Inspired by Daniel Bauer’s blog post A Powerful Way to Close out the Year, I thought I’d give it a try and write my own year in review using his framework. His first tip says to start with what matters most – my family, my school, me – and it felt like a good place to start.
Just over a year ago, I hit a low point in terms of work-life balance and it affected my family most. I spent the last day before winter break from school stressed about the balance of working, coaching, and trying to be a great dad and husband. It was clear from that point on that I needed to make some changes. To be honest, I had plans for balancing already in place, but sticking to them needed to be the focus. For the rest of that season, I worked hard to leave practice on time, be present at home, and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. I was far from perfect, but their was consistent improvement and set me up for a successful rest of the year.
I also set aside time to reflect after the season, thinking both about the team and my family life more intentionally. I took a close look at all of the in- and out-of-season commitments and eliminated out anything that felt unnecessary or put undue stress on personal life. It still isn’t perfect, but I feel way more balanced this year. I have spent more time at home and, more importantly, been more present during that time.
The idea that doing more at work – watching more film, answering email faster, spending more time in the office or the gym – would somehow guarantee more success at work, is faulty. Doing more sometimes is just doing more. I have started to simplify and find ways to work more efficiently, and in other places just pull back completely.
The Big Trip
The real family highlight this year, however, has been with my siblings and parents. This summer was one of reconnection. Our whole family – two parents, four siblings, their partners and children, all took a trip together. It was the first time in 15 years that we had all been in the same place for more than a few hours in one day. While we definitely got on each other’s nerves at times, we shared absolutely beautiful moments together that can’t be captured in any one photograph, but I’m glad we have a few to remind us. On a related note, I made a conscious attempt to take way fewer pictures than I usually would, and it helped me focused on the experience of amazing places with the most important people.
The most memorable highlights from our trip – my wife and son trying sea urchin with me (it was gross), paying a bit extra to eat paella on a beach (I’m cheap so this was a stretch, but well worth it), a family mountain hike for some amazing views and sweaty group pictures, horseback riding full of unintentional comedy, and my favorite father-son photo yet (see above). It feels like our family’s connection has even grown since then. As our individual families are changing (houses, jobs, marriage, kids), our clan feels closer than it has since we were all in the same house.
Learning through failure
The one big thing I learned from my biggest mistake – don’t book an Airbnb without some real deep research. I clearly didn’t do enough and we paid for it for one night. Granted, we survived and would have been fine, but that one night was awful. The hotel (which we booked at 3 in the morning as we decided to eat the cost of the Airbnb) may have saved the entire trip for us (the candy bar was delightful).
Adding to the family
Finally, because we felt so balanced, my wife and I, along with our son, agreed to host an exchange student. It wasn’t the plan at the beginning of the school year, but when a student at our school needed a home in mid-October, it seemed to be the spark that finally turned our many conversations about possibly hosting into reality. It has been up and down and changed the balance in our house, but I am confident it is for the better. We are having to ask ourselves questions about what is important to us as a family, as well as learning what life with a teenager is like (I’m not sure anything could have prepared us for that).
I spent a good deal of last year realizing what I wanted and needed in order to complete the tasks that my job requires and to accomplish the goals I’ve set out within that role. My job is comprised of multiple roles, which all allow for some autonomy, but also require structure to keep them going and make sure that one role doesn’t slowly fall to the wayside.
One key goal was to improve our parent-to-school communication for students working through social-emotional challenges. This will probably always be a challenge, but it felt like we were constantly reinventing the wheel, leaving our teachers, parents, and me consistently frustrated with each other. Working with our Learning Resources coordinator, we have aligned our ideas and goals into a relatively cohesive system that connects the pieces of the puzzle. It allowed for empathy to be the starting point of each process, brainstorming between parents and teachers to determine the best supports for a student, and then systems that would help us all stay accountable. A next step is to solidify our ability to measure student growth without it becoming too objective and forgetting that a young child is at the heart of the work.
Early this year, that system was put to a big test, and we passed. It wasn’t perfect and the ending was actually not the desired outcome. The process, however, helped everyone involved walk away feel confident that we had done our best, despite the endpoint. There is obviously still room for improvement, but the foundation feels strong to build on.
Another goal was connecting more successfully with new students and parents. Honestly, the system I created may have helped me check off a more names on a list, but it didn’t provide any real depth. In a building of 250 students, knowing that my relationships with students are going to be critical to resolving challenging conflicts as they arise, how do I find a way to connect with all the students I need to? How do I proactively build those relationships, when I know that many students won’t need my support? After years in a classroom of connecting through daily experiences, I’m still looking for a way to build those meaningful relationships before students arrive in my office for reasons they typically don’t want to admit.
One connection that was particularly successful occurred through a parent reading group. Not only did it give me a chance to connect with a group of parents more deeply, it was in a book club around child development, which opened multiple doors in conversation. We shared parenting experiences and challenges. I was able to share the school’s philosophy and our strategies when faced with conflicts while parents shared their own. At the end of our four sessions, parents asked for another this year, so I guess something went right.
A key role in my job is supporting our associate teachers. Unfortunately, it feels like this is the area that has been least successful. In many ways, I’ve stepped back in terms of the structures I had provided in the past. For some associates, the freedom along with their experience has helped them set more meaningful goals and pursue them with less guidance from me. Others, however, need the coaching to stay on task and choose goals that will help them and their students. My classroom observations have decreased, and this is an area I want to focus on more this second half of the year. This associate teacher work is a clear area for growth in the new year: to be more intentional and give them the support they need to meet goals that make their classroom successful.
For the last two years, I’ve set out goals of reading a certain number of books. Last year, I was thrilled to hit my number, but felt like the number became more important than the learning. This year, I cut the number back slightly with the intention of taking more away from each book. I met my goal of 45 has been met for the year. For those of you wondering, there is a wide variety of books, from children’s books to dense non-fiction, education books to graphic novels. Some were light and entertaining while others challenged my understanding of the world. For a recap of the most valuable books I read this year, you can read this post (not live yet).
Speaking of posts, I have posted 30 blogs in the past year. From reflections on school life to coaching, deeply thoughtful to feeble attempts at humor, it felt like I struck a pretty good balance of reflective, fun, and possibly meaningful. After my initial foray into blogging a couple years ago, I gave up the idea that I would attract a great deal of followers, but my reflections have been incredibly valuable to my own growth as an educator, a leader, and a person. With 28,000 words written over the year, I hope at least a few of them have made someone think a little differently about their own journey.
This fall, I launched two Quaker school mastermind groups and joined a leadership institute. After experiencing the amazingness of the BLBS mastermind for the last two years, it felt like the time to invite others into similar conversations. These mastermind groups include educators from Friends Schools that span the United States. We are meeting monthly to share our educational experiences and knowledge through short presentations, book discussions (Being Wrong by Kathryn Schultz), and feedback sessions that provide answers, or most likely more challenging questions, to help each other respond more effectively to various personal or professional dilemmas.
The area I hope to grow most this coming year is in my thinking about my future. One of my summer goals was to do vision work, to think carefully about where I might be going. I don’t have a clear vision or plan and, while I’m not worried about it, my lack of worry almost becomes a worry of its own. One question asked recently at a leadership retreat I attended was, “What is your ‘I am’ statement?” This eye-opening question helped me focus in a way I had never done before.
I keep returning to the statement: “I am an educator for peace.” I still don’t have a vision statement or plan, but I have the sense that exploring this idea, and considering what it means for me and the teachers and students I work with is the next step in my journey.
Signing off for 2019
This post forced me to spend time thinking about a year in review. It made me think about the people I’m responsible to and whether I am supporting those people in the way I’ve committed to. It took me a while to write and almost as long to decide to publish. Hopefully you take on a similar challenge, whether it is on looseleaf paper, in your mind, or in a blog post.
Special thanks to all those who’ve read my posts over this year, or any time in the past. Even if I don’t know you and we’ve never connected, I appreciate any time you’ve spent reading these words.