Monday, January 14, 2019

Why do I run?

Last week the alarm went off and I just stared at it for a moment. The realization that I was back to work seemed sudden and a little jarring. The 4:30 wake up call was very hard and when I found myself standing on the treadmill at the gym 30 minutes later I wasn't feeling any better. The three mile run was slow and sluggish and the whole time I kept looking down at the time and distance hoping and willing it to move faster. As I barely made it through the three miles I asked myself the question - why do I run?

In wasn't until recently that I used to despise running. It was to the point that if I saw someone running I would say that person is miserable and they are only pretending to be enjoying it. With our life turned upside down and turned into chaos by cancer I needed an outlet. Something and somewhere that I could escape the sadness, pain, and uncertainty. So I turned to the most unlikely source, running. I started out with running shorter distances and quickly fell in love with the rush of endorphins that come from completing a PR in time or distance. The pain I felt was swallowed up with each step. I had a place to find peace and to be able to think. The more I ran the better I felt. So I continued to run and challenge myself with longer distances. Completing the longer distances led to a sense of accomplishment. Learning how to push through barriers in running and learning how to dig deep to persevere has helped immensely with our families circumstances and in life. 

I needed almost everyday last week to get back into the running routine while being back at work. It wasn't until the last run of the week that I felt the joy of running, the endorphins, the sense of accomplishment and I was reminded of why I run. 

I run not because it is easy. I run because it is hard. I run because it helps me deal with challenging situations. It is through running that I get closer to the person that I want to be. 

There are several people that I want to thank for helping me with my running journey. The first is Jenna, who is the strongest and bravest person I know. She pushes through barriers each and every day and sets an example for me. Two colleagues come to mind as they have shared their experiences and I have learned quite a bit from them as well as being inspired by their journey as runners. The Two Gomers have been a source of laughter and encouragement. Their podcast is relatable, inspirational, and funny. I highly recommend it to any runner or someone who is just starting out on their running journey. 

Friday, January 4, 2019


As I turn the page on 2018 and look ahead to 2019 I think about my journey this past year and all of the things that have happened - the good, the bad, and the unexpected. It was a hard year in many ways. We made the difficult decision to downsize and sell the house that our girls have called home for the last 13 years. The house that Jenna and I built with the hope that it would be filled with cherished memories for our girls and one day grandkids. With Jenna coming off of her surgery and chemo from ovarian cancer at the end of 2017 and working to gain a new sense of normal we realized the big house was too much and while we had originally thought this would be our forever home it didn't make sense to stay.

The late winter and early spring was filled with getting the house ready to sell and to try and find a new home. We focused our efforts on townhouses and after being disappointed in the options after seeing many places we finally found one that we thought would work. The rest of the spring we got ready to move and get rid of things we didn't need or couldn't take with us. For our girls this was a painful process and it was hard to watch them struggle to let go of their home and their rooms.

Shortly after moving into the townhouse and after making some of the cosmetic changes we found out that Jenna had a recurrence with her cancer. She started chemo at the end of July and just finished in December. It took a toll on her as she battled to stay positive and to be able to be a great mom and spouse.

While we faced some big challenges in 2018 it wasn't all bad. Aleigh and I visited the University of Illinois and she loved it. She was recently awarded a scholarship for their College of Fine and Applied Arts summer intensive and we are incredibly proud of her. Caitlin is taking three high school class as an eight grade student and is doing very well. Cait and I  enjoyed the summer by powering through all of the Marvel movies to prepare for Avengers Infinity War which she loved. I took the challenge of running my first half marathon and enjoyed that so much I ran a second five weeks later.

My journey, and our journey as a family, has lead me to learn to let go and to try and stop controlling certain outcomes. Life has a way of teaching this lesson and for us we have certainly have been repeat students. My word for this year is trust. I spent a few weeks thinking about what word will have the most meaning for me this year and I landed on trust. It fits on a personal and professional level. It fits with my spiritual growth, it fits with our journey through Jenna's cancer treatment and recovery.

Trust, to me, means not only taking the leap of faith but understanding that the leap will result in a positive result. I trust that the work we will be doing in our school will have a positive impact on our teachers and students. I trust the doctors and their care for Jenna. I trust that the training I will do will result in a faster time for my next half marathon. I trust that God will not forsake us. I trust that even if our family faces unforeseen obstacles this year we will still find joy and happiness.

When it really comes down to it I don't think I had an option for another word. With the struggles and obstacles we have faced as a family and my limited ability to try and fix those things I am learning to understand the importance of trust.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Culture Code - a review

There are times that we pick up a book and can't put it down because every page, paragraph, or sentence offers a nugget of truth or information that is new to us. The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle is one of those books for me. Culture, leadership, collaboration, belonging, vulnerability, growth, happiness, fulfillment are all interconnected in my mind. You can't belong to a winning team without feeling connected and feel like you belong. We have all had experiences in life where that has rung true. We have also had experiences where we have been on loosing teams and we don't feel connected.

The author explores the keys to building culture through stories of successful businesses, teams, leaders, and through research that is being done by neurocientists and sociologists. He breaks the book down into three sections or skills: build safety; share vulnerability; establish purpose. Building safety is a key piece creating a positive culture. People need to know that this is a safe environment and it only takes one individual to create an unsafe environment.

That got me thinking how can I build safety. The author points out that " building safety isn't the kind of skill you can learn in a robotic, paint-by-numbers sort of way. It's a fluid, improvisational skill-sort of like learning to pass a soccer ball to teammate during a game." Coyle does provide a few tips on creating safety through dialing in to small, subtle moments.

  • Over communicate your listening
  • Spotlight you fallibility early on - especially if you're a leader.
  • Embrace the messenger
  • Preview future connections
  • Overdo thank-yous
  • Be patient in the hiring process
  • Eliminate bad apples
  • Create safe, collision-rich spaces
  • Make sure everyone has a voice
  • Pick up trash
  • Capitalize threshold moments
  • Avoid giving sandwich feedback
  • Embrace Fun
This is a long list of tips and it easy to get bogged down when considering where to begin or knowing there a few things that are more challenging given the role you may have in an organization. For  me I want to focus on a few of these in the coming months and reflect on my progress.

Here are the ones I want to work on:

Over communicate my listening - by avoiding interruptions and by being improving my listening posture.

Over do thank-yous - because it has less to do with the thanks and more to do with affirming the relationship.

Pick up trash - develop the mindset of seeking simple ways to serve the group.

Avoid giving sandwich feedback - handling negatives and positives should happen in different settings and the sandwich approach leads to confusion.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

AFI Top 100 Challenge

After Jenna's recurrence with ovarian cancer some of our summer plans changed. We couldn't take a vacation so I thought about ways to spend time sharing what I love with my family. After watching all the Marvel movies with Caitlin, my 13 year old I asked everyone if they wanted to watch all of the movies on the AFI top 100 with me. I got groans and a bunch of strange looks, but I decided to proceed anyway. Movies have always been something we have enjoyed as family. As I first looked at the list of movies it looked daunting. So many movies I have never heard of and others I have already seen. 

So I set a few ground rules for myself.
  1. I have to watch every movie, even if I have seen it already.
  2. I have to watch the entire movie regardless if I like it or not.
  3. I cannot pass judgement on a movie until it is finished. 
  4. Try and convince a member of the family to watch them with me. 
  5. Movies are selected at random. 
  6. After watching ten movies I will give a quick ranking of those set of ten.
Feel free to add comments as I go along. I would appreciate  opinions and thoughts regarding this endeavor. So here goes nothing. 

The First Ten - ranked in order of my favorites.

1. Singin' in the Rain , AFI # 5, DVD from the library, watched with my wife Jenna and my sixteen year old Aleigh. 

This was my first time seeing this movie and I loved this movie. It was so much fun. The dancing and choreography was outstanding. In fact we went back and watched some of the dance numbers a few times. I think this was especially true in watching Donald O'Connor perform Make Em Laugh. This movie surprised me in a good way. I will add this to my rotating list of movies to watch and share with others in the future. 

2. Silence of the Lambs, AFI #74, DVD from the library, watched this with my thirteen year old Caitlin.

I have seen this movie many times, but I was looking forward to sharing this with Caitlin as she has seen a few scenes. This is a great movie with so many iconic lines and superb performances by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. I may have enjoyed watching Caitlin see the movie for the first time more than watching again. This is still one of my favorite suspenseful movies. 

3. Jaws , AFI #56, streaming online, watched by myself.

I thought I had seen the entire movie before, but I realized I had not. I am not sure how that could be as this is one fun ride. As a kid growing in the 80s the Jaws theme song was something we were all familiar with and if we were swimming in a pool or lake someone would pretend they were a shark. The movie is such a part of our culture and because of that it is a must see. I couldn't convince Aleigh or Caitlin to watch it with me, but someday I will get them to see it. 

4. Platoon, AFI #86, streaming online, watched by myself.

This is one of my all time favorite movies. I watched this movie dozens of times in college as I had a roommate that owned a VHS copy. It is a brutal first hand view of challenges of fighting the Vietnam War. I was a bit surprised at the fact I had hard time making it through the movie after not seeing in it 15 years or so. I literally had to turn away at parts of the village scene because I found it too hard to watch. Perhaps that has to do with age, or maybe it is because I have kids now and I see the world a bit differently. Still a very powerful war movie that I highly recommend. 

5. Casablanca, AFI, #3, DVD from library, watched with Jenna.

Once again I am a bit embarrassed to say this is another movie that I have never seen. I was not sure what to expect, but I did enjoy this movie. I had a hard time hearing the dialogue, so the subtitles came in handy. I liked the back and forth between Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and  Isla (Ingrid Bergman) as they see each other again in Rick's night club. The tension is palpable and you really do wonder if Rick will help Isla and Victor get out of Casablanca. This will be a movie that I want to watch again. 

6. Spartacus, AFI #81 streaming online, watched by myself.

Here is another movie that was a first viewing. I watched this Stanley Kubrick epic over the course of several days. It was incredibly long movie that is beautifully shot and great performances by Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, and Jean Simmons. There were a few times I thought the movie dragged a little, but the scenes with Kirk Douglas as Spartacus were excellent. Overall, worth the 3 plus hours. 

7. King Kong, AFI #41, DVD from library, watched by myself.

I tried to get somebody in my family to join me in watching King Kong and at sometime during the movie they each jumped in for a few minutes, but know one stayed with it. Perhaps it was the constant screaming from Fay Ray that drove them away. As I watched the movie I couldn't help but think of how cool this must have been to see in the theater in 1933. The special effects may not hold up today, but I don't think that takes away from the overall movie experience. 

8. Shane, AFI # 45, streaming online, watched by myself.

I am a sucker for Westerns, especially when there is someone who rides in to stand up for those who can't or who are unable to stand up for themselves. I loved the book and was hoping the movie would be as good. One thing that annoyed me in the movie was the young boy who was constantly saying the name Shane. It really started to get on my nerves. Other than that this was a really solid movie. 

9. The Bridge over the River Kwai, AFI # 36, DVD from library, watched by myself.

 I didn't really know what to expect with this movie as I usually enjoy war movies. While I enjoyed the movie I guess I didn't really buy into the fact the British Colonel Nicholson would make sure that the bridge was to be engineered and built to last even though they were prisoners of war and building the bridge for the enemy. I found that a little far fetched and with that the movie didn't really pay off in the end for me. I thought it was good, but not great. There are other war movies that I think are better. 

10. Cabaret, #63 , DVD from library, watched with Aleigh. 

I hate to say it but I did not enjoy this movie and I really tried. I should say we really tried. Aleigh has been a dancer since she was 3 and is really into music theater so I thought we would both enjoy this one. Unfortunately, we didn't. I don't know if it was the pacing of the movie, the strangeness of the stage shows, or the plot. Oh, well there are ninety more movies on the list to see. 

Quick takeaway - out of the first ten movies I watched three of them had to do with the Nazis or WWII and two were about making a movie. I wonder if that will be an overall trend in the top 100.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Shortly after we moved and slightly before Jenna's recurrence I wanted to find a way to connect with my youngest daughter, Caitlin, and do something fun with her. It was about the same time Avengers: Infinity War was in the theater and I asked her if she wanted to go see it. Now you need to understand that she has been an avid DC comic fan and hadn't seen any of the Marvel movies. For a few years I tried to get her to to switch her allegiance to Marvel, but she held firm in her belief that DC was better then Marvel. 

This time she took the bait with one exception. She wanted to watch all the Marvel movies in order before going to see Avengers: Infinity War. So we set off an a movie watching marathon over the course of three and a half weeks. We watched every movie in the franchise except for The Incredible Hulk. That meant we needed to watch seventeen movies. We ended up watching all seventeen in roughly 24 days. It was kind of crazy that almost every night we geared up for a movie. 

We streamed them, rented them from the library, and borrowed them. Sometimes it was just the two of us and sometimes it was the whole family. I had already seen most the movies, but it was something special to watch her see the movies for the first time. At first see was definitely Team Iron Man. However, as time went on she was she joined Team Captain because of her like of the Winter Soldier, Bucky. In fact she had grown to really connect with the characters. 

As we made our way through all of the movies the anticipation of seeing Infinity War grew. I am not sure who was more excited. We both already knew the spoilers before going into the movie. Caitlin was already thinking she would have a really hard time with the ending of the movie and yet she was still wanting to watch it. True enough she cried at the end of the movie and the entire car ride home. She loved the movie and talked about it constantly for several days. 

A few days later she gave me a hand written note thanking me for watching all of the Marvel movies with her. The note was so touching and I realized she had enjoyed the entire experience as much as I did. 

Connecting is the foundation for relationships. As we start the year think about the students that you have in your school and in your classrooms. How can you connect with them? What crazy adventure will you take your class on this year? How will you make this year a memorable one for them? At the end of the year how will your students feel?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


As we wind down the year we enter into a stressful time of year. Stress can cause us to loose empathy and understanding as we are wrapped up in our own worlds. I know for me this is definitely true as I go all out to tackle the to do list thinking that once I get done I can relax. Maybe that is my way of coping or trying to take some level of control.

To add to the normal end of the year stress we are in the midst of moving and packing up a house we lived in for 15 years. We also decided to have the floors replaced, rooms painted, and have the house painted in the new house. Talk about biting of more than you can chew.

As we moved along in this process we realized we could save money by doing some things ourselves so we decided to rip up the current flooring, replace the lighting in kitchen and dining room, and paint several rooms, add shiplap to the powder room and laundry room, and move 72 boxes of flooring up two flights of stairs (as I looked at the delivery slip it weighed over 2,000 pounds).

Needless to say I have stretched myself way too thin. I haven't been getting home until way after 11:00 every night for the past week and a half. I totally missed encouraging and coaching Aleigh about an interview for an internship she had today. Our current home is a disaster zone with boxes and bins strewn everywhere. My need to get things done and try and take control has left me exhausted and not able to see what is happening around me.

I wonder how many times it will take me to learn that getting wrapped up in the stress and chaos doesn't work for me or anyone else. I stop doing the things that matter, like investing in others, especially my kids.

Let's hope that this is the last time.

Monday, March 5, 2018


Have you ever had one of those weeks where everything seemed to go wrong and the more you tried to fix things the worse they seemed to get? Well last week was one of those weeks and in the midst of that our family made one of our hardest decisions. We came to terms with the fact that we need to sell our house and downsize. After dozens of conversations and wrestling with the idea of moving we decided to put our house on the market.

Jenna won't be going back to work full time and most likely not even part time. The recovery from surgery and chemotherapy has been more challenging than either of us anticipated. With that in mind we were faced with some very big decisions. Do we continue living in the only house our girls have called home or move to a new house so that we can continue to enjoy new and exciting experiences and make lasting memories? As we contemplated this decision it became clear over time that we want to build lasting memories. We value building those memories rather than things.

I wish I could say that we are super upbeat about our decision and looking at new houses that are half our size, but I would be lying. I wish I could say that both of our girls are okay, but that is not the truth. Their world is once again being turned upside down. We know that once the dust settles we all will be okay and I think that there is a little part of each of us that is excited about a new adventure.

It makes me think of the students that we come across that are constantly moving and how that uncertainty impacts them, or the students who have little voice in their families, or the students who don't have their own space to think or create. It is easy to assume that our students are doing well because they show up and do what we ask, yet beneath the surface it may be a huge struggle for them just to be there. We need to connect with our students and with each other to listen, to understand, to build trust so that we can create amazing schools and amazing classrooms. We may not be able to  change our circumstances or the circumstances of our students, but what we can do for our students is to model how we handle difficult situations. We can teach them that it is okay to be vulnerable and to trust others. We can teach them that they don't have to do it all alone.

While this post was not the easiest to write, I do feel it was important to write as I continue to reflect on how effective I am as the school leader. Am I modeling and teaching to our students and staff how to deal with adversity? Am I really connecting with all of our students and staff or am I too wrapped up in my own stuff? Maybe by writing this post I can begin to do that and I know that moving isn't the end. It is the beginning that will offer new experiences and new memories. That is my hope.