Spartanburg Two had our opening convocation this afternoon that was truly inspiring and rewarding, to me. After an "Italian Feast" provided by Chartwell's, we gathered in the Boiling Springs Middle School auditorium for rewards and recognitions of our "Teachers of the Year" (congratulations to Wendy Hodge!), Palmetto Gold & Silver Awards (every school in the District for the 1st time ever!), "You Had Me at Hello" (congratulations Brenda Givens!), and School Climate (Cooley Springs Fingerville, Chesnee Middle and Rainbow Lake).
Dr. John Draper spoke to us about "Crucial Conversations about America's Schools" and had me laughing, thinking and hurting; he tells it like it is and encourages us to focus on the positive and to challenge the rhetoric that has made public education the national whipping boy. You can access his PowerPoint at johndraper.org.
It was my privilege to address our staff as well. Here is what I said:
My comments today will be rather brief as we have an awesome speaker lined up for you in just a little while. However, I would be remiss to not take an opportunity to encourage you as you begin your year. As I thought about our start and read from the words of Alan Zimmerman, a business consultant I regularly follow, there are five ideas that if you embrace them, you will have the best year you have ever had.
First, get excited about your work. As you will hear from Dr. Draper, he has had a wide variety of jobs over his lifetime. Many of you have, as well. My first job was delivering newspapers; I have mowed lawns, raked leaves and shoveled snow. For 13 years I painted houses in the summer time. I was a carpenter’s assistant while in college. For three years I sold encyclopedias on the side. In the school business I taught, coached, worked as assistant principal, principal, and district office staff member. You might say it would be easy to get excited about being superintendent (or you might not), but in all these jobs, there was and is nothing glamorous, but when I get excited, good things happen. I got better tips on the newspaper route if I was early in my deliveries and pleasant when collecting. For all those years painting, we never ran an ad; word-of-mouth kept our crew busy all summer. Book sales were much better when I was excited. And teaching and administration always go better when proud to be in the profession. Whether you are driving a bus, answering the phone, doing the books, feeding our students, keeping the buildings clean, maintaining the machinery, or teaching, I encourage you to be excited about your work. I could mention that I also worked in the hayfield and in a tree nursery; one day each. If I couldn’t be excited about the work, I found another job.
Second, develop a sense of urgency about your work. What you do matters tremendously to our District. And as you know, we are absolutely not overstaffed anywhere; if you don’t do it, it will not get done. As each of us pulls our weight, our ultimate goal of helping each student reach full potential will happen.
Third, control your attitude. Your attitude is one of the few things over which you do have complete control. When things happen that are just irritating or cause a hardship, I often think of the words of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish concentration camp prisoner during WWII. Before the war, he had been a businessman. He says in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he realized after he arrived at the prison camp that up to that point in his life, he had never had a problem. But he went on to say, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” I challenge you to keep your attitude sweet and to encourage those around you, even when the going gets difficult.
Fourth, focus on progress, not perfection. You will not do it perfectly every time, but you always want to do your best work in the time you have. I have learned that people will look very favorably on you if they see a person who is focused on continual learning and ongoing progress. Listen to your peers, to your instructional coaches, to your administrators and leaders. An evangelist who visited my church several times when I was a young man would say, “If you’re green, you’re growing; if you’re ripe, you rot.” I want to grow till I die.
Finally, focus more on giving than getting. There is a verse in the Bible that says in part, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse…and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” If your peers see you as more focused on the contribution you can make than "what's-in-it-for-me," they will see a person worthy of trust and respect. I dare you to test that attitude in your life.
So there you have it. Five challenges for you this year: (1) get excited about your work, (2) develop a sense of urgency about your work, (3) control your attitude, (4) focus on progress, not perfection, and (5) focus more on giving than getting. I promise that if you apply these attributes consistently in your life, your year will be the best ever.