Saturday, November 21, 2015

This fall, I have had the distinct privilege of doing two things I have not done before. First, I was invited to testify at the Senate Education Listening Tour when it stopped in Bremerton, WA. I was the principal representative there to talk about education funding. I spoke in front of about 400 people, mostly educators, but also some parents, community members, and business owners. We have made the job of teaching, and of running schools and governments, very complicated. I'm not one to buy into conspiracy theories. I know first hand that the vast majority of people who work in schools and public service are really good, intelligent, caring, hard-working people. That being said, we have made things so complicated that it is very difficult to do the work that we all love the most: helping others.

In that vein of helping others, I also had the privilege of serving as a Spanish teacher at my school for about 6 weeks. I have been a certified teacher for 23 years. I have taught middle and high school math and English, I have taught graduate level research and statistics, and I still teach classes for future principals. I am the person who has the privilege of teaching teachers and other staff in my district. But I am NOT a certified Spanish teacher. I took 3 years of Spanish in high school and 2 years of Spanish in college, but I am NOT fluent. That being said, after over a year of not being able to find a qualified Spanish teacher, I decided to put myself out there to help.

I am already a busy woman with a more-than-full-time job. I am the principal of a high school, three alternative schools, and I am the district assessment director. I am a single mom of two teenagers. I am frequently an invited speaker at regional conferences, and am part of several statewide teaching and learning projects. To find the time, about 20 hours a week, to prepare for, teach, and evaluate 2 Spanish classes, well let's just say it came out of my hide.

I know what I did was not good enough. I loved the opportunity to brush up on my Spanish with the students, but it was very challenging. It was challenging to teach something outside my area of expertise. It was a challenge to find the time and energy to be peppy and enthusiastic every day. And it was a challenge to teach kids who had been without a teacher for over a year.

That being said, I helped all kids learn. There were a few who thanked me, but as I sit here and write this, my heart hurts for what has become a recurring theme in public service. There is a significant portion of our society that feels it is acceptable to criticize others, brutally at times, with seemingly no willingness to consider things from another's perspective. If someone doesn't "like" their teacher, or if their teacher is "learning" or, in my case, extremely overwhelmed and exhausted, then it's ok to call that person a bitch.

Yes. Yesterday at conferences, a parent called me a bitch. And she made it clear she was quoting her son.

In truth, I have a strong personality, and I can't really argue with this assessment of me. I have very high expectations for myself, my staff, and students, and my school. I am there for the sole purpose of educating all who cross my path, and for opening as many doors for people as I can. So yes, I can be a bitch at times, but it's for a good cause. But it was what she said next that brought me to tears, and those tears have not stopped flowing.

"Everyone knows that the only people who become principals are the people who can't teach."

I have been a teacher since I was 6. I used to play school in the summers, making up math worksheets for the neighborhood kids. I have taught middle school, high school, and college. I have made it my career, and it is my passion, to learn more and more each year about the art of teaching, and how to help the teachers I know and love become better at their work.

I love the work of being a high school principal. I feel like I am saving lives every day, and I love knowing that I am making a difference for kids and adults every day. But society, this is a wake-up call. If you keep brutally criticizing and abusing public servants, the right kind of people will give up, and all that will be left are the wrong kind. Think twice before you decide you have the need and the right to be "honest". You just might not have enough information to hold on to your opinion, and you just might do more harm than good. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Yesterday, I spent much of the day helping with a Habitat for Humanity project. I have been familiar with the organization for quite some time, but it's the first time I've been able to help with a project myself.

I love the foundational ideas of Habitat for Humanity, particularly the idea of "sweat equity". On this crisp, beautiful, sunny day, about 15 of us spent our time cutting, nailing, caulking, painting, hanging doors, spreading dirt and gravel, and all of us were there to help a young man build his first home. He should get the keys on December 8. 

It's so hard for me to understand how helping people find a place to live has become so difficult. Even in talking with the staff, they haven't done many houses in the county because dealing with septic is much more complex that building where there is sewer. Thankfully, this particular project is a "county" project, and this, the 2nd of three homes, is nearly finished.

So many of our school children lack a safe, consistent place to call home. The number of homeless youth and families is startling, and there just doesn't seem to be a way to fix this. It was precisely because of this rise in youth homelessness that I was so excited to help the Habitat project.

I remember learning as a child about "basic needs" that everyone needs and deserves. There are three of them: food, shelter, and clothing. I would really like to see us do something to address the housing problem in Jefferson County. It's heartbreaking to think of how many people are struggling just to find a safe place to sleep, night after night after night.

Friday, November 14, 2014


This morning I was privileged to attend a beautiful ceremony in honor of Miss Lindsey Mustread. Lindsey left our physical world last July, but she is still so very present in our school and community.

By all rights, Lindsey should be a spunky, active 6th grader, attending dances, learning about water quality, and sharing what she is thankful for. Instead, I stood with her family as her school friends dedicated a beautiful, native evergreen tree in her honor.

The ceremony was well attended. The day was breathtaking both in its beauty and its still cold. As we stood huddled together listening to people share memories of Lindsey, calling her a spitfire, laughing about her "perfect eye-rolling", and generally missing her, I was deeply touched with the love and friendship that was present, sending the message, "Lindsey's life mattered".

I had the honor of standing near Lindsey's mom. Brandy is so amazingly strong. I couldn't keep the tears from spilling from my eyes, and yet Brandy walked stoically up to the dedication, accepted the loving hugs of many of Lindsey's classmates, and helped others with their sadness and grief at the loss of Lindsey.

While I was reflecting on Brandy's role as the mom in this story, I began thinking of a novel I'm reading right now, Firefly Lane. A central theme of the story is motherhood, the complex, ambiguous, shifting role, the absent mother, that "at home" mother, the childless mother who chose a career over kids.

In the book, and in real life, events we didn't choose have such a profound affect on being a mom.

The terrible truth of grief is that there is no resolution. It does not end, and it is rarely predictable. People around us grow weary of our pain, and their busy lives require them to focus their energy on their families, understandably so. Somehow, we find a way to learn how to move forward in a world that is so unfamiliar it does not even seem real. We hope it is not real.

The truth about motherhood is that it never stops. It doesn't stop if a child is lost. It doesn't stop when a child becomes an adult. It doesn't stop when a child becomes angry, mean, even hateful. It doesn't stop when the mother can no longer care for her children.

Motherhood simply is.

I joke frequently that "I will never be mother of the year", yet I know that for my two kids, that's exactly who I am. I'm far from perfect, often tired and irritable, so much so that I can't even muster the energy to pretend to be cheerful. I never planned on doing this job alone, and yet that is the path I am on. And it's the most important, honorable, privileged path of my life.

Watching Brandy love her sons and her daughter this morning, I am reminded what is really important. I am so thankful for motherhood, for my mom's example, and my grandmothers' example, and for the opportunity to do my very best raising my children.

We have today. Let's make it the very best day it can be.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reflection on my Work

This morning, I am fortunate enough to be at UW Tacoma with about 40 other school employees from around the state. Teachers, principals, district office staff, we are together in a room discussing teaching and learning. It's a beautiful day -- cold, clear -- and there is something about being on a university campus that is enlightening and inspiring.

I personally love this work--talking about teaching and learning--and that in and of itself warms my heart and spirit. The process for our work today, however, is amazing.

Our day began with an overview of UW CEL's work, beliefs, and mission. We then were asked to engage in an "Open Space" process wherein we each, as participants, introduced ourselves and shared one topic/question that is on our minds. That topic was written on a piece of paper and placed on a schedule board which then became our agenda.

For the rest of the day, from 10:00 - 2:00, we have the opportunity to self-select four topics for discussion as well as our role as a learner. The Open Space principles are:
  • Whoever comes are the right people
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • When it's over, it's over
We also followed the Law of Two Feet: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.

The topics I am discussing, and listening to today, include:
  • Feedback
  • Coaching
  • Student growth goals
  • Support for principals and teachers beyond initial training

Color me inspired!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Civility, Discourse, and Kindness

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a classroom where the teacher shared her professional goals with the class. She feels compelled to teach them about Civil Discourse -- to be active, responsible, and polite speakers and listeners -- before they leave high school.

I have been thinking about and observing that ever since.

We have learned how to be confrontational, at times downright defiant, in our communication. We become easily defensive, and we tend to personalize opinions of others rather than discussing them. People with whom we disagree, we don't like. And, often times that isn't enough: we then need to ensure we disrespect them and encourage others to dislike them too.

Why can't we just agree we are not going to like everyone and move on?

I have some specific examples that have been weighing on my mind.

As we were preparing for a Veterans' Day Assembly, I noticed several students with their hats and hoods on. Most students, when asked, quickly removed their hats and put them away. One, with a hood, did this instead. As he was removing his hood, he quickly replaced it with a stocking hat. When I asked him to take off his hat, saying "We don't allow hats in the auditorium", his response to me was, "Did you hear what you just said?" I looked at him again and said, "We don't allow people to wear hats in the auditorium". He said, "That's better", and took off his hat, which had been hiding his headphones. I asked him to remove his headphones as well. The boy talked during much of the assembly. After it was over, he and two of his friends attempted to skip off campus. I redirected them, but they found another way.

I'm still quite surprised that he didn't understand the importance of being respectful, especially during an assembly honoring our Veterans.

It's exhausting.

Earlier in the day, I walked into a classroom and a student looked up at me and shook his head. When I sat next to him to ask what was up, he denied shaking his head. It's quite possible he did not realize he had done it. It's become acceptable, even honorable, to disrespect people in positions of authority.


For these two kids, I am confident they don't like me because I address their misbehavior. I can live with being disliked. It is frustrating to be disrespected, particularly because it happens on a daily basis.

As I have reflected on these interactions through the lens of civility, discourse, and kindness, I truly want to talk to each of them to try to understand the answer to the question, Why do they feel it's acceptable to be defiant and disrespectful?

But then again, it shouldn't surprise me.

On the news, on Facebook, in conversation, people have no problem disrespecting our public leaders. It's not enough to disagree with their political views, their decisions, their party, people blatantly and openly disrespect our leaders.

Every day.

If a republican is in a position of leadership, the vocal democrats will openly disrespect him, and vice versa.

We don't take time to learn about candidates. We dehumanize them, often strictly on party lines. It is rare that we engage in open, civil dialogue to listen and understand, even if we disagree.

Especially if we disagree.

For me, I will work on how I confront defiance and disrespect. I will understand that for many of the children today, it's all they know, because that is what we, our society, is teaching them. But more than that, I will work to engage in civil discourse, be an active listener, and help plant the seeds of compassion and democratic values so that the fabric of our society can start to mend.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Customer Service and Kindness

I had an interesting experience on Sunday afternoon. I believe it fits in well with the K for Kindness message I'm trying to send.

My son is eligible for an upgrade on his cell phone. We happened to be in Silverdale, so we decided to stop in the cell phone provider in person to take care of this purchase. We walked into the store, one we've been in many times, and they have again changed how customers check in and are served. A friendly employee greeted us, asked for my cell phone number, and the reason for our visit. We were then told to feel free to browse.

All the items were tucked away in alcoves around the store, and other customers were busy playing with them or being sold on all the features. Very few seats were available, nor was there any place to stand that wasn't in the way. After about 15 minutes, I started to look around the store. The colors were bright, over-stimulating, and the energy of the employees matched. I listened to one customer trying to get options regarding her family's monthly plan, while the salesperson tried to persuade her to give up the "unlimited data" option because "you aren't really using it anyway". I heard another salesperson try to up-sell a phone. "We're completely out of stock of the iPhone 6, but we have the iPhone 6+ ready to deliver today".

For me, I waited quietly. I have been recovering from a bad cold/flu bug, and Sunday was the first day in a long time I wasn't scheduled to be somewhere. Let me paint the picture. I was wearing my glasses, no make-up, hair pushed back with a headband, and I was dressed for a day off. I'm certain I was not exuding the epitome of "professional", despite the fact that I am, indeed, a professional woman.

When the over-stimulated sales agent finally got to our name, he came right over, asked what we were there for, and then announced, "I can't really help you because you have a little bit of a past-due balance on your account." He then proceeded to lecture me about the fact that sometimes credit cards expire and I could just go online and take care of it. Oh, and did I want to go ahead and order that iPhone 6 (or better yet, walk out the door with a 6+) from him?


I am quite confident that if I had been dressed in my suit and heels, hair styled perfectly, with the right touch of make up, he would not have talked to me in such a way. I am certain other customers heard our exchange -- after all, I was listening to other customers' conversations while I waited -- and since when it is appropriate for a sales person, on the floor of the store, to talk at length with a customer about "a bit of a past-due balance".

Especially after I told him I did not want to discuss that with him, and that I would take care of it right away.

I am proud of myself. I was not unkind, though I was very annoyed. I now have cell phone, home phone, and internet service with this company. They receive a good chunk of my money each month, and on the few times a year I actually go to see them in person, I expect to be treated well.

Quite disappointing.

But what is the real lesson here? In reality, I could easily change cell phone companies, but is one any different from another? We are such a society of incentives, that we seem to have forgotten about civility. What happened to treating people with polite kindness simply because it's the right thing to do? The problem is that one bad experience starts a ripple effect, and as much as I hate to admit it, it created a damper of my attitude for the rest of the day.

It makes me truly appreciate the people who know how to slow down, smile, and be excellent to each other, even if the customer's wishes can't be met right in that moment.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


A few years ago, I gave a series of presentations on resiliency. I called it "The ROCK". The ASB/Leadership teacher at our high school asked me to provide some 5-10 minute opening remarks for a group of leadership students who would be spending the day at our school. I had come to realize that 5-10 minutes of air time with kids is a true gift, and I wanted to say something meaningful, something beyond "Welcome to our school! You are all amazing kids and your leadership is truly making a difference in your schools". So, I asked myself, what did I have to say, in 5-10 minutes, that could impact these kids?

That year had been a tough one. Our community experienced a series of losses that left us all emotionally fragile, and many quite traumatized. We saw deaths of students, parents, family members, serious car accidents, all in a 6-month period. We were on edge, afraid even to ask, "What next?", or "Is it over yet?"

A few years before this, we had the Rachel's Challenge staff visit our school a few times. Rachel Scott's message of kindness left a deep impact on my heart. I can make a long list of the times I have been unkind, intentionally and unintentionally, and I knew I wanted KINDNESS to be part of the message.

As I thought about my year, I knew that a lot of people, through their trauma, were seeing the world through the "worst case scenario" perspective. Despite all the tough times, there truly was a lot to celebrate. Sometimes, focusing on the positive during the worst of times is the only thing that helps us through. I knew I wanted OPTIMISM to be part of my message.

My own two children were perhaps the greatest source of inspiration. They were particularly hurt; you see, they had lost their father six months earlier in one of these tragedies. As I struggled to help them process their grief and find reasons to live and be happy again. Teaching them RESILIENCY would be critical.

Then, of course, I had to look at myself. My world had been shaken off its foundation. I, myself, was not feeling very happy or stable. I found myself angry, defensive, frustrated, and unhappy. It was easy to point fingers and play the blame game with others, but I realized, if I really wanted to be happy and healthy again, I needed to work on myself first, and I needed to work hard to understand others' perspective and feelings. In short, I needed to embrace CURIOSITY in order to foster that understanding.

As I looked at those words, I realized quickly that if I rearranged them, they would spell ROCK: Resiliency. Optimism. Curiosity. Kindness. This became the quick speech to the leadership students and it evolved into a 1-2 hour presentation.

Now, looking back over the past four years of our family's recovery, I can see that these keystones have served as my "North Star", my guiding light, my foundation, to help me settle when times have been tough. Having recently been asked to speak again on resiliency, I thought it would be helpful to return to the start of this journey and reflect back on the highs and lows of our healing process. Over the next weeks, I hope to write more about these experiences as I refine the message I want to share with the group.