One More Loop

Start the week letting your feet do their thing. Whether your scaling a mountain or commuting from the station; do it in @vivobarefoot shoes. 📷#regram @nelbouchalova #trail #runners #running #mountains #mothernature

If you follow me on social media, you know that I have recently gotten in to trail running. It’s a fun mixture of two things that I have enjoyed for many years: running and hiking. One of the side benefits of trail running has been a lot of thinking and reflecting. As has been my habit, I think and reflect and never get to the computer to blog about it. The following has been bouncing around in my head – probably literally and figuratively – for a couple of months.

On Valentine’s Day this year I ran my first trail race. I had only been trail running for about a month and a half at the time and really not qualified to race. It was a free event so I went for it. The Mt. Tom Challenge isn’t a race as much as it is, as the name implies, a challenge. A challenge, in trail and ultra running parlance, consists of a loop trail that you attempt to complete as many times as possible – or want – in a set amount of time. Mt. Tom is a little different than most challenges because it is crazy steep and is held on what is traditionally the snowiest weekend of the year. The 2.6 mile loop starts out with an insane 1100 feet of elevation in just over three quarters of a mile. That’s hard to hike for most people. You have two hours to do as many loops as you care or dare.

With that slope and at least a foot of snow on the ground, I set off up the mountain with a group of people that apparently had lost their sanity as well. Also, it was cold! I thought I was going to pass out before I got to the top of the slope. Think of climbing that slope – very little running going on at this point – while also sliding down every other footstep because of the heavy snow. It sucked bad. Normally the light at the end of this tunnel of pain is a flat or downhill portion. The next section of this run was about a 3/4 mile flat stretch. That should be a relief except that the foot of snow was a little crusted on top and it turned out to be easier to walk than to run for the rookie me. At this point I am at around 1.6 miles of the loop and still looking for the pay off. The payoff comes soon enough with a one mile drop back to the start. Whereas the rest of the course was single track, the downhill portion opened up onto an old jeep road. Think fresh powder on a ski slope and then think about running down it! It’s worrisome at first but then it is just downright, freefalling, crazy! The finish was the original part of the uphill climb. I finished one loop. I didn’t die. No one had to helivac me off the mountain. I was grateful.

Then the crazy thing happened. The mad-as-a-hatter, out-of-one’s mind thing that prompted this blog post. I DID IT AGAIN! I drank some water, ate a handful of gummi bears and headed up that beautiful, funereal mountain once again.

Why! I don’t know. There is something that happens between drudging up a mountain and flying down one that changes your mindset from ‘this sucks’ to ‘I got this.’

I’ve often said that the hardest thing about running multiple loops is running by your house or running by your car. Starting the second loop from your ‘safe place,’ the last bastion of comfort, takes more than a modicum of fortitude. Starting back up a mountain after a handful of gummi bears! Same but in the ‘you’ve-last-your-damn-mind’ kind of way.

Because this is what I do and why I write this blog, I reflected on this behavior and whether it translated into other parts of my life. I know that I don’t always go for one more loop in all of the things I do. Sometimes it is easy to stop at your safe place. Many times I have stopped at my car and drove off rather than leaning into a challenge. There have been times that I accepted the challenge and pushed forward through whatever pain or mental anguish was ahead of me but probably more often than not I succumbed to a weak mindset.

I had a professor once who had a theory or a belief that when Sisyphus reached the top of the hill with that rock, for at least a brief moment, he felt joy. Until the rock rolls back down the slope and the monotony of his life is renewed. I would add to my professor’s theory that the trip down was renewing and refreshing as well. At least it is for me.

I think the answer to my question is that we need to mix the Sisyphean nature of our lives with things that bring us joy. I swear, when I run down a mountain, through trees and rocks and sometimes mud; when I bound through shin deep snow trying to touch the ground as few times as possible with my shoulder and hips rolled forward, I feel as alive as I did when I was ten years old. No cares! Truly the Joie de vivre! That joy is enough to carry me through one more loop.

Trail running then becomes a microcosm of our life. A way has been found to experience great pain and great joy in one loop. Obviously we can’t live a life in 45 or so minutes but we can begin to pause to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when we are at our height, enjoy the refreshing, rejuvenating exhilaration of returning to the bottom of our climb and leaning into that feeling, that joy as we face the next climb.

Those climbs are everywhere. Those climbs happen every day.

Joy is everywhere. Find it. Lean into it. Climb again.

A Very Covid Christmas

As I age, I realize how important it is to stay positive and find joy in little things.

This. This is hard!

When I first realized that I needed to be tested on Saturday, I was in denial. Maybe it was a sinus infection. I’d be back to normal in a couple days. The good Doctor nixed that idea on Monday. He was pretty confident I had been infected.

On Tuesday I received a positive COVID result. Still I was upbeat. This isn’t going to ruin my holiday! I will find a way to stay upbeat and positive!

Then it sets in that I have a wife and daughter to worry about. My wife is facing a 20-24 day quarantine in order to stay in the house with me. My younger daughter, who is immuno compromised, shouldn’t take a chance of being in the same house although she would be a ‘close contact’ based on DoH guidelines. She has moved into the camper!

This is what my Christmas will probably look like. My wife and I eating our traditional Christmas Eve dinner alone. We’ll take the younger a plate. Maybe we can Zoom together!

Tomorrow we may start a fire in our new fire pit so we can all stand outside and open presents together. Who could have imagined! But then, back to our separate hideaways to await testing results on the wife and the younger.

Worst is we won’t see our Pittsburgh area families. In November we conscientiously decided not to travel there for Thanksgiving so we haven’t seen them since summer. We thought it was the right choice then but it hurts more now.

I’m not writing this for anyone to feel sorry for me. I actually was hoping it would be cathartic (it’s not!). People have it way worse than us. For some, what I have described would be a blessing. Luckily I am not very ill. I still have family. I have a quarantine camper!

My real reason for writing this is to try to convey the number of emotions that this event has brought about:

Sadness: Immediately when I got my diagnosis I couldn’t hold back tears. I’m not sure what that emotion was. I cried as I texted my family and I cried when I emailed my staff. I wasn’t thinking about myself but how this would impact everyone else.

Anger: I just wanted to say ‘F’ everyone who isn’t taking precautions! I know I’m not perfect but I feel I’ve made responsible decisions to protect me and my family.

Fear: A few hours into this I remembered that people, in fact, die from this disease!

Worry: Mostly for the younger but also for my wife and anyone else I may have spread the virus to. My symptoms have been mild for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean that everyone else’s symptoms will be.

I’m not even sure how to wrap this post up! I feel like I just threw up everything that was on my mind onto the computer.

I guess what I will say is this: Keep in mind that this Christmas is going to suck for a lot of families. When you post bullshit about how restrictions are curbing your holidays, remember that some families are experiencing a real impact! Some families have lost members to this disease! Some families will Zoom or see their loved one through a window as they have for months! That is hardship! Not the fact that you can’t sit at a bar!

Choose Happy, Be Thankful

Thanksgiving has never been one of my favorite holidays. For many people it’s all about the food and I’m not a fan of most of the food (except rolls! Why don’t we eat more rolls?!?!). I used to be a big pumpkin pie eater but, like a lot of things that you ate too much of as a kid, I tired of it after awhile. 

Anyway, the one thing that I did enjoy was visiting. Having an extended break to be with my family and my wife’s family as well as seeing hometown friends that I don’t see often. I will miss that this year.

This year my wife and I made the difficult but well informed decision to stay at home for Thanksgiving. Just she and I and our younger daughter. To say it’s not difficult would be untrue. 

We can bloviate for hours about how terrible 2020 is and how some government officials have taken away our freedom or we can just be thankful for what we have. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and two World Wars. I don’t believe that what we are currently acquainted with even comes close to those experiences. At least not for me. As a society we have gone soft if we think that our current situation even holds a candle to what previous generations have lived through.

The daughter that lives with me will undoubtedly point out that I am speaking from a perspective of privilege and I realize that. But, also, the people that I see on social media ranting about injustice have at least a similar frame of perspective. No, everyone in this country doesn’t have as much to be thankful for as I do. Yes, it’s tough for millions of people right now. It’s not tough for them because they have to wear a mask or they can’t get stupid drunk on Thanksgiving Eve. It’s not tough for them because there’s a run on toilet paper or because they can’t have twelve people around their Thanksgiving table. If you think you’re getting screwed, change your perspective.

From what I see and read, people of privilege seem to be the least thankful. Imagine that you were thankful because you got to sleep in a bed last night. Imagine that you are thankful that your neighbor dropped off a plate of food for you to eat alone at your table. Imagine that you are thankful that you picked up an extra shift so you could now pay the rent this month.

This year I had to make a conscious decision to be happy. It’s not always easy but I know there is something everyday to be happy for; to be thankful for. In our family we have had the unofficial motto ‘Bring the Joy’ for several years and a couple of years ago we added ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice.’

We will do both. We can all do both!

1 Corinthians 8:2

“If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.”

During my second year as a building principal, one of our teachers committed suicide. A tough thing for any new administrator and school to understand. Following his death, I believed that there are things that we will never understand completely from another’s perspective.

I had this conversation with several teachers: It is very sad; I don’t believe anything that you did caused this; I don’t know if we could have prevented it; we will never know how his mind was working because we are not him.

That last part — ‘we are not him’ — has stuck with me and has rung true in other situations.

I live in southcentral Pennsylvania. It is the crossroads of many NFL teams because of its location. Eagles fans from the east, Steelers fans from the west, Baltimore Ravens fans because of the NFL’s crazy geographic programing that makes this their ‘home’ area for AFC games, and, due to their many years holding training camp in Carlisle, PA, the Washington Redskins.

Sharing the general location with Redskins fans means that every year or so a discussion will materialize about whether the name — Redskins — is offensive to Native Americans. My response to the question has usually been the same, ‘I don’t know. I’m not a Native American. If a Native American says it’s offensive, then it is offensive.’

I’ll leave that generality behind for a minute and come back to it.

Today in America, we are facing a crisis of racial injustice. While recently this has been highlighted by deaths at the hands of police officers, it is a crisis that has been festering since the first slaves landed in Jamestown in 1607.

Easily I could say that I don’t know what it means to be a person of color in America. That would be true in the sense that I have never walked in their shoes. But, that is also a cop out. We have the ability to better understand the tribulations of people who look different than us. Our resources today are practically boundless. We can watch movies, read books, books and more books, listen to podcasts on the subject. We can research how the history we have been taught has been ‘whitewashed.’ How historical figures that we held in esteem were slave traders or owners.

Today my excuse will not stand! I have no reason to not be able to, at least mentally, walk a mile in the shoes of my BIPOC neighbors. I have a responsibility. I know damn well what is offensive, dismissive, inequitable and, if I don’t, I have a responsibility to learn, to listen.

Yes, it is sad.

No, we didn’t cause it but we are certainly complicit in allowing it to continue.

No, we probably couldn’t have prevented it. We weren’t here when the fire started but we can extinguish it.

No, we are not him but that is no excuse for not developing an empathetic framework. Empathy is hard but it is teachable and it is learnable.

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? - Henry David Thoreau

Why Not? Why Not Me?

Urinetown

Around the end of November I was having a conversation with a teacher in our building who is also the musical director for the high school play. She mentioned some casting struggles and I jokingly said I would fill in for any part that she had available. I was joking but it got me thinking. Thinking can be a dangerous activity! Thinking is what pushes you to do things outside of your comfort zone. ‘Why not?’ is a dangerous way to convince yourself that most things are possible.

Just think about that for a moment. Ask yourself ‘why not?’ and then don’t allow yourself any easy ways out. I can help you because I went through the list:

  1. I don’t have time – Wrong, you have time. Most things are really not a matter of time but a matter of priorities. If you really  want to do something, make it a priority.
  2. I can’t sing – Wrong, someone once told me that Kermit the Frog had a top 40 hit. I haven’t looked that up but it was enough for me.
  3. I can’t get up in front of people – Wrong, you can! As I wrote previously, confidence just takes a deep breath and if you have enough deep breaths left you can do most anything. I stole that idea from the book The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin; great read.
  4. I won’t be good at it – This was a distinct possibility! In the end I decided to audition and let someone else decide if I was good enough. That probably took more guts than anything else. Putting yourself out there for others to judge takes a strong self image which I don’t always have.

Your questions will be different based on your ‘why not?’ but the point is, you have to delineate between excuses and explanations. Humans are good at making excuses to avoid challenging ourselves. We develop habits that keep us in a safe place. It’s normal. To really get out there and change your life and impact the lives of others you have to confront those habits and make an intentional change.

The next question then is ‘Why?’. I think I answered some of those above but there is more:

  1. I am a fan of musicals. I guess I always have been. I remember my dad acting in a musical when I was a kid and directing one. I also remember watching Oklahoma, West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Growing up I never acted on this love because I was afraid to. I wasn’t very athletic as a teen and athletics was everything where I grew up. It never occurred to me to perform in a musical or, god forbid, tell anyone I liked show tunes. My spot on the teenage hierarchy was already pretty tenuous. Putting that information out there would have been a death knell. As I got older and made friends with others who were musical fans. I loosened up and began to take my wife to shows and play show tunes in my truck. Picture that, a middle aged guy in his pick up truck blaring show tunes!
  2. What I discovered from this newfound courage to watch and listen to musicals is that they brought me a lot of joy. I would sit in a theater and start smiling from the beginning of the show clear through to the end. That is my second ‘why?’. If a show could bring me joy, why couldn’t I bring that same joy to others. Would people come and see the show and leave with as much joy as I did? Hopefully. This was an opportunity to do something that was bigger than me. To participate in a group that’s purpose was to bring joy to others. To make people happy and forget about whatever else they had going on in their lives for two hours. That’s a pretty powerful purpose if you think about it.
  3. My final reason for deciding to take this on was my girls and anyone else who needed a little nudge. I wanted to show my daughters that the possibilities for your life are endless, the opportunities for happiness are out there, you just have to grab them. I’ve written before about ‘choosing yourself.’ This is a perfect example of just that. I didn’t wait around to be chosen. Waiting around to be chosen dictates our entire existence. I chose myself. I put myself out there and said, ‘Hey, you should do this.’ We should all do that more often.

A funny thing about how I write is that I never know where I’m going until I start. One paragraph leads to a thought and then I just keep writing. My intention was to write about my experience in my first musical performance and I never quite got there. Let me end with a paraphrase of the email I sent to our director prior to our final day’s performances:

Thank you…you were willing to take a chance on a middle aged guy with no experience singing, dancing or acting. When I landed a role that has lines and a solo I thought maybe you were confused about who I was.

I worked hard at this. Harder than I ever expected to…you took a chance on me and I didn’t want to disappoint you.

Initially I thought this would be a ‘one and done’ but now I hope that you will welcome me back again. I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself and that is an awesome feeling.

…I have done a lot of different things in my life but this has to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

 

Thank you! We both chose me! Why not?

A New Tribe

Tribes seem to be one of those 2018 things to be a part of. Everybody has a tribe. People are posting about ‘hanging with their tribe’ or ‘a shout out to my tribe.’ Your tribe is your people. The people with whom you have similar interests or goals. Your ‘go to’ group for support, jokes, questions, etc.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend that got me thinking about my tribe. Turns out, after reflection, that I’m part of several tribes. I equated my tribes to group texts. Those often hilarious and sometimes annoying transmissions between people with whom you have a connection. My wife, my daughters and I have had an ongoing group message since my older daughter went off to college. That’s my main tribe. Then I have a group text with all the wrestling guys that I hang out with. We share information that we hear or see about the goings on in the wrestling world. I’m in an ongoing group chat with my brother and the people we go to the beach with. It’s a flexible group depending on the next event. That’s pretty much my party tribe. The administrators that I work with have a group message. That one is rarely hilarious but it is definitely one of my tribes. I’m in an occasional group chat with my running buddies and one with my fellow beer enthusiasts.

The reason for this post though is to mention a new tribe that I never thought that I would be a part of. Let’s call it the thespian tribe. Fresh off my first ever theater performance I have become part of that group chat and feel pretty confident that I’ll be firmly entrenched in this tribe for some time to come. There’s a whole separate blog post coming about that experience.

My point is that I don’t know if this is normal but I am part of several tribes. The chances of those tribes ever crossing paths is slim but each one of those tribes is a part of who I am. It seems to me that many people believe that you can only have one tribe and those are your ‘people.’ Not true in my case. Individual tribes make up a nation so, in a way, my group messages make up my nation.

To paraphrase The Breakfast Club:

You see me as you want to see me – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what I found is that I am a father, a husband, an administrator, a partier, a wrestling fan, a runner, a beer enthusiast and now a thespian.

Welcome to my nation!

Phifty – The Birthday Post

I have traditionally written a birthday post. I started this blog on my 44th birthday, thus the name. I have been consistently inconsistent in my writing over the last six years and, reading through my posts, the blog has gone through many iterations. There were periods when I wrote for the joy and tried to appeal to an audience and times that I wrote out of anger at the system and tried to appeal to an audience. The latest iteration is me writing as a reflection on my practice as an educator. I write to get ‘it’ out there whatever ‘it’ is but for me getting ‘it’ out there makes it real. No matter how few strangers or friends read it, I have put it out there irretrievably. That can be cathartic at times but it also forces me to own my reflection and work on my foibles. As I wrote in my last post, it’s hard sometimes.

Apparently my last post may have ruffled some feathers. Some things that I said were hard for me to get out of my mind. That’s what my blog is for: to cause me to reflect and use that reflection to make myself a better professional. If a casual reader reads my post and the content causes them to reflect, that is a bonus. Sometimes what we do is hard and hearing that we aren’t perfect is even harder. I’ve said before that I don’t believe there is any learning without reflection. Truthfully, that is not just my belief, that is a truism. You may know something but you haven’t learned it if you haven’t reflected on why it is important, how it fits into the schema of your life, how you can use it in the future, and on and on.

Honest, true reflection is painful and necessary. It makes us better. It makes our schools better and isn’t that truly what we want for our kids.

So today I’m fifty. That’s a big number! And as I reflect over the last two weeks I realize that I am better at 50 but still have many imperfections. I’m a work in progress and so are you. None of us are finished. I did fail to say in my last post that I’m guilty of some of those same things that damage our culture. But that’s why I wrote it. I reflect; I learn; I work on changing. I’m working. It’s  painful. It’s hard.

Education is Hard!

Image result for Grant me thestrength to be a force of love

Education is hard! Teaching is hard! That’s got to be the center of my reflection for this week. It’s hard, it’s tiring and it’s not for the weak.

I started back to school with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and passion for what I do. I mentioned that in my last post. I felt like I could do anything for our kids. Every Kid. Every Day. No Matter What It Takes. That may sound like a lot but I think that’s what kids deserve. Quickly the people around me tried to sap that enthusiasm. People who have a vision that is different than yours can sap that energy. People who have that ‘we’ll-see-how-long-this-lasts’ attitude can eat away at your positivity. People who don’t understand the changes that need to happen in education can be a drain on your enthusiasm.

What I found this week is that keeping your head up and your vision in tact takes work. Hard, tiring work. Every day this week I went home exhausted and every day I thought of things that I wish I would have done or things that I did that could have waited. I tried to smile when people were negative and I tried to walk away when I could feel the energy meter running low. By nature I avoid confrontation. Reflecting at the end of the day there were many instances where I should have confronted the situation.

I feel like I have great relationships with our teachers. Relationships are everything in this business. Sometimes, though, I think I avoid the hard conversations because I don’t want to damage the relationships. I don’t mean addressing things that are obviously bad for kids. What I’m talking about are the small things that don’t ruin kids but also don’t bring out the best in them. One example from this week: We have a class of students who are notoriously low achievers and behavior issues. These students were stereotyped from the outset of the year. Not one teacher gave them a clean slate. They expected that they would be behavior problems and they were. Well, yes, self-fulfilling prophecy.

I had a chance this week to chat with a former colleague. Great guy and excellent teacher but also a person who has always challenged me to think. He said that there is always one person wherever he has gone who reminds him of the superintendent that we had when we worked together. The kind of person who is an authoritarian leader and runs people out of an organization due to the destruction of the culture. I tried to identify the people in our building who played that role. What I discovered is that they are not at the top but they are in the trenches. There are people who damage the culture on a daily basis by the way they run their classrooms, by the way they do there jobs and by the way they interact with people. And, I guess it goes further than actual actions. The way some people talk about kids, parents, colleagues and probably me damages the culture at the basic level.

Luckily for us there are only a small number of those people in our school so the strong keep the culture afloat. Also, even though there are some negatives, all in all we have an excellent group of ‘teachers.’ We teach well, some of us just need some work on our relationship building.

So, my reflection for this week is that it’s got to get harder for me. I have to start being more assertive and addressing each of these little items. Our culture depends on it and I don’t think there is much more important to our students than a culture that is uplifting. I’m going to continue to be tired and my wife is going to wonder why I am spending so much time in my office. I get it and I know she will understand but I refuse to be weak and I refuse to be weakened.

 

NPC17-Reflection

The National Principals Conference in Philly came at the perfect time for me. I recently completed my certification as a superintendent and had been trying to find a central office job. Unsuccesfully. I felt like I wasn’t good enough as I was passed over for two positions and not even considered for several others. Maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.

At the last minute I decided to attend NPC 17. Mainly because it was close to home and also because I felt like I needed a break from the office. I was beyond surprised by how inspirational the three days were. Over the passed few years I had focused on technology conferences – PETE and C and ISTE. Turns out what I needed was a kick in the pants from my tribe. Most everyone in every room was a principal. WE all had some semblance of what was going on in each others’ lives. Many connections were instantaneous. No one had to warm up to other people because we were all in the same boat.

In my professional life I have moved around a good bit. First between teaching jobs and then pushing up the administrative ladder. I always felt as though I had made the decision to move on because I had given all that I had. NPC17 in many ways proved my thoughts to be incorrect. Upon reflection it seems that I was leaving those positions because I was scared. Not fearful necessarily but scared to push the envelope a little bit more. There are great leaders out there doing amazing things. I wasn’t and still am not being truly amazing for my people.

When I was reflecting on my admin career while in Philly I remembered all the great ideas that I had when I started as an assistant principal. I made some pretty amazing connections with parents, students and staff. Even when I became a principal I was full of passion. I wanted to do this right and impact my community. Recently I have allowed myself to be content. To be lazy. To stop pushing the envelope.

That ends this year. People are probably going to think I went around the bend. It’s going to be tough to make a pretty big change after being the same guy for eight years but it must be done. I need to bring the passion back for myself but more importantly I owe it to my students, my teachers and my community.

Thank you to everyone who attended NPC 17. I was inspired greatly by so many that I won’t even try to list.

Disruption and Capitalization

Recently I began listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist HistoryI’m a little late to the game so I started at the beginning of season 1 and am trying to catch up. Yesterday I listened to two episodes that are part of a three part series on the cost of post secondary education and how poorer Americans fit into the past secondary puzzle: “Carlos Doesn’t Remember” and “Food Fight.” I’ve always enjoyed the way Gladwell thinks so I would highly recommend the podcast.

These two episodes got me thinking about how we serve our students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Gladwell talks about two concepts that I felt were relevant to the public education, K-12 story as well as to the post secondary story. The first concept is that of disruption. We all experience disruption in our lives – divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of employment, etc. In many families those disruptions can be on a grander scale- arrests, imprisonment, abuse, etc. The argument that Gladwell makes is that students of privilege not only have fewer disruptions on the grand scale but, even when they do, they are more likely to escape the disruption without issue. For example, a rich, suburbanite student gets pulled over for speeding is found to be DUI. His chances of avoiding punishment are much better than the same student who does not come from privilege. Privilege allows for better attorneys, privilege affords a possible connection in the police force, privileges can be used to ‘buy’ your way out of trouble. The poorer student has little of this ‘buying’ power. Disadvantaged students who experience these disruptions, especially the high end ones, often are pushed to the breaking point. Their lives are already so tenuous that one major disruption sends everything into a tailspin. Foster care, single parent families, homelessness can all be a reality for a student born into poverty from just one massive disruption.

The second concept is that of capitalization. Gladwell defines capitalization as “the rate at which a given community capitalizes on the human potential… what percentage of those who are capable of achieving something actually achieve it.” Gladwell’s focus here is on how well our society does in recognizing talented students from poor communities and assuring that those students have the post secondary opportunities that more privileged students have. Eric Eisner who founded YES Scholars makes an eerie point about capitalization in the episode ‘Carlos Doesn’t Remember.’ To paraphrase, he says that we are waiting too long to identify these students. If we are waiting to see how they do on their SATs, we are waiting to long. Why? For most of these students, the junior year in high school never comes. Many will drop out, many will join gangs and for some the disruptions will just be to great by the time they hit the eighth grade. Let that sink in. When was the last time you sat in your elementary or middle school classroom and worried that a student wouldn’t make it to ninth grade? The answer to that question will determine where your school sits on the continuum of privilege in this country.

So what can we do as K-12 schools to assure that our students overcome disruption and that our communities experience a high percentage of capitalization? The first answer, I believe, comes in the culture of our schools. I mean this on a national as well as a state and local scale. Are we as a nation, a state and a community focusing so much on passing a high stakes test that we have ignored the disruptions in our students lives? Funding over the past few years in Pennsylvania, my state, has been cut in many areas of human services. Can we build a culture that genuinely cares about students when our country and our state has deprioritized human services? I’ve written before about grit, bootstrapping and growth mindset. All of those things need to overcome a certain measure of disruption. As schools we need to be cognizant of the disruptions in our students’ lives and fill that into the equation whenever we speak to or about them. That would be a good start.

To better capitalize on the human potential of our schools we must start with creating a culture that nurtures students through the disruptions in their lives. We also need to do a better job of identifying our best and brightest despite the backgrounds that they hail from. We know that students in poorer households come to school with fewer skills but we also know that with a solid education many of these students catch up to their peers eventually. There are two things I believe that we don’t address efficiently. First, students who come to us from lower socieconomic backgrounds have there abilities masked by the language poor environments that they were raised in. We don’t acknowledge their gifts early enough because we make assumptions about their intelligence relative to their zip code. Second, even though we see underprivileged students gain on their more privileged peers, we also see that gap begin to widen again as the move into middle school. Students who were average or better elementary students tend to become low average or worse students when the do not come from privilege. Even in a small school where most if not all of the students will eventually graduate, the disruptions become too great for many of these students to maintain their academic achievement.

I don’t have the answers to these questions but I think being cognizant that they exist is an important step. As educational leaders we need to open the eyes of those we lead to these potential pitfalls. Brendon Burchard has this short prayer that I believe speaks to the needs of leaders in our society: “Grant me the strength to focus this week, to be mindful, to serve with excellence, to be a force of love.” Yes, let us be a force of love in education.