Our Honors & Awards Ceremony is about to start here in Tiger Town. A father of one of our students just came up to me and said “I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given my son. He couldn’t have done what he did without you.”
It humbles me to no end when someone thanks me for helping their child in any capacity.
However, it’s important for me to acknowledge that it’s just not true for two reasons. The first being that the young man he speaks of, his son, has significant assets working in his favor. He’s intelligent, driven, hardworking, respectful, and self aware. Truly that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this kid. He will be successful at whatever he chooses to put his mind to whether Mr. Stecher is around to make a contribution to his efforts or not.
Here’s the other thing, he couldn’t have done what he did without all of the people around him providing support. My contribution to his success was pretty nominal. I saw an opportunity where I could lend a hand so I did. So did a lot of other people in much more significant manner starting with his parents who have done more than anybody to provide both a foundation and the momentum critical to his success. Along the way there have been countless contributions from family, friends, teachers, community members, support staff, coaches, and other individuals who might have flown under the radar but were no less important. That’s a lot of belief supporting one kid.
It all adds up.
We can’t all make the same contributions and not every student has the same people for support. But we all have a responsibility to do what we can for who we can when we can. Like I said, it all adds up. The more it adds up the more likely our students are to capitalize on the support.
“He couldn’t have done what he did without you.”
Forgive me for disagreeing but I believe he would have made it happen without me. I’m just happy I had a small part. I’m more happy so many others made sure that they made the contributions they could as well. And I am unabashedly proud of all of our students who put together all of the contributions from so many people to build their own successes.
I just realized that I may have just written my graduation speech for this year and for that I have a Dad and his Son to thank.
So thanks fellas, I couldn’t have done what I just did without your help.
You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here.
I totally abandoned one of my hard and fast personal policies.
Do not feed the trolls.
In case this notion of not feeding the trolls isn’t part of your lexicon I will toss out a quick primer. Trolls are people who make comments on your social media posts with the primary intent of inciting conflict. Feeding the trolls would be engaging the trolls by commenting back. In doing so you don’t win. You don’t develop a meaningful dialog. You don’t change hearts and minds. When you feed the trolls the trolls just gain the fuel to do more trolling. When you feed the trolls the trolls multiply.
The issue I was trolled on was the role of addressing mental health needs as a part of the mission public schools. The state senator who serves as the chair of our education committee in Nebraska expressed a philosophy decidedly different from my own. I decided to comment on twitter about it. Really it was a pretty grand social media interaction with some people I really respect contributing to the conversation. Then a troll showed up. And I fed him. I’m not going to going any further into the specifics. If you are inclined to look at the unproductive mess it won’t take you long to find it at @samMMstecher. But I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m only mentioning its location for transparency of my own errors.
The reason why I wouldn’t recommend reading back through it is because it won’t help you make a difference. I doubt that you will even find it amusing.
What I would like you to do instead?
I guarantee someone you know needs some help. Someone is in it up to their ears and and is just short of the support they need. Reach out to that person. Give them a hand. Give them a second chance. Give them a thank you note. Give them a goal. Give them access to a resource. Give them what worked for you.
Give them any of the ideas we’ve suggested here at MissionMonday.com.
Don’t feed the trolls. Feed someone’s soul.
You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here.
In a previous blog I wrote about my son’s efforts at walking. Here we are four months later and the throttle on that kid’s motor is wide open. Once he got bipedal mobility figured out walking went by the wayside. In place was a constant forward leaning momentum with ever increasing speed.
He wants to get where he is going and isn't shy maximizing the velocity from point A to point B.
That being said the process to full fledged walking was not something which occurred with the same kind of rapid pace.
When I Google “when do babies walk?” I get an answer of 9 to 12 months with some outliers at 14 to 15 months as well as an assurance that “Some perfectly normal children don't walk until they're 16 or 17 months old.” Sometimes I think they have a Google search algorithm specificly designed to provide answers which may both incite and alleviate potential panic based on of the inquires of parents.
Ezra was decidedly into the 13 month range before he had this particular skill on lockdown. Solidly in the tail end of the normal range.
Absolutely nothing to worry about.
But when you know that things could start to get real at 9 months every day has you on your toes about the kid being on his feet. Mostly this is out of excitement. That first step is, well, a big step.
Another thing is that other people have babies. They might be the same age as your baby. They might start walking before or after yours. Try as you might not to, you can’t help making comparisons. Even if you can avoid the comparison trap other people around seem to bring it up. And they are all experts based on the anecdotal research their experience with children has provided. They have also probably read a post on Facebook on this topic which they would be glad to tag you in.
What was also odd to me was that there was no bright line distinction between walking and not walking for what I was observing in my own child. I’m certain I was around for Ezra’s first step but I’m not sure which of the the things I witnessed was the legit first step. I can remember lots of standing up followed by a foot heading forward in a definite stepping motion with a quick return to the floor and a happy resumption of mobility via crawling. This happened all the time in varying degrees of increasing and decreasing proficiency.
First step? Just not sure.
He also shuffled along and lunged between furniture.
Walking? Sorta? I think?
There just wasn’t that movie moment with the clarity of those first steps.
But he sure has it figured out now.
And though this was no absurd and heart wrenching challenge I had to watch my son overcome I was still was happy with how I handled it.
I knew I was taking care of him. I knew his mom was doing an exceptional job of taking care of him. Even with the perils of Google searches and unavoidable comparisons both Elle and I just kept saying “We are doing the right things. He will figure out walking when he is supposed to.”
I’d like to see us adopt more of this attitude in education. We are so schedule and deadline driven that sometimes I think we operate on a schedule at the expense of what is best for the student. I realize that our school calendar and our school day works for most students and we need to accommodate the schedules of our parents as well as the long held cultural norms of the school experience. We also have standardized testing schedules to adhere to.
I’m not calling for a revolution and complete reform of how we schedule our services and expectations.
What I would like to do is advocate for more application of the perspective “He will figure out walking when he is supposed to.”
This is far from a laissez faire “when it happens, it happens” attitude. We cannot expect things to happen when they are supposed to unless we are doing what we are supposed to.
But if we are doing the right things in terms of instruction, accountability, and support for our children/students yet seeing they are not quite getting things on the prescribed schedule it doesn’t indicate failure on anybody’s part. Giving yourself and your children/students permission to let it happen at rate that is best for the child is what good parents/teachers do.
I know Ezra gets walking and made it happen when it was best for him.
I’m pretty sure I got things right in my role as Dad during that skill acquisition.
I hope I have the courage, wisdom, and patience to keep it up with the infinite number of things he’s continuing to learn. It’s my hope we can all make this happen more often for more kids.
If you’re not quite ready to make the philosophical jump to “He will figure out walking when he is supposed to” that’s O.K.
I’m willing to wait until you’re ready to walk as well.
You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here.
At Mission Monday we do a lot of work providing you with weekly missions to help make your school a better place by developing a strong culture and positive climate. One of those missions is telling a chosen student that you think they are awesome, or giving them some sort of affirmation. This is one of the most powerful missions we preach, and it makes a very big impact on the students with which you interact.
All that being said, you can royally screw this mission up by doing one thing: Not believing the words you are saying to the student as you are saying them. If you tell a student they are awesome, you need to believe they are awesome. If you tell a student you believe in them, you need to honestly and genuinely believe in them. If you are just saying it to say it, but don’t believe it, the student won’t believe you either. They will see right through you.
Kids are great BS detectors. They know when they are hearing something that doesn’t seem quite right. They are experts at calling someone out who isn’t telling the truth. Some of our students have been lied to their whole life. They have been told things and promised things that haven’t happened. They have been let down. And they are tired of it. So tired of it.
What I’m saying is, don’t be just another person in their life they can’t trust. Don’t be a person in their life that shares worthless comments that just sounds like endless amounts of “blah blah blah” in their heads. Be a person that changes lives. Be a person that means what they say. Be a person that finds a student, and says, “Has anyone told you yet today that you are awesome?” Or “I believe you will do amazing things today.”
Don’t just say it with your words. Say it with your smile. Say it with your eyes. Say it with your heart. Help defuse their BS detectors. And hopefully when that students walks away, they believe it, too.
Most often when I write a blog I am trying communicate as an authority on the topic at hand. I like to draw upon my experiences, perspective, and reflection to present you with an opinion that I did not arrive upon lightly. I want you to know where I stand, what I think is a good idea, and the action I believe you should take because of it. A friend of mine has given me the compliment (or leveled the accusation) that confidence is not a problem for me. When I post here I’m pretty confident in what I am saying.
This time I’m writing from a different perspective. I’d like to hear from you. I’d like your advice and perspective. It would do me good to have your expertise.
What I would like to know is how you do you stay sharp? I am asking because it’s become apparent to me that they same things which keep us shap can also take that edge right off.
A couple of things I read over the weekend led me to this question. Our high school wrestling season just wrapped up in Nebraska and two teams, the Spartans of Lincoln East and the Bearcats of Kearney, had quite a year competing with each other. This weekend I saw this tweet-
Iron sharpens Iron. I get that. The head coaches of both teams wrestled for my collegiate alma mater so I know they have lived the Iron sharpens Iron axiom. I know and appreciate the philosophy. It’s a good practice. A blog on the subject would be something I would present with the confidence I mentioned early. Writing that blog is something I will leave to Coach Swarm, Coach Rutledge, and Coach McCurdy.
Another thing I read this weekend was a poem by one of my favorite authors, Ted Kooser, in which Ted used the word shopworn. The poem didn’t have anything to do with the Iron sharpens Iron idea but that word, shopworn, caught my attention. As Ted used it, it meant something which has lost its edge of effectiveness as a consequence of being used for its intended purpose.
There’s my quandary. The difficult work we signed up to do, the very nature of those often stressful opportunities, can give us the edge or take the edge away. The things which challenge us, which call us to go above and beyond the expected effort, can make us better at what we do or they can wear us out.
We all find ourselves in these situations. This isn’t unique to the world of education. Everyone who deals with stress as part of their job rides that line of sharpening or losing their edge.
My empathy for this is boundless. I have had high stress circumstances where I felt absolutely invigorated, cutting edge sharp, and more prepared for the next challenge. I’m also privy to those situations which take it all out of me, leaving me dull, feeling sorry for myself and sorry for the next person I need to help because I know they won’t get the best I’ve had to offer, dulled by what I had to deal with.
So again, sharp and shopworn, are both consequences of the work we do. I’d like to stay sharp. It’s my belief that what I do with MissionMonday.com is essential to what keeps the dull edge away. Even with that I still struggle sometimes. It would mean a lot to me to hear what works for you. Comment and let me know how you make sure the iron of work that matters sharpens the iron of your skills and effectiveness.
I have noticed a tendency to call teachers superheros and it’s been bothering me lately.
If you are one of those people calling teachers superheroes I would really like you to stop. You’re hurting the profession and doing everyone in education a disservice. I’m not saying this because I don’t value teachers. It’s just that I think it’s more important to value teachers for what they are rather than attempt to value them by saying teachers are something they are not. I’d even go so far to say that the more we think of teachers as superheroes the more likely we are to take advantage of them.
I see why you might want to say teachers are superheroes. Great teachers have a substantial set of skills.
The exhaustive list includes but is not limited to:
Content area knowledge
Social and emotion wellness
Diversity and inclusion
Nutrition and physical health
That’s what came to mind in the first minute or so of thinking about it. If you sit down with the students of a great teacher that list will probably quadruple in a hurry. You might be thinking it’s a list worthy of superhero status. Again, I get why you would think that but you’re wrong.
There’s a very important distinction between the skills of a teacher of the powers of a superhero.
Superman showed up on Earth and had the ability to fly.
Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider and could then climb walls.
Wonder Wonder was gifted her powers by Greek Gods.
Batman and Iron Man? Those guys had genius level brain power and unlimited inherited wealth to buy their way into superhero status.
Everything on the list of skills for teachers had to be learned and earned. They had to do research and engage in hours of practice to develop the expertise to apply all of those skill. They were not born with the skills nor did they inherit any unique circumstances which made them preternaturally easy to aquire.
Teachers worked to gain the skills they use every day. Not only did they do the work to develop these skills they did so with a normal human brain and a normal human body, with all the limitations those things impose.
Teachers don’t possess some superhuman ability to acquire and apply all this expertise. They push through to do so with the same difficulty as all non-superheroes. They don’t have a superhuman ability to go without sleep. They simply skip a lot of hours of recommended rest to do what they need to do and then suffer the same impact of sleep deprivation as any human. Teachers don’t have super human bladder capacity. During the school day they get to the bathroom when they can and take a sick day to go to the doctor for a UTI when they need to.
Even if teachers had the superhuman speed of The Flash they couldn’t use it to their advantage because teachers model the behavior they want to see from their students. Teachers can’t model good hallway behavior while going mach 2 on the way to the office to make copies.
I get so frustrated when teachers are referred to as superheroes because teachers do far more with normal human limitations than you can find in the most fantastic comic book account of any superhero adventure.
Teachers make amazing things happen, not with superpowers, but with knowledge and intelligence and caring and grit and courage all while being just a vulnerable as anybody.
Teachers are not bulletproof. They don’t have any such superpower.
Still, without that superpower they have stood between the bullets and their students.
Not as an invincible superhero, but as a teacher.
So yes, I get why you would want to call teachers superheroes. It’s easy to look at what they do and think it’s superhuman. Just remember they are doing all of it while facing the same limitations as anyone else, without the benefit of any uncommon strength or sci-fi technology. In my book that makes recognizing someone a teacher a far greater honor than calling them a superhero.
Last week you may have noticed a post on our Facebook and Twitter pages from Pender Public Schools. They had a mission about speaking with good purpose. I’ve included a picture and here is how our friends in Pender described it-
“Our Mission Monday this week has been "Speaking With Good Purpose". Here is a little example. Every student K-12 had a sticky note with their name on it. A caring adult took the time this week to jot a note to them, reminding them they are valued and loved. Gotta ❤ an empty board! :) It's a great day to be a Pendragon!”
We here at MissionMonday.com absolutely love this mission. After I saw the post I texted Mark and asked him to record a video making it our official mission for this week. Speaking with good purpose is something Mark applies with great success at his own elementary school and I knew he would be able to add some great perspective.
Props to the Pendragons for a great mission.
But Pender Public Schools deserves credit for more than just a great mission. They deserve credit for sticking with the plan and that’s no small thing.
When Mark and I speak, whether providing professional development or a keynote, we strive to be both entertaining and inspiring. We want you to laugh and we want to motivate you. When we part ways with the audience we hope they feel it was time well spent.
But Mark and I want more from our time together. Being entertained and motivated for an hour just isn’t enough. The work you do is too important. As we see it, the value of our time together increases exponentially if what we talk about becomes a sustainable part of how you interact with those around you. We want our time with you to be a call to action. We want to support that call with ideas and interactions every week. It’s why we push our interventions all week long. We want to continue to connect you with what works long after we have finished sharing time in the same room.
Unfortunately it’s too easy to let that sustainability drop. Most people will listen for the time we have, leave with good intentions, and then go back to the old routine. Sure, they might look back and think “That was really funny when Mark told the story about the second grader kicking him in the shins” but that’s about it. And I get it. You have more priorities than I can count. My empathy for letting something slide is boundless.
But if you stay committed to the sustainability of MissionMonday.com, if you remain dedicated to walking down your hallway with a planned purpose, then you are one of a select few. Again, I get that can be easy to enjoy the laughs for an hour and dismiss the weekly interventions. Some people can’t imagine doing even one more thing.
For those that do that one more thing the investment is worth it.
My guess is that for the committed these missions reach a point where they can’t imagine not keeping the commitment. It becomes part of the routine and culture of where we serve our students and communities.
Mark and I spoke to the staff of Pender Public Schools back in August. This picture is from February. Way to stick with it Pendragons. You’re getting it right.
A few years ago my son, Sammy, said he wanted to help me write a blog, so he grabbed my computer and typed for a bit. When he handed it back, this is what I saw at the top of the screen: “School is very boring. Here, let me prove to you how boring it is. This is what it stands for - Seven Crap Hours Of Our Lives.”
As a principal, this was immediately discouraging. It felt like being that preacher who has that kid who is always getting in trouble and somehow as a parent you should have been able to contain that rebellious spirit. But before you jump to any conclusions or make judgements about my son, let me tell you a little bit about him. First of all, when he wrote this he was a freshman in high school. Secondly, he was a teenager. Thirdly, he thinks he is pretty funny. (Which he gets from me.) Last of all, he really does like school, but only on two conditions.
He has to know that the teacher likes him. This has always been the case for him. He will not try in a class if he feels like the teacher does not care about him. He will sit there, fake attention, not contribute, and give the minimal amount of effort required each day. However, on the flip side, if he knows the teacher does like him, he will go out of his way to prove his worth. He will always be to class on time, he will study hard, he will share this thoughts, and he will share funny stories with me about the class, and about that particular teacher. And this part is key - He will do this even if he doesn’t enjoy the subject being taught.
He likes to be interested in what he is learning. When he was much younger, he had a crazy love for football. He used to collect football cards and read about all the players and watch as much football on TV as possible. Every year at the Scholastic Book Fair, I would buy him all the latest books on the NFL stars. He could rattle off stats about almost any team and player. He didn’t even have to try to remember all of this information. It was just fun for him so it came easy for him. That’s exactly the way it is for him now. The subjects he likes in school, he devours. He spends extra time trying to learn more about what he is introduced to in his classes. He attacks the content just like he attacked football statistics. However, if he is bored or doesn’t care about what he is learning, it’s like pulling teeth to get him to study.
In my opinion, one of these conditions is more important than the other. If only “Condition Two” were in place, Sammy’s success would depend upon whether or not he liked the subject. Each semester he likes about half of the subjects he is required to take. So with those odds, he would only pass half of his classes. But if only “Condition One” were in place, regardless if he liked the subject, he would still work hard because of the relationship he has with his teacher, and for the respect and care the teacher shows him.
I don’t think this is exclusively true for my son. I think many students operate under these conditions. And I think most students are craving teachers who like them. Teachers who don’t have favorites, but who genuinely care for each and every one of their students. Teachers who let the students know that no matter what they do or who they are or what their background is, they are a part of the class and part of the school community, and therefore a part of the family.
So if you are that kind of teacher, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Sammy can’t wait to get into your class.
“Failure is not an option.”
I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has said that to me. And I get it. It’s fun to say. It conveys passion and dedication and a sense of badassary. I get wanting to say it. I get wanting to inspire those around us to succeed with those words.
The problem is its prevalence is only matched by its folly.
Failure is always an option.
I’m not the only person saying this. Just give “failure is always an option” a web search and see just how much comes up. I don’t want to use this space and this time to argue for my philosophy on failure. You just need to know that fundamental to what I say next is the acknowledgment that failure does indeed exist and is an ever present option. It is true in life and it is true in teaching.
Again, it is true in teaching.
I started thinking about this because of the tweet pictured. Stay in this game long enough and you will fail a student. You will try and try and try. You will change up your instruction strategy. You will pilot new inventions. You will use the best tools you have which have given you high percentage success in the past. You will talk with the student’s former teachers for advice. You will seek out your mentors for counsel. You will do this and more.
You will still fail this student. The process will be exhausting and demoralizing. The result will be heartbreaking and make you question yourself.
Knowing all that there is a luxury we are not afforded- giving up.
Everyday you gotta come back and bring your best again. You don’t get to give up. Don’t get me wrong. I realize that, just like failure, giving up is an option but once you do you are no longer that student’s teacher. You are just a placeholder.
I know how difficult this is. Like I said in the tweet, this is one of the most difficult lessons for teachers to learn. I know I said heartbreaking before but let’s throw in soul crushing as well. Failing, especially a student, hurts.
You know what hurts worse? Living with the fact that you gave up on someone.
This has been an exceptionally gloomy post so let’s get to the sunshine.
Stay in this game long enough and you have a student you were ready to give up on come back and see you. In your mind you not be able to recall anything approaching your definition of success with this student This student will tell you about their life. They will tell you you were the best teacher ever. They will say “Thank you for not giving up on me.”
Just a little shiver about how close you were to giving up.
From me to you far in advance of that student showing up, thanks for not giving up.
It's 2018 and we are betting you have some things planned. I'm betting they are big plans too.
Plans you want to get right.
Plans to make a difference.
Plans that matter.
We would like to be part of those plans. We want to help you make a difference. We want to help you get it right.
How can we help?
First things first on that-
Keep coming here. Keep checking out our Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Keep up to date with what we have at MissionMonday.com. It's all for free and it's going to keep coming. Ideas and inspiration to make your school or workplace community better one interaction at a time.
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If you have an event we want to be at it. From keynotes and to a full day of professional development, we have you covered. It will be funny. It will be meaningful. It will make a difference. We don't let people down. We lift them up. More importantly we give you the ideas to maintain the momentum after your event. We have a few things lined up for 2018 but we are up for more. Give us a shout and we can get the ball rolling.
We know you are planning on being awesome. We think it would be awesome to be part of your plan.
As I make my way to my office everyday I think a lot about what’s waiting for me once step through the door. There are a few truths that hold up day after day.
My email inbox will not be in the same pristine and organized condition as it was when I left the office.
There is always something from the day before that is not finished to extent it deserves.
If I let it happen I could walk in my office and not step out until it was time to head home and still not have satisfied the demands of the day.
Before I ever touch the door handle I’ve been composing a triage list, prioritizing what needs my attention first and how much time I can allocate to each need. In fact as I walk into school I on occasion end up talking aloud to myself, voicing that list priorities and allocation of time.
“O.K. First I need to scan the bid for the attachment for the board agenda. After that I need to simplify the calendar rationales with some bullet points. By 9:30 I need to make the call to set up the demo of…”
I’m sure I don’t sound crazy at all.
Here’s the deal. It’s a trap.
Opening my office door, firing up the laptop, and moving towards crossing things off the to do list that I muttered aloud as I walked in, it’s all a trap. I could walk in my office and not step out until it was time to head home. It’s a trap and it’s happened to me. More than once I think I’ve been caught so deep in the trap I didn’t even make it out to eat or use the bathroom. That’s less than heathy on multiple levels.
What should I be doing? Getting to a different set of doors.
Not my office door but any door that my students and staff are using to get into the building.
For a long time I had three or four spots where I would post up every morning so I could greet people as they came in. This is an amazing way to start the day. The opportunity to see all those people as they roll in and share the “good mornings” and the high fives and the smiles. When I start the day like that it is equally good for our school and my own soul. We can start our day as team with ambition and validation. I am better at everything else I do when I start my day at those doors. But more and more often I found myself heading to my office door and succumbing to the trap.
Life has a way of giving you reminders of how things should be done after you’ve gotten in the habit of the contrary.
Last Friday we had one of our elementary Christmas programs. About a half an hour before the show I went to our activity entrance so I could hold the door and greet people as they came in. One gentleman held my hand shake a bit longer and said “Mr. Stecher it ain’t bad for December but it still a bit cold outside to be at this door. How come I always see you out here doing this?”
“Because if I do this I know I got at least one thing right today.”
Get at least one thing right. That’s a good reminder life allowed me to give myself.
When I start my day at those doors it keeps me out of the trap. It starts my day seeing the people that matter most. It guarantees I get at least one thing right. It puts me in a spot where I am talking to people instead of muttering to myself. I start my day getting one thing right.
It turns out that everytime I do so I find my office and all the things waiting for me in it are still there.
When I walk in after investing the time in our people and and in myself at the doors to my school I’m better at taking care everything else those people and my school needs.
You will be too.
“I don’t like when people say, “We need to prepare our students for the ‘real world.’ The truth is, some of them are experiencing more of a ‘real world’ than we will ever know. What we need to do is prepare them for a better world.” That is the thought that popped in my head, and that’s the phrase I posted on Twitter one day.
I was starting to get tired of comments I heard from people, which was usually something like, “We need to prepare our students for the real world!” What that entailed was usually followed by conversations about dishing out more homework or having higher expectations for the students or making them accountable for their mistakes or showing them tough love. Now don’t get me wrong. All these things have their place, but I didn’t feel those methods were the only answer to the real world. And that got me thinking…
The students I work with on a daily basis have some tough lives. The stories I hear from these students about the things they are going through outside of school are enough to break your heart a dozen times over. It’s a miracle to me some days how these students can function and stay engaged at school when their minds are thinking about other things, like where am I going to stay tonight, or will there be any food left for me, or can I fall asleep tonight and feel safe? So these students...your students...are dealing with a reality right now that we can’t prepare them for, because they are already living it.
What we need to do, in my opinion, is give them something to hope for, to strive for, to believe in. We need to help them feel a sense of belonging in this crazy, mixed up world of theirs. Real belonging, where people love and care for one another and feel safe. We have the opportunity each day at school to look these students in the eyes, to notice them, to let them know someone in this ‘real world’ believes there can be something better for them, and we will help them each step of the way while they are in our care, and beyond.
So I posted the thought on Twitter. And it got some likes, and some retweets. Thousands of retweets, in fact. Different people picked it up and claimed it as their own. Some publications even grabbed it and tied their name to it. People commented on it, some positively, some negatively, and some added their own version. It still pops up in my Twitter feed every once in awhile as I’m scrolling through on my phone. And it makes me smile, because it has become bigger than myself. It has got some people talking, and thinking, and sharing.
So if that thought helps one person take pause and reflect on their own relationships with their students, and change the way they work with them in a more positive way, then I believe the ‘better world’ is already taking place.
“Mr. Stecher are you really going to make us come to back to school for one day next week?”
That was the question posed by the first student in my office on Tuesday, November 14. So you understand where she was coming from let me give you a rundown of what transpired before.
On Monday, November 13 the Tigers of East Butler won the semifinal game in the Nebraska 8 Man Tackle Football Playoffs. This set the stage for our participation on Monday, November 20 in the championship game scheduled for 10:15 in the morning. As superintendent I had the pleasure of calling off school for the day of the game. One could argue the merit of sacrificing a day of academic instruction for this athletic contest. However, if you know anything about football in small town Nebraska you also know that if you visited our towns that day, regardless of my decision, nobody was going to be home.
On the week of November 20 the championship game wasn’t the only event on the calendar. We also had a little thing called Thanksgiving around which we scheduled 3 days of vacation on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
So our our attendance at school last week consisted of Tuesday only.
And, straight talk from me, I did think “Should I call school off on Tuesday?” That thought was what many would call fleeting.
When I heard “Mr. Stecher are you really going to make us come to back to school for one day next week?” my quick response was “You bet I am. And it’s going to be the best Tuesday ever.”
Why have school for that one day?
Because we wanted to be at school. We wanted to see each other. Win or lose I believed in my heart we wanted to be together on that Tuesday. As a school community it would be awesome to come back together right after such a big event.
The thing is it’s not just the big events. It’s any break from our school service. I wrote about this in our book It Happens In The Hallway. In it there is an essay about a student who called school his “one best place.” Not my words but his.
We won that football game and Tuesday at school sure felt like the community celebration I thought it would. That was an amazing day.
For some of our students coming back to school after any break is amazing. School offers comfort, consistency, support, love, and probably a hot meal. School is where they get what they need.
Before I left my office Wednesday for the Thanksgiving break I tweeted a video where I spoke about this and suggested a mission for your return from break.
Make sure your students know you missed them. Make sure they know why.
I guarantee if you have been doing things the right way they have certainly missed you.
My son Ezra is just over 10 months old and it seems like he has a singular focus on acquisition of just one skill right now.
And he is soooo close. And he knows it. The kid sees an open space in front of him and his eyes scan the for the potential hand holds between his here and his there measuring the balance between his ever increasing yet uncertain ability and his desire to walk. He vacillates between trepidation and confidence. It’s a lot for the brain of a 10 month old. This most often manifests itself along the edge of the couch and coffee table. When he has those two safety nets he will scoot side to side, hand over hand, foot over foot. It’s not walking exactly but it’s close. And, boy, does love it. He giggles and hustles from one end of his secure purchase to the other.
But that hustle of side to side, hand over hand, foot over foot is also a lot for his 10 month old brain and body to coordinate. Often his confidence betrays him and his journey from here to there becomes less of journey and more of decent. I’ve never seen so much momentum unleashed in such a tiny package. His crisscrossing gets tangled up and all of a sudden it’s his hip and hand and head finding the way to floor.
You know what happens next. All of the that energy that was directed at this hustle redirects and vents straight out of the tear ducts.
Oh, Ezra, you’ve come such a long way from the end of the coffee table only to fall so far to the rug when you were so near your goal of the other end of the coffee table.
This is when my best postive daddy voice I say “You’re O.K.”
I’m going to backtrack to another chapter in Sam Stecher’s formative history. Back in the day when a misfortune would befall me, be it a skinned knee or sometimes something significantly worse, my father was fond of saying “Good thing you’re tough.” It took awhile but eventually I began hearing a lot more from that statement. I heard that I was tough, capable, durable, resilient, flexible, and so much more. It is with no small frequency that when the going gets tough I remind myself that I am the tough that gets going. I do this because it had been taught and reinforced.
I want my son to have the same kind of tools when the going gets tough.
So at 10 months old, again in my most positive dad voice, I tell him “You’re O.K.” I’m pretty sure “You’re O.K.” doesn’t directly translate for Ezra. But what I am what I’m saying and how I’m saying it, it says “You’re O.K. You got this kid. You’re tough Ezra. I’m here to make sure you’re O.K. so you can keep falling and keep getting up. I love you and I know, fall or walk, you got this and you’re O.K.”
I tell him “You’re O.K.” and looks up at me and I can see those tears redirect to a smile and though he doesn’t exactly have full language mastery yet his face says “I’m O.K.? Dad’s right. I am O.K.”
That’s when he starts working his way back to the other end of the coffee table.
The other day I was at a meeting away from school when I received a text (not about a cat murder this time). Someone from school was asking me for advice on a situation that came up, and so I texted them back and forth for a bit while also trying to attend to the meeting. Soon the issue was resolved and i was back in the present moment. However, as soon as the meeting was over, and the small talk around the table died away, I stood up to go. Someone asked where I was off to in such a hurry. I explained that I needed to get back to my building. The person said, quite sarcastically, “You know, they can survive without you.” Without hesitation, and with all sincerity I responded, “It’s not that they can’t survive without me. It’s that I can’t survive without them.”
There is a quote that has been around for quite some time. It goes like this: “If you love your job, you will never have to work a day in your life.” This wisdom is attributed to people like Confucius and Marc Anthony, among others. And to a great extent, I agree with this quote whole-heartedly. I happen to be in a profession that I love, and many days do not feel like work at all. Many days things just come together in a natural flow, kids get along with kids, teachers work together with students, learning is taking place, and the ethos of the building is completely copacetic.
Other days, however, this is not the case at all. Kids don’t get along with other kids, teachers lose their tolerance level with their students, misbehaviors and outbursts take the place of learning, and the ethos of the building is one of utter and complete chaos. And there is work involved. A lot of work. And it feels like work. But that doesn’t mean i don’t love my job. I love my job in spite of the days where it feels like work. I love my job even when it feels like things are hanging on by a very thin thread, and one snip of the universe’s scissors will send us all spiraling into oblivion.
Even on those days, i love my job. You see, i can’t survive without it. I can’t survive without the students and the teachers and the staff and the laughter and the tears and the fights and the complaining and the praises and the failures and the successes. It’s the same way with family. Family is messy and awesome and crazy at the same time. In that sense, I consider my school family my “second family” and this building my “second home.” That’s the way it feels to me, anyway.
I can’t survive without it.
The number of mistakes and screw ups I have made is absolutely staggering. Paralyzing actually. If I allow myself to reflect or focus from an unhealthy perspective on the things I have gotten wrong in my life I will experience literal paralysis. Shortness of breath, sweaty, muscle cramping, brain riddled with fear paralysis. It’s happened in my personal life and my professional life. In relationships, in my jobs, with my friends and family, in every facet of my life I have made crippling mistakes. I even hold on to mementos from some of them. Like that letter I have from a former boss that says “Another mistake of this nature will result in termination.”
So I’ve had some big mistakes.
But that paralysis I mentioned before, there is a reason what it hasn’t stopped me in my tracks. It’s because a long time ago I learned a few of things about myself. First I learned that I am a loser and I am a quitter. And then I learned that I’m only those things until I’m not.
I learned those things as a college athlete competing as part of the University of Nebraska Kearney Loper wrestling team.
Let’s set the stage with a little Sam Stecher history preceding my college athlete experience. In highschool I was a slightly better than average wrestler who was irrationally devoted to the sport. The best part of my day was wrestling practice. I rarely got things wrong at practice. Practice was my zone. I lived for the grind. And all this effort resulted in more wins than losses. I was no phenom. I just really dug wrestling and the effort was always worth it.
After highschool graduation I attend a college with no plans to continue my wrestling career. It wasn’t long before I realized that I lacked the discipline I needed to be successful in college. To stick with theme, I was making a lot of mistakes. So much so that I like to refer to my freshman year of college as my “non academic” year. My solution was to find the the discipline I needed in the structure of a team again. In order to find it I transferred to UNK and walked on the wrestling team.
The disciple and accountability I needed was absolutely part of what the team gave me. I went to class. I went to studyhall. I put in the academic work. All this happened because of the structure the team gave me. This is all well and good but it’s not really what I’m trying to get across here.
What I am trying to get you to understand is that I learned that I was a loser and I was a quitter.
Within the first practice I realized, that without question, I was the worst wrestler on the team. I was clearly the bottom of the food chain. Everyone had more talent and athletic ability than I did. It wasn’t even close. That love I had of practice?
When you subject yourself to complete and utter defeat by way total physical domination you find it challenging to love the experience. I lost in every conceivable position in practice, over and over again. As for actual competition I am quite certain I hold the record for most losses in 4 years of eligibility as a member of the UNK wrestling team.
I was a loser and I wanted to quit.
In fact I made deal with myself everyday before practice. As sat in front of my locker getting into my practice gear I would make a promise to myself.
I’m quitting tomorrow. I will get through this practice but this is the last one. Tomorrow I turn in my gear and call it a day. I’m getting through this practice today, but tomorrow I’m quitting.
A funny thing happened though. The next day I would find myself in front of my locker having the same conversation with myself.
I’m quitting tomorrow…
That replayed day after day. It’s how I got though my first season. I was a quitter. I was ready to be a quitter everyday.
Until I wasn’t.
I’m getting through this practice today…
What’s crazy is when you know quitting and losing are options, not even just options but palatable realities, and then you don’t quit it becomes a source of strength.
I am a loser and I am a quitter. Until I’m not.
Every loss, every challenge that made you want to quit, every mistake you made, all of those are in the past. Everything in front of you is opportunity. People like to say you're only as good as your last performance.
Not me. I’m as good as my next practice. I’m as good as my next win. When you keep at you find those wins.
You might be taking risks and getting in over your head. You might be screwing up and making mistakes that sting for a long time. Remember when I said if I allow myself to reflect or focus from an unhealthy perspective it could be paralyzing? Keep it healthy and put your focus on what’s next. You are only defined by your defeats if you give up on getting the next thing right.
You are a loser and you are a quitter. Until you’re not.
See you at practice tomorrow.