SQUAD GOALS UNLOCKED. That's how I feel about my school. I first worked there as a long-term sub, and was pretty amazed by the staff. It was during the first staff meeting I every attended, that everyone suddenly stood up in a giant circle. It was late April (I was finishing out the year with a class) and so it wasn't like they were going to explain procedure. For a brief second I completely panicked. Are we going to sing? Am I supposed to hold hands with the people next to me? It turns out, before weekly staff meetings they hold an appreciation circle. People can call out and knowledge people, events and things that have gone on during the week. It's cool.
About two weeks into my long-term sub, I knew I wanted to get hired permanently there. Don't get me wrong, like any school, we are quirky and flawed, but everyone is genuinely united in a common goal: make a difference for our students. I know -- it's like a cheesy teacher t-shirt: I touch the future - I teach! I feel like we all have a foxhole thing going on - our population isn't easy and they need so much. We don't have time for politics and nonsense. It is Game On every day, and you sure as hell better bring your A game because nothing else is gonna work.
The other thing that blew my mind about that first staff meeting, was that not one teacher in the room was grading papers, or writing lessons plans, or even messing around on their phone. These are all (well, except the phone thing) legit things teachers need to do, and there is never enough time to do them. But staff meeting aren't where they are supposed to get done. Nevertheless, I've been at tons of schools where teachers paid ZERO attention to admin during staff meeting and did whatever they wanted - without shame. I tell you what, you pop out your phone and start playing angry birds in our staff meetings, and you will get more than one stern look, your team lead will pull you aside later and you might be given side-eye for the rest of the year. (Oh, her? Well, I guess she decided to stop playing games and get to work. Nice of her to join us.) That makes us sound snarky and judgy. We aren't, but we aren't playing. Not one bit.
One of the schools I worked at, was supposed to be united not only by our desire to teach, but also by our common faith. And people graded papers all the time. There were also quite a few folks who were openly hostile during staff meetings, and it was accepted. Kind of bums me out now, thinking back on it. I didn't realize clarity of vision could be achieved staff wide. It is kind of the most awesome way to be. That isn't to say there weren't some really awesome teachers at the aforementioned institution. I'm just saying the people I work with now are some serious hardcore professionals, and the first time I attended a staff meeting with them I sat up straighter, leaned forward and thought, "I better get my game on because these kids aren't playing." It is an honor to be associated with such dedicated people. (That's right, I'm winking at all ya'll, Phillips Fam!)
Our biggest deal is that we strive to be SOLUTION ORIENTED which sounds like some workplace administration mandated phrase, but it is the core of what we do. Let's not sit around and complain about what isn't working, let's dig in and see if we can't come up with something to make it better. I like that. If you haven't figured it out, I'm pretty much a glass-half-full kind a guy -- actually, if you want to be more accurate, I'm more like a I-bet-we-can-find-a-bigger-glass-and-fill-it-to-the-top-with-a-purer-water-source. My school team feels the same way too.
This all reminds me of Band of Brothers which was on HBO and tells the story of the 501st. They were tightly connected from their earliest days in boot camp, and remained so until even now. They were driven, determined and some of the finest soldiers who served in World War II. I've read a ton of books about them -- and they are/were some pretty amazing people - the most amazing thing about them being that they were ordinary guys who banded together and achieved greatness. They explained all of this by two things: !. Their leader, Dick Winters, was exemplary in his commitment to excellence and to his men. His example pushed them to greatness. 2. They had endured hardships together, and shared a common enemy. If you know nothing of their story you are probably going to assume the common enemy was Hitler, but actually it was their original training CO who, by almost all accounts was an incompetent, unfair, dictator who punished men arbitrarily and was so unfit to lead, that all the other officers threatened to resign if men were sent into battle under his command.
Our staff has both of those things which is why I think we are a pretty solid group. Our leader is a man of tremendous integrity who strives to achieve excellence and is relentless in his advocacy not only for our students, but for his staff. We, too have a common enemy: poverty. Poverty has gnarly, claws wrapped around the lives of our students, but I am telling you, we rise up every single day to knock that sucker back on his sorry little backside. I'm not kidding you. We are fighting to get that monster back in his dark, little dungeon where he belongs.
I'm proud of my squad which consists of teachers, administrators, secretaries, academic specialists, after school workers, heck, even our janitorial staff is in it. This is my love letter to them, after day 5 of the new school year. Keep your chin up pals, and like my softball coach always, said, "Plant your toe in the dirt, lift up your chin, and swing for the fences." Game on.
"Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are words, and some of the words are theirs." Norman MacClean, A River Runs Through It
Some of the words are Will's, who is forever on our squad.
(Photo #3 Photo credit to Mercedes Hutchens)