I’m a Loser and I’m a Quitter - Sam Stecher

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?

Gone.

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.

You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here. 

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Almost Brain Surgery - Sam Stecher

Recently I had the chance to reconnect with a guy that was around during the formative years of Sam Stecher’s education/life philosophy. Like 10 or 15 years ago I was pretty entrenched in the Love & Logic school of classroom management. Mark was in that camp too. We didn’t just use the skills in our classrooms. We read the books, attended the workshops, taught the classes, worked at the conferences, and eventually spoke at number of the Love & Logic national events. We even wore Love & Logic polos. That’s being deep in the life.

One of the guys that was also in that life was Dr. Charles Fay. Charles is the son of Jim Fay, founder of the Love & Logic Institute, and presently serves as president of the company. Charles was good enough to give Mark and I no small amount of perspective regarding both our classrooms and our eventual aspirations as educational consultants.

Eventually Mark and I branched off to do our own thing which is why your eyes are on MissionMonday content right now. The benefit of our time with Charles gave us some solid direction in that pursuit.

When I saw Charles was going to be in my area for a workshop I sent him an email about recording a podcast and we set up a session for the night before his gig.

Early in our podcast interview Charles said something pretty powerful.

“The exciting piece on a neurological level when we are building that relationship we’re also helping the brain heal because” in building those relationships we stimulate the production of “neurochemicals that allow the frontal cortex to start working.”

Go back and read that again.

Take moment to realize what you are doing when you intentionally engage in behavior designed to foster positive relationships with those students who need it most.

Hang on. I gotta hit the caps lock.

YOU ARE AFFECTING THE BRAIN AT A NEUROCHEMICAL LEVEL.

YOU ARE ACTIVELY CHANGING BRAIN CHEMISTRY AND FUNCTION.

THIS IS AS CLOSE AS YOU CAN GET TO BRAIN SURGERY WITHOUT A BONE SAW.

Thanks for letting me get loud for a bit but, brothers and sisters, do you get that? What we are talking about doing on a consistent basis, the interventions we hook you up with every week, these are not just feel good, kumbaya, golly isn’t that swell activities. They are essential to the healing of brains of the people who need it most. And what’s good for the brain in need of healing is also good for the maintenance of the brain in good health.

Keep it up all y’all. It’s good for the brains.

You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here. 

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What's next? - Sam Stecher

What’s next?

A whole load of my cognitive energy has been focused on that notion since before this school year started rolling.

What’s next?

What’s next for MissionMonday? Who will we be reaching next? Who will we share space with next? Who’s handing us a microphone next? What are we saying next? Where’s the next destination?

What’s the next big thing?

That especially. What’s the next big thing?

I started thinking about this because I am a car geek. If it has wheels and a go fast pedal I’m into it. Being a lousy driver hasn’t deterred my interest. Now is a great time to be into cars. The access to learning about cars (really learning about everything) is unprecedented right now. If you are an automotive enthusiast the fuel for your enthusiasm is available in spades. One of the things fueling my enthusiasm is a YouTube channel called the The Smoking Tire hosted by a guy named Matt Farah. Matt posted a video talking about the show itself rather than cars. In this video he mentioned the advice, or lack thereof, he gives people. He said frequently people ask him what advice would he give someone who wanted to start their own YouTube car show. Matt flatly says that he can’t give relevant advice because so much has changed from when he started. Meaning when he went on YouTube he had one of the only shows of its kind but now everyone else has to start in a saturated market and he doesn’t have that experience.

And that’s what got me thinking.

What’s next?

What’s the next big thing? For watt Mark and I do, for extending the reach of MissionMonday to positively impact more school communities, What’s next? What can we be early adopters of so that we become charter members of the platform, part of something that defines whatever this next big thing is, and use it to make a bigger difference in quality of people’s lives?

By the way if it’s you who happens to know the next big thing, I’m listening.

I think that this focus on What’s next? is a pretty good spot for my head to be in. Mark and I have always been in this for the long haul. Spending time in 2017 thinking about how we can take measures now to make a difference in 2027 is what we ought to do when we are as invested as we are in what we believe.

There’s another element of What’s next? that’s just as important to keep in mind. The immediate What’s next? As in there is someone in your school community that needs your next What’s next? right now. In Henry VI the Duke of Alençon says "Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends." That's actually the opposite of Mark's life philosophy but this isn't his blog. So I'm saying do not delay. Get on this now. Get on the immediate What's next? with some urgency.  

What’s the next individual positive interaction you can have with someone?

Who is it with?

How soon can it happen?

How’s it going to make you feel?

That’s the most important What’s next?

That’s my What’s next?

I’m about to finish the last few sentences of this post. I’m going to close my computer and save the proofreading for later. I’m going to step into my hallway and ask someone to tell me about the best part their day. You should too. Keep the long game in mind but remember that your most important What’s next? is right now.

You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here. 

I Murdered A Cat - Mark Johnson

Disclaimer: I like cats. In fact, I used to own two cats, but my son had friends who were allergic to cats, so I no longer have them. But the fact remains: I like cats. I used to own cats. I wish no harm to cats.

I was sitting in a meeting at Central Office when my phone lit up. It was a text from my secretary. Whenever I receive a text from my secretary it is always one of two things:

  1. She wants to share something funny that happened while I was away.

  2. She wants to share something the opposite of funny while I was away.

This particular text was more toward #2.

She wanted to let me know that the police were at the school circling the perimeter. They were conducting an investigation. A parent had reported that a 5’5” (or 5’6”) red haired man with a red beard driving a white sedan, pulled over in front of the school and grabbed a cat. He swung it around and then bashed it onto the pavement over and over again before getting back in his car to speed away from the scene. The police believed it might have been a “vendetta thing.” Those were the words they used: “vendetta thing.”  They were requesting that I pull up the camera footage around 1:15 PM so they could catch the cat murderer in the act.

I slipped out of the meeting and walked down the hallway to the Tech Director’s office and explained my situation. He was immediately engaged in my quest to find the despicable cat murderer, and worked his fingers vigorously over his keyboard. It wasn’t long before the cameras from my school were displayed on a huge TV hovering over his desk. He worked the dial until he reached the 1:15 PM mark, and hit play.

The monitor showed the scene in front of our school. No activity for one minute. Two minutes. Then you see me walking out of the building toward my car parked down the street. I get inside and drive, turn in front of the building and head toward the very meeting where I received the initial text. At the exact moment my car was in front of the school, we witnessed something that will forever be etched in my brain: a cat fell from the undercarriage of my car and my back tire ran over it. He froze the video, backed it up, and we watched it again, and again, and again. Truth be told, we watched it 23 times. We turned and looked at each other. It was at this moment that I realized this simple and unmistakable fact: I WAS THE CAT MURDERER.

I grabbed my cell phone to call the police. I figured they would want to see this footage and stop their pursuit of the crazy red haired cat killer. I had two numbers for the police in my phone: “Emergency Police” and “Local Police.” In my haste I pressed the first one.

Police: 911, what is your emergency?

Me: Hi, this is Mark Johnson, principal of Bryant Elementary. I believe you are investigating a cat murder?

Police: Sir, this is the emergency number. Did you mean to call this number? Where are you located?

Me: I’m in Kearney.

Police: This is the emergency number. You need to call your local police.

Me: Oh, well, since I already have you on the line, would you like to investigate a cat murder?

Police: No, sir. We would not.

Click.

Second try:

Police: Kearney Police Department, how can I help you?

Me: Hi, this is Mark Johnson, principal of Bryant Elementary. I understand you are investigating a cat murder?

Police: Yes we are. Let me put you through to the investigator.

Twenty minutes later two policemen walked through the door of the tech office ready to see the evidence we had found. I said, “Now before we press play, can you tell me again what it is you are hoping to see?” The policemen described a 5’5” or 5’6”  redhaired man who would be seen grotesquely murdering a cat in front of our school. They said the parent who called it in used such graphic detail they were worried about what our students might have seen if they were looking out the window. I said, “Okay, here we go” and pressed play.

They asked to see the footage three times. After the third time they stood up and one of the guys laughed and said, “Oh man. This kind of stuff happens all the time. Cats love to crawl up into cars.” However, the other police officer said, with a very perplexed look on his face, “Why would that lady lie to me? She described it so graphically. I’ve had many interactions with her, and she’s never lied to me before.”

What I said was, “I don’t know.” What I WANTED to say was, “Sir, if I may, I’d like to make two points. One: If you’ve had many interactions with this woman in the past, that should be a red flag right there. Two: You might want to reread every deposition she has ever given you, because it’s possible you might have incarcerated someone who is actually innocent.”

The police officer then looked at me and said, “You have no idea how relieved I am that this story has closure. If we still had no evidence of what happened, the story would have been shared with one person, then passed to another, and spread across town, and might have even made the paper. We would get phone calls everyday about how people spotted a red haired cat killer that doesn’t even exist. Our days would have been filled running around chasing a ghost, all because one person said it happened, and everyone believed her.”

And there, in that very statement, was the lesson to be learned from this whole escapade. “All because one person said it happened, and everyone believed her.”

How many times have you heard a crazy story, or read something on Facebook, or caught wind of something at work that captured your attention, and before you even stopped to think about the validity of the story, or the accusation being made, or whatever it may be, and you passed it on to the next person? It happens all too often. It reminds me of a lyric from an Avett Brothers song called Ten Thousand Words: “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different. We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”

This woman decided to share a story. A completely fabricated story. If this woman had the chance, she might have shared this story with a lot of people, and the story might have spread like wildfire. Now granted, this story was about a man murdering a cat, which to some people might not be a big deal. But what if it was a big deal? What if the story was about more than just a cat? What if the story was about a teacher at your school? What if the story was potentially damaging to their career? If you heard the story, would you share it without hearing the whole story? Would you want to be a part of the gossip before you knew all sides?

The lesson in this cat murder story, amusing as it may be to sick people who don't love cats with their whole hearts as humans are destined to do, is very clear: Just because you hear something, doesn’t make it true. Just because you read something, doesn’t make it gospel. Always listen to all sides of the story before you make a decision. It may just mean the difference between chasing a ghost, or finding the truth.

You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here. 

The Big Secret About Summer- Sam Stecher

Summer is a pretty amazing time. It grants our students opportunities no other season can. Vacations to national parks, swim lessons, gainful employment in a corn field, and that glorious thing known as free time are among the experiences Summer has in spades. Growing up on a farm with parents who also had full time professions Summer was when Dad would say “Have this taken care of by the time I get home from work.” And whatever the task was I had all day to take care of it on my own terms. I loved it. Summer is this ethereal season that generates memories which never leave us during a time which feels both brief and never ending. Summer is simply magical. We want to hold it like cold pump water in our hands and drink as much of it as we can as the unpreventable spill drains from our fingers. We love Summer because it is fleeting. We run headlong with joy into it because we know an expiration date looms and every second is sweeter because of that limitation.

And what is that looming expiration date which both creates and terminates Summer’s magic? It’s not the Autumnal Equinox. It’s not the first frost. It’s not the changing of the leaves or any other signal of weather. It’s not Labor Day or the when State Fair concludes.

Summer ends with four words. First Day of School.

With that date on the calendar Summer surrenders its benevolent rule and the structure, rigor, and schedule of our academic institutions becomes the commanding force displacing all of the sublime endeavors Summer has graced us with.

Farewell Ice Cream Truck.

Adieu Sleeping In.

Audios Double Headers at the Ballpark.

Working On Your Tan, see you in 8 or 9 months.

With everything we give up at the end of Summer our buddy known as the First Day of School ends up taking a bad rap. It gets labeled as a fun hater, the end of all we’ve come to relish, and freedom’s sudden and unwelcome stop.

But I’ve got a secret for you. Really a two part secret. Don’t repeat this first part out loud because vocalizing only spurs the resistance but truth be told our students are excited to come back to school.  My proof? Nobody puts that much effort into thinking about what they are going to wear unless they are stoked to be there. Our schools and classrooms bring experiences and opportunities which rival even the best of Summer. I could go into all the things our classes, activities, sports, and traditions have to compete with Summer’s best but that’s not the point I want to get across. Instead let’s get to part two of the secret. Some students are excited for school for one reason and one reason only.

They want to come back to school simply because they know you are going to be the teacher.

Think about that. In all likelihood they have loved Summer vacation and they are willing to put all of that behind them just because of you. You, because of the relationships you foster and the care and passion you bring to your service, are more than enough to not only alleviate the grief of Summer’s departure but generate genuine excitement for the First Day of School. It’s also important to remember that we have students that haven’t experienced the joy of Summer. For them the departure from school as Summer gets underway isn’t such a great thing. For some students school is the best place they have. They have been waiting all Summer to get back to the best place they have. You are one of the reasons why school is the best they place they have. They are excited for the First Day of School because of you as well.

Be that person.

Keep doing the things that make students excited to be in your class.

Do those things consistently, intentionally, with a plan to make it happen every day.

Remind your peers about the awesome things they do for students because sometimes we need to hear it from someone else.

We wouldn’t have a need for schools if we didn’t have students so it’s good to have them excited to come back. Thanks for being the reason why Summer doesn’t stand a chance against the First Day of School.

You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here. 

 

The Golden Rule...Revisited- Mark Johnson

We all know the Golden Rule as we were taught as a child: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” It is also known as the Rule of Reciprocity. This sentiment can be found in almost every religious book and has been practiced in cultures around the world for thousands of years. If you only lived by this one rule your entire life, there is a pretty good chance when you laid your head to rest, you would be satisfied with the way things had turned out. So if this rule increases our chances for a better life, how can we apply it to school?

Naturally, we want our students to live by this rule. So many disagreements and arguments would be handled so differently if this is what we used to filter our decisions. In fact, disagreements and arguing and (dare I say) bullying would almost be nonexistent if we modeled and taught this rule to our students each and every day. Time in our classrooms could be dedicated more towards academic endeavors, and collaboration activities, and problem solving and working together and downright harmony.

But I want to take it a step further. I want to focus on the word “modeled” that I mentioned in the prior paragraph. If something like The Golden Rule is going to have an impact on our students, the best way to ensure success is if teachers model the Golden Rule themselves. So let’s tweak it a bit and see how it sounds: “Teachers, treat your students the way you want to be treated by your principal.” I understand that I changed this rule pretty significantly, but I also believe that this rule, if followed by teachers, would help them gain a helpful perspective of their students and how they treat and react with them on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at a simple example to emphasize my point.

Some teachers have a rule in their classrooms about not talking while the teacher is talking. This makes sense as the teacher wants to ensure that all students can hear their voice when giving instructions or relaying information, and not having students talk helps make sure that happens. It also shows respect for the teacher, plain and simple. If a student does happen to talk in the classroom, the teacher may (or may not) give the student a warning. Sometimes this warning is given out loud in front of the entire class, with the student’s name being spoken and the directive given for all to hear. More often than not, after a warning has been given and not followed, some sort of consequence is given to the student. For this example, the student may be asked to walk up in front of room and “clip down” on a chart (finding their name on a clothespin and moving it down to a negative range of misbehavior). The teacher doesn’t think anything of this exchange, and continues on with their instruction as the student mopes back to their seat. It might look something like this:

“When you have completed your first set of questions, you may find a new partner and…..Thomas, I have asked you to stop talking once already. You shouldn’t need any more reminders. You are walking on thin ice, young man. Go to the chart and clip down…..Now class, as I was saying before I was interrupted, when you have completed…..”

I'm not saying this is a bad way to deal with this situation. This particular behavior management method has been used successfully by many teachers. What I am advocating for, however, is that a teacher should consider the behavior management techniques used in the classroom and ask themselves, “Would I be ok if my principal used this same tactic with me?”

It might look something like this. Let's say there is a staff meeting and the principal is up in the front of the room talking about the current MAPS data for the winter. “As you can see, most of the students’ scores have gone up since our fall testing. What we need to do next is….Mrs. Johnson, you know the rule in our staff meetings is to stay quiet when someone else is talking. You are showing disrespect to me right now by talking to your neighbor. Please go the the chart and clip down. And I need to see you in my office before school starts tomorrow….Ok, sorry teachers. As I was saying…”

I understand, this may sound ridiculous to you. You may even be saying to yourself, “That is a terrible example…That would never happen...We are adults...We don't need to be treated this way...If the teacher was talking, I'm sure it was important...The teacher was probably talking about the data...The principal seems like a jerk.”

My point is, if a teacher would be appalled by the principal using this public method of correction, might it also be true that your students are appalled with it as well? Don't they deserve to be treated the way you would also like to be treated?

If you don't like my example, consider this one. A teacher who may have a consequence for a student who's  turns in late work, no ifs, ands or buts about it, might also be the same teacher who asks for a grace period when they forget to turn in their acquisition orders by the due date specified by the principal. Or the teacher who simply will not tolerate a student being late to their class might be the same teacher who laughs it off when arriving late for the Tuesday night staff meeting.

So please consider this, my dear friends and educators. If you want to be treated with kindness and respect and dignity by your boss, especially in areas of discipline and consequences, wouldn't it be fair to treat your students the same way? The Golden Rule applies to us all, principals and teachers and students alike.

You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here.