense of humor and allowing me to continue to learn and grow – heaven knows I didn’t always deserve it.   However, leadership is a journey, and learning from your mistakes is as much a part of the journey as getting it right – maybe even more so.

I learned the hard way that leading people is basically the same whether you are motivating a class full of middle school or high school students, coaching an athletic team, or involved in leading an organization with hundreds of employees.  Leadership is about being prepared to lead, establishing and building a foundation or platform from which to lead, and sustaining a clear focus on the cornerstones that lead to success.  Leadership is about knowing when to build fences and when to tear them down.  Leadership is about leading, not controlling, and most of all, it is about understanding THERE IS NOTHING SACRED ABOUT LEADERSHIP.  It is a people thing that will and should change to some degree as often as the people may change.  However, this takes time to learn, and although I wish I could say otherwise, I was a slow learner.

Being a leader is hard sometimes rewarding work, but more often frustrating and tedious work.  It is never ending, and it is all consuming.  It is unfortunate, but when you take a leadership role, such as principal, more often than not everything else takes a secondary role in your life.  That is why it is so important to have a spouse and family who understand the commitment and sacrifices leadership demands.  A supportive spouse and family are a must, especially if they understand the rank order of family and work are more often blurred than concise.  Family should always take precedence over work, but there are times when for a leader to function effectively, his job may briefly take priority.  The leader, on the other hand, must guard against such moments of necessity becoming the norm; he must always remember relationships are about balance, and he must do whatever it takes to maintain the balance between work and family.

Although I never did it well, I learned balancing relationships is crucial to successful leadership.  It is difficult to move an organization forward if relationships are rocky at work or at home.  Leadership is the art of moving people toward a common goal, and that cannot be accomplished effectively without strong relationships both at home and on the job.  Although there may be nothing sacred about leadership, relationships are the glue that holds everyone and everything together and enables the leader to focus on leading.  Relationships are critical and must be nurtured and cared for carefully as well as tenderly.

Relationships can be scary, especially for a first-time leader.  Relationships take trust, and at first, trusting anyone other than yourself is hard to do.  Therefore, the young inexperienced leader tends to read, research, and pray – pray a lot – for a secret formula or magical spell that makes his job easy.  In the beginning, I knew such formulas and magic had to exist.  Everywhere I turned, I saw people in leadership roles that carried themselves with such confidence that I knew there was something I was missing.  They possessed a confidence to ride tall in the saddle that was magical almost majestic.   I wanted what they had!  Fortunately, after years of trial and error, I finally discovered that great leadership is the result of an uncompromising work ethic, perseverance, getting up when you are knocked down, and luck as well as maintaining relationships that cushion the falls and brush you off when you climb back to your feet.  It wasn’t magical at all!

As my experiences grew, I learned through osmosis and hard-knocks when it was okay to bend and break the rules, when to stand alone, how to pick my battles, and when to challenge and cross over established boundaries.  It probably took too long, but I finally learned the secret to leadership lies in the ability of people in leadership roles to do whatever it takes to make positive things happen around them.  Leaders make things happen even when it is not popular, and they do not compromise success by taking a wait and see approach; they are proactive.  In other words, leaders learn to do two things: they learn to build relationships with others and they learn to build a relationship with themselves.  They do that by developing an inner confidence and trust as well as confidence and trust in others.  It is that trust that gives a leader the courage and confidence to ride tall in the saddle.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 23, 2016

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Peace Offering to the Mississippi Legislature: Let’s Be as Happy as a Clam

PARCC is gone! As Gomer Pyle, the simple-minded auto mechanic from the Andy Griffith Show of the 1960’s, would say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” But, it’s not really a surprise. With the on-going struggles to deliver and receive the assessment electronically, inability to provide assessment results in a timely manner, failure to adequately address teacher fears and questions about the test, and growing parental concerns as well as mounting political pressure, it was only a matter of time before the PARCC assessment was dropped. If the Mississippi legislators have their way, the next task will be to bring to life the Commission on College and Career Readiness to oversee the development of not only a new assessment but new standards as well. The legislative promise of homegrown standards and assessments free of influence from Washington, standards and assessments more relevant to the children of Mississippi, and standards more satisfying to parents as well as the general public will be welcomed by many.  Although the legislators do not promise rigorous standards or assessments designed to improve Mississippi education, maybe they know best; maybe, they they do know what Mississippi needs after all.

My only hope is that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor will place people on the new commission with the expertise and experience to understand the magnitude and scope of creating/writing new standards and assessments. Of course, since this is a time sensitive project, I will be surprised if the Governor does not already have someone waiting in the wings with a set of user friendly standards ready to be rolled out and implemented across the state. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure – Mississippi needs a break from all the ill-will currently associated with education.  The best way to do that is for the new commission to develop assessments that are appealing to all stakeholders whether they create the standards from scratch or already have standards packaged and ready to be rolled out.

Therefore, I am extending the olive branch of peace, and to show my sincerity, I would like to offer a foolproof plan for selection of standards and creation of supporting state assessments. Hopefully, the powers in Jackson and their new commission will consider this plan or a similar plan for the peace of mind and good of all. It is time for the hostilities to end and get everyone on the same page, and I believe such a plan as the one I present below will do the job.

Plan to Development State Standards and Assessments:

  1. Step one: Develop or adopt new state standards. Legislators need to do whatever they think is best. The good teachers will continue to build rigor into their lessons regardless of the standards, the marginal teachers will be happy to follow whatever script they are presented, and the poor teachers will be thrilled that they can once again relax and enjoy the paycheck;
  2. Step two: Before final approval of the new standards, develop a battery of homework examples that support the new standards, and then administer the examples to the whole legislature including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. If there are any homework problems the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or legislators do not fully understand or they cannot work, throw the associated standards out;
  3. Step three: Next, administer the remaining homework examples to parents across the state. The easiest way to do this is through Facebook. There are more parents and people in general who are education authorities assembled on Facebook at any given time than there are anywhere in the world. We need to start using their expertise to our children’s advantage. If there are any homework problems the parents do not understand or cannot work, throw the standards associated to the overly problematic and/or rigorous homework out;
  4. Step four: Finally, administer the remaining homework examples to students. If any of the examples cause students to think longer than ten seconds, write more than two consecutive coherent sentences, or are so involved that they infringe on after school baseball, gymnastics, dance, bolo, chess, tennis, swimming, TV time, or any other nonacademic activity, throw out the standards associated to those homework examples;
  5. Step five: What is left will be the final draft of the state’s new standards. At this point, go ahead and print the standards. Step six is just a formality;
  6. Step six: The new commission can now submit their recommendations for the new standards to the State Superintendent of Education and the State Board of Education for their approval. Of course, since the State Superintendent and the State Board will only have authority to approve what is recommended to them by the commission, they will be compelled to pass the recommendations, which is exactly what we want them to do – right?; and
  7. Step seven: CELEBRATE! The Governor should lead the state in a celebration of this monumental accomplishment. Mississippians will finally be able to stand proudly and thumb their noses at Washington. Once again we will be a state of hospitality where our children peacefully reside on the bottom of the achievement ladder. There is nothing more appealing than submissive peace of mind.

I sincerely hope my plan will at least be considered; it should appease everyone. The students will not have to worry about being challenged, parents will not have to worry about their babies being subjected to academic stress or heaven forbid not getting an “A”, and state legislators will not have to worry about losing control to Washington or not having cheap labor available for years to come for the tax-exempt businesses they recruit to the state.   It’s time we accept that our state legislators have the people’s best interests in mind, and that they are the MAN! Everyone knows if you stand against the MAN, as singer/songwriter, John Prine, says, “You’re never gonna be as happy as a clam.” So, I encourage everyone to stand by the MAN and be “as happy as a clam!” Stand behind the good intentions of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and legislators who know and always will know better than the people and especially educators what is best for Mississippi.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 1, 2015

From the Mouth of an Elementary School Child

“My mom is a stay at home mom. She can’t keep a job,” are the words of a second grader when asked about her mother’s career. Simple, innocent, and truthful, the words of elementary school students can sometimes be very enlightening. An elementary teacher once told me about a third grader who came to class without her homework. The teacher asked her why her mommy or daddy didn’t help her with her homework. The little girl shrugged and said they didn’t have time. Not one to accept excuses, the teacher pressed further and asked why they did not have time to help her. “They were playing in the bedroom,” the little girl said. Simple, innocent, truth comes straight from the mouths of little ones, and that is why a wise teacher once told me to always be careful what you say or do around children as well as how you phrase a question or assignment to them. If teachers are not careful, their words and actions can come back to haunt them, and even well intended questions and assignments can sometimes dig up more information than the teacher would like or need to know.

Children have unique perspectives of the world that can be comical, heartwarming, and even shocking. Their words can make you laugh, cry, or raise your eyebrows, and sometimes their words will lift you up as well as cause you to stop and count your blessings. The little ones, influenced only by their perceptions of truth and the world in which they live, speak their minds and heart. There is no agenda for their words, their words have few filters and their words reflect a simplicity and innocence that often leave adults shaking their heads in wonder. You never know what you may hear and learn from children.

As an educator, I have collected some of the unique things kids say in school, especially those that made me laugh. Of the treasures I have collected, I must admit I am a little partial to the gems that come from the mouths of elementary school kids although the words of middle school and high school students can sometimes be just as innocent and straight forward. However, unlike middle and high school students, the little people are rarely trying to be funny – they just are! Such is the case with the examples I share in this article. The student remarks are innocent reactions and bits of conversation between students as well as between students and teachers in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. Each statement is real and was spoken directly to me, overheard by me, or shared with me by a teacher. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

From the Mouths of Elementary School Children:

  1. Boogers taste pretty awesome: I overheard this one as two first grade boys waited in the cafeteria line. Apparently they had been picking their noses and comparing notes on what they found. I skipped lunch that day.
  2. My mom takes shots for her diarrhea: The little girl who shared this tidbit with her teacher apparently confused diabetes with diarrhea.
  3. My dog and little brother eat out of the litter box: I was in a first grade classroom observing a first year teacher. She read a story to the class about a little boy with a secret. When finished reading, she talked with the boys and girls about good and bad secrets. Before she could finish, a little boy raised his hand and said he had a secret. The teacher asked was it a good or bad secret? The little boy looked around the room and whispered it was really bad. The color left the teacher’s face as she feared the worse, but before she could take the child aside, he announced his secret to the whole class, “My dog and little brother eat out of the litter box.” As the class erupted in laughter, the young teacher laid a hand over her heart and sighed in deep relief.
  4. Cats are smarter than dogs; they don’t eat poop: A teacher shared this one with me from a class writing assignment about favorite pets.
  5. Mommy has a tattoo on her butt: I was visiting a kindergarten classroom where the teacher was reading Peter Pan to the class. When Captain Hook appeared in the story, she stopped to ask the children what they knew about pirates. One little boy said pirates had a patch over one eye, another boy said pirates had a hook for a hand, and a little girl offered that her daddy had told her pirates had tattoos. The teacher was about to continue the story when a little boy raised his hand and said, “My mommy has a tattoo on her butt.” The teacher’s jaw dropped, and she looked wide eyed at me. Trying to keep my composure, I waved goodbye and quickly left the room doing my best to not openly laugh in front of the kids.
  6. My teacher gets real still when she farts: Sometimes teachers have to be extra careful with student assignments. A fourth grade teacher gave her students an assignment asking them to write a paragraph about an adult they liked other than their parents. The paragraph not only had to tell why they liked the person, but it had to tell one “fun” fact about the person they chose. The teacher was flattered when one of her students chose her, but became concerned and embarrassed when the child wrote as his fun fact, “My teacher gets real still when she farts.” There are few things more fun for a nine year old boy than a fart.
  7. Did you see Mrs. ???’s titties when she bent over your desk?: On another visit to an elementary, I was walking down the hall when about twenty-five feet in front of me two second grade boys stepped out of the boys’ restroom on their way back to class. The boys did not see me as they continued laughing and talking. As they passed the open door of a classroom one of the boys said loudly, “I saw Mrs. _____’s titties when she bent over my desk!” You could hear an audible gasp from the classroom, and a wide eyed teacher stepped into the hall. I immediately called the boys to me and spoke to them about the inappropriateness of what I had heard, and then I escorted them back to class. That afternoon, I met with the superintendent about the need for a professional dress code.
  8. My teacher sleeps with her mouth open: This was another student quote overheard in the hallway, which caused me some real concern. However, the sleeping teacher turned out to be a substitute teacher who decided being a substitute was not a good fit for her.
  9. Nobody shoots snot rockets better than Billie: Two fifth grade boys from different classes met in the hallway, and decided to check out the unlocked and open janitor’s closet. They could have investigated the room without getting caught if they had not stopped to spit loogies and shoot snot rockets into a mop bucket in the corner of the closet. Their goose was cooked when a passing teacher heard one say, “That’s not bad, but nobody shoots snot rockets better than Billie.”
  10. You look like you need a hug; I’m a really good hugger: This is maybe my all-time favorite. On my first day as an education consultant, I was buzzed into an elementary school feeling a bit lost and wondering if I really wanted to be a consultant. As I approached the school office a tiny first grade girl, Amanda, was standing in the hall just outside the door. Amanda looked at me and smiled, “You look like you need a hug,” she said, “I’m a really good hugger.” That hug not only made my day, but made the whole job more worthwhile. She reminded me why I was there, and she turned a frightening day into a wonderful experience and a lifetime memory. Thank you Amanda.

One thing I have learned about elementary school children in my brief time with them as an educator is that they never fail to fascinate. Whether they are talking about their home life, their take on bodily functions, or winning hearts with a word, smile, or hug, they never cease to amaze. Their insight into their world and the world around them is priceless. They rarely miss anything, and when they decide to share, adults better hold on; there is no telling what they might say. Art Linkletter said it best, “Kids say the darndest things!”

JL

©Jack Linton, December 6, 2014

Little Smiles, Big Hugs, and Huge Celebrations

Last week I spent four days in two elementary schools assisting with implementing professional learning communities. I always enjoy visiting elementary schools because other than an occasional “I want my mama!” tantrum wailing down the halls, elementary schools tend to be some of the happiest places on earth. There are little smiles, big hugs, and huge celebrations around every corner. There are knee high little people constantly pulling at your pants leg asking, “Who are you? Are you the president? Do you know Santa Claus? You look like Santa Claus,” and there is always at least one child who will offer you his foot, so you can tie his shoe. The neat thing is that after the shoe is tied, you can expect an appreciative hug that leaves a trail of snot down the arm of your jacket to the knees of your pants, but I have always been of the opinion that hugs are always worth a little snot.

The smiles and hugs alone make visiting elementary schools a joy, but when you add the never ending celebrations, the result is what Mardi Gras must look like in heaven. I mean these little people know how to party! You have not lived until you witness five and six year old children celebrate Caterpillar and Earthworm Month, or join them for Hotdog Week in the lunchroom. Whoever said a hotdog and an earthworm won’t fit on the same bun with ketchup has never witnessed the ingenuity of a six year old. There is also nothing quite as fascinating as watching a five year old try to lick ketchup off his chin before it drips onto his shirt, and when he fails, not missing a beat as he lifts his shirt to lick it clean.

The ones that I am most impressed with though are elementary teachers. Day after day, week after week, month after month, they find something for their children to celebrate. Walk into your nearest elementary school, and I guarantee you will see posters and decorations touting “Toot and Tell It Month,” “National Pickle Day,” or “Bring a Goat to School Week.” The list goes on and on and on. I would almost be willing to bet that other than Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter the list is so extensive that the teachers rarely ever have a need to repeat a celebration. I mean these folks celebrate any and everything! They can make a celebration out of a broken egg yolk.

Now, I admit as an educator coming from a high school background, I was once shocked at the level of commitment elementary schools have to celebrations. To my uninformed way of thinking, the seemingly never ending stream of celebrations constituted a grave misuse of instructional time. However, I have mellowed quite a bit since those days when I was repeatedly stoned and shamed by elementary principals and teachers for my lack of understanding. Maybe it is my age, or more likely one of the stones actually knocked some sense into me, but I have come to realize these celebrations are valuable learning tools for young children. Even if they were not learning opportunities, which they are, the celebrations are fun and build student interest in school. Maybe that is what is missing at all grade levels in schools today. Maybe what schools need is a little more fun – not only in elementary school, but middle school and high school as well. We might be amazed at the impact on behavior, attendance, and achievement if we created schools where children and teachers enjoyed being there.

Therefore, in an effort to show my support for making schools a more fun place to be, I am contributing a list of nationally recognized monthly and weekly celebrations. I am fairly certain that none of the celebrations on my list will be new to elementary school principals and teachers, and I am fairly positive that many middle school and high school principals and teachers will be just as inflexible as I once was and ask, “What in the name of a blue flaming hen is he thinking? What does he hope to accomplish? Has he gone absolutely mad?” My answer is simple. Sometimes it pays to be a little mad if it gets people to thinking what the best hope is for kids, and especially if it makes school a place where children of all ages want to be. Therefore, I challenge principals and teachers across all grade levels to find an excuse for celebrating from the list below, or better yet, create your own reason to celebrate. I think it is time to follow the lead of the elementary schools and build a little fun and celebration into our schools and the lives of our children! Who knows, it may be the missing “silver bullet” educators have been searching for years to find.

Linton’s School Celebrations: (These are actual celebration days, weeks, or months)

  • Oatmeal Month (January)
  • Spaghetti Day (January 4)
  • Cuckoo Dancing Week (Week of January 18th – I may take my wife dancing this week.)
  • Snack Food Month (February)
  • Procrastination Week (Second Week of March – Right before spring break – how appropriate!)
  • Egg Salad Week (1st week after Easter Sunday)
  • Frog Month (April)
  • Teacher Appreciation Month (1st full week in May)
  • Trauma Awareness Month (May – I wonder if there is a reason for Teacher Appreciation Month and Trauma Awareness Month to be in the same month?)
  • Bathroom Reading Week (Second week in June – Now this is my kind of celebration!)
  • Baked Beans Month (July – As a teacher, I would be glad this one comes in the summer.)
  • Clown Week (August 1 – 7 each year – All a teacher needs is another clown!)
  • Chicken Month (September)
  • Children’s Good Manners Month (September – Why not celebrate this one every month?)
  • Sarcastic Awareness Month (October)
  • Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day (First Saturday in November – For teacher’s only after school!)
  • Plan Your Epitaph Day (November 2 – Not sure what to think about this one?)
  • National Pizza With The Works Except Anchovies Day (November 12)

Happy Celebrating!

JL

©Jack Linton, August 25, 2014