Thinking Beyond the Status Quo

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Albert Einstein

Early in my life, I fell in love with puzzles. There is just something about challenging yourself to attack a complicated problem that I have always enjoyed. Even today, I will find myself sitting at the house working on a crossword or a sudoku puzzle in my downtime. Problem-solving forces us to pull away from everything we know and sometimes question our assumptions. The way we handle problems tells us so much about who we are as individuals. Great problem solvers are capable of viewing issues from multiple perspectives, and when necessary, reframing these issues in new and creative ways.

A few weeks ago, I was in the grocery store. I had a list and was trying to get a few things for the house before heading home. I had not intended to purchase toilet paper. I had enough toilet paper, but when I got to that aisle, there was a frenzy of activity as everyone was stocking up on toilet paper. So, since every other buggy in the store had toilet paper, I grabbed a pack as well. Only one pack. I wasn’t interested in hoarding; I just relieved my anxiety by following the peer pressure of other shoppers and falling in line.  

The toilet paper scarcity problem in the country has fascinated me. I am pretty sure that toilet paper does not play a significant role in the prevention of COVID-19 the way Clorox and hand sanitizer might. But, it is rushing off the shelves nonetheless. The simple answer is that people are hoarding toilet paper; however, we must also consider that since the majority of the country is staying at home during this pandemic, we are making more trips to the bathroom at home and far fewer at work or school. We might actually need more toilet paper at home. It is easy to write people off as hoarders, but realizing the peer pressure and fear are both extremely contagious allows us to see the problem through a different lens.

When we disrupt the status quo, there are ripple effects. COVID-19 disrupted our sense of normal. As the events surrounding COVID-19 continue to unfold, it is changing the way we think about grocery shopping, dining, education, and many other parts of our normal lives. Finding answers to the problems caused by this disruption will require deep thinking and collaboration. It will not be solved by the same thinking that created these problems, and it will not be solved by blaming others for these issues. The ripple effects from the spring of 2020 will likely be felt for years to come. It is up to us what is remembered, the problems that could not be solved, or the creative genius that allowed us to thrive in difficult times. The world will be different when this is over, but what it looks like is still up to us.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

“We speak with more than our mouths. We listen with more than our ears.”

Fred Rogers

When I was a kid, watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on PBS was almost a daily ritual.  Our primary channel options for most of my childhood were either ABC or PBS. Mom wanted us to turn out to be good adults, so we spent most of our TV time watching PBS.   I really had no idea that there were more channel options until my neighbor had cable tv connected at his house and had 30+ channels including HBO. HBO was quite the opposite of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood and gave me a totally different kind of education.

There is incredible power in the connections that exist within our local neighborhoods.  Like my experiences with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and HBO, some can be far more positive than others.  In the season we are currently in, many of us are feeling and experiencing emotions that we have never endured.  Unemployment, scarcity of resources, and the inability to connect with others are just a few of the ripple effects on local communities.   Even with the difficulties that seem to surround us, there are opportunities for us to listen and act differently.

In times like these, we must look out for each other.  We must leverage the power of our neighborhood. Those opportunities still exist.  Maybe we could do this by offering to take someone’s garbage and save them the risk of going out.   Is there someone living near us who might not need to be going to the grocery store? Are we in a place where we could support local small businesses by purchasing gift cards online and protecting their revenue stream?  Do we know someone that might be feeling incredibly alone, it might be they just need someone to talk with on the phone or through a video chat? All of us can find a way to lift others up.

I want to encourage everyone to listen to the needs of the neighborhood and speak with your actions.  Our selflessness in this difficult time will make us stronger. Show your community you care. Be a light in the darkest of times and we will all be stronger when we reach the other side. Answer “Yes” to the question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”     

Keep Climbing!

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary

From time to time, everyone needs to find something to do to escape the grind. For my wife and I, we have spent the last couple of decades using hiking as that release. Specifically, we find something to climb. There is something about putting in the work and taking an uphill adventure. The views just seem better after hours of on the trail. After a tough week, it isn’t unusual for my wife to look at me and say, “I need to go climb a mountain somewhere.” We live in an amazing place for these types of hikes. From North Georgia to the Shenandoahs in Virginia, we have a world of opportunities within a day’s drive. More than one could hope to hike in a lifetime!

The view from the summit gives you perspective. After a long hike, in the silence and solitude at the top, the hills and valleys that once stood in the way seem much smaller than they once did at the trailhead. On most hikes, the view from the top is usually the midpoint of our journey. Gravity, momentum, and the sense of accomplishment always make the second half a little easier than the first half. In my experience, trails and trials have a lot in common.

Unfortunately, the trials and troubles of the last few weeks have certainly limited our ability to engage in a number of normal activities. From dining out to planning an outdoor adventure, our activities and opportunities have been significantly reduced. For many of us, the ability to work and produce income has also been cut back. The stress that many of us face is significant. Edmund Hillary, the first man to stand atop Mount Everest, once said, “I think that all mountaineers do get a great deal of satisfaction out of overcoming some challenge which they think is very difficult for them.” In these difficult days, I encourage you to keep climbing. There is something about continuing to put one foot in front of another, clicking off mile after mile. Pushing through the difficulties will make the view from the top of this climb a little bit better because of what we have all gone through. And… we will be better because of what we have endured.

An Exercise in Exceptions

“Even Life Itself is an Exercise in Exceptions”

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This is one of my favorite lines by one of my favorite characters. If I can find any way to describe the events of the last few weeks, there is no better way to start than to describe it as an exercise in exceptions. There is no playbook for the decisions that we have faced in the last few days, and these decisions have weighed heavily on the hearts of administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Last Thursday morning, students came to school getting ready for scheduled ROTC and band events, choral concerts, and spring athletic contests. We finish this week with schools closed and events canceled. The majority of our students and staff have also quickly transitioned to an online learning environment.

We still face significant uncertainty on how long the current status will last. There will be growing pains as we go through this transition, and we ask that you bear with us. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our students, as so many of them have embraced this sudden change. I couldn’t ask for a harder working group of teachers and staff, as many of them have teamed up to help this transition go as smoothly as possible. Faculty and staff continue working together to get google classroom’s setup, helping pass out chrome books to parents and students, and voicing genuine concern for the well-being of their students.

Every day, we are working to increase opportunities to provide meals to students that might need it. My hope is that we can continue this as long as it is both practical and possible. While school looks much different this week than it did last week, know that many of those services that we provide to students are still available. If you need to talk with your counselor, your teacher, or an administrator, we can arrange it. If we can help ease the burden that you’re feeling during this season of our lives, please reach out. Know that this will pass. While we don’t have all of the answers to your questions, we have not forgotten, nor do we take our responsibility lightly to help you or your child graduate high school well prepared for the world that they will enter. We know that their dreams depend on it!

The Blessing of the Harvest!

John W. Garder once wrote that. “Some people strengthen society just by being the kind of people they are.” I would hope that when the sum of our lives are totaled, we find ourselves in this small group.

This weekend, for the first time in my life, we started the process of harvesting “taters” with one less in the field. While it was a bittersweet moment, I was quickly reminded that legacies last much longer than our lives. Around 10:00 on Saturday morning, trucks and tractors began to unload and within the hour, we had completed a days worth of work.

Thank you to all of our friends and family from the Jonathan Creek Fire Department that showed up and assisted with the process. It is people like you that make our community a great place to live and raise a family!

Setting The Example

Edward Hale once said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” I don’t know if Claud “Paw” Messer ever read that quote, but it sums up the thirty years of teaching that he poured into my life and what I watched him pour into those around him through his work ethic and his passion for serving others.

I first met Paw on Friday, October 6th, 1989. He was dropping his youngest daughter off at the theater in the plaza to watch a movie with a wire-framed teenage boy. That meeting would be the beginning of a thirty-year friendship. In that time, he became family, a mentor, and the first person I would call when I needed help or advice. He was both my father-in-law and my best friend. What’s remarkable, is that there are so many others in this community that could give you a very similar story about how he mentored them, how he treated them like family, and how he was the first call they made when they needed help as well.

Paw lived to serve others and led by example. He was the kind of person that would put himself in harm’s way before he would ask you to do the same. The traces of a life well-lived are all over this community. I could tell hundreds of stories about how he understood the power of putting others before himself. When I first met him, he was driving a truck delivering fuel oil. During the blizzard in 1993, I think he stayed on the road more than at home, digging his truck out for hours to see that he did everything he could to keep others warm. He never tired from getting up early to respond to help someone in need.

When you live a life where you model service to others on a daily basis, it’s hard for it not to be contagious. I like to think that had a significant impact on his oldest grandson’s decision to join the military and become a Marine. It is also why his youngest grandson will be sworn in as a law enforcement officer in the next few months. Very few of us have the opportunity to have such a positive influence in our lives.

He will be remembered as someone who did everything in his power to leave this world a little bit better than he found it. He discovered “the something” that he could do, and he did it every day. He put others before himself and served them with every ounce of energy he had. He was doing that thirty years ago when we met, and he was doing that in the final moments of his life on Friday morning. His unselfishness and his genuine compassion for others left its mark.

We were not prepared to say goodbye so suddenly. There were more lessons to learn. There were more “thank you’s” and more “I love you’s” that we missed saying. But we must carry on because that is what he would have wanted. Fortunately, there is still a light to guide us from the example he set for us.

Accountability in Action

75 years ago, General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote the following letter in the event of a D-day failure.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Leaders that are willing to take personal responsibility for organizational failures are easy to follow!

Memorial Day 2019

I feel blessed this Memorial Day to be the son and grandson of warriors that stepped up and signed a blank check to this country. Looking back on my childhood, I now realize the powerful impact that both my father and my grandfathers had on my life. Essential lessons in my formative years in personal responsibility, honesty, and selflessness. My grandfather returned from the European Theater after WWII with a permanent limp and a Purple Heart. Not once did I ever hear him complain about it. I can sleep well tonight because of the men and women who continue this proud tradition of service. For those that gave their lives and for those that returned with their lives permanently scarred by what they experienced, I say Thank you!

And then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send and who shall go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
– Isaiah 6:8

Every School Leader Should Do These Four Things When They Travel for Work!

I feel very appreciative that I am given the opportunity occasionally to travel and, it is even more meaningful when we have the opportunity to take other educators with us. Here are the four things that I try and do every time I travel for work!

1. Recharge My Batteries…
This one is constantly a struggle for me.  I feel like there are certain things that I must remain available for to I am always trying to balance disconnecting and engaging with remaining on call and available for an emergency.  

2. Network and Reconnect with Friends and Colleagues…
Great school leaders are continually building their network and expanding the number of voices that they can trust and listen too.  I usually use some my time at a conference to reconnect with other school leaders and to try and add a few new ones to my network.

3. Stretch my Thinking…
When I attend a conference, I want to be looking for ways to stretch my thinking.  I do this by being deliberate about what sessions I select and how I selectively delegate my limited time.  Over the past four days, I have really been reconsidering what school leaders can do to directly change the culture of their organization.   I chose several sessions that helped me refocus my thinking and better articulate my position on school culture.

4. Watch for Recruitable Educators…
Many school leaders simply miss this opportunity.  This week I was at a conference with educators from across North Carolina.  These educators were allowed to away from their classrooms for two or three days of valuable instructional time to attend NCTIES.  In most cases, they were trusted to attend and then asked to come back and share what they learned.  Most school administrators select some of their best teachers for these kinds of opportunities.  So I spent three days with 4000 of the most hirable educators in North Carolina.  Why wouldn’t I look for ones that might want to join our family and work with us!

After I return home from traveling, I often ask the question, was it worth it? I take the cost of the trip, and the value of the information that I returned with and I weigh it out.  I have found that when I leave for a trip focused on these four areas, it makes it much easier to return feeling that the resources were well spent!