Friday, September 20, 2013

Pin Drop Powerful

Wednesday I had the privilege of hearing David and Tina Long speak. Their son, Tyler, is one of the students featured in the film Bully. David is the first person to speak in the film's trailer. He and Tina were brought to Iowa by the excellent UNI Center for Violence Prevention.

I was fortunate to serve as a panelist a year ago when the film's director Lee Hirsch and co-writer Cynthia Lowen visited campus for a screening. It was an honor to be asked to offer something to this important discussion and I tried to share lessons I learned from the kids featured in my book, The Principal's Challenge.

Tyler Long 
Since Tyler hanged himself in his closet after enduring years of bullying from peers, the Longs have been on a crusade to raise awareness and empower educators and communities to take action. They recently launched their own non-profit, Everything Starts With 1, which also has a Facebook presence. Their efforts have landed them on GMAEllen, Hannity and on countless news programs and school and community events from coast to coast.

David & Tina Long
One of the perks of my job is that it puts me in a position to hear a lot of powerful, charismatic and well known people talk about a lot of important things. I've tried to take full advantage, listening to Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and her husband, The Dali Lama, Joe Biden, Arne Duncan and Cornell West, to name a few. There's a parade of presidential candidates ever four years. I'm almost always glad I took the time. Sadly, I'm going to miss Doris Kearns Goodwin in a couple weeks because I have class that night.

Despite the star power and notoriety of those people, hearing David and Tina Long Wednesday morning was a whole other deal. They aren't politicians, authors or policy makers. They have not made their lives by giving speeches and writing policy or books. Their lives have been made by going to work and raising their family. Tina works as a nurse and David manages a textile plant.

And that's precisely what made their message so powerful. The pain of unnecessarily losing their son after years of bullying and harassment is unimaginable. While I am the first to say that working in education is tough and it is true that educators cannot be everywhere and prevent everything, the response of their school officials was stunningly inept, bordering on non-existent.

At one point, Tina related how, when she complained about the bullying Tyler was suffering through at school, a principal responded by saying, "Boys will be boys. What do you want me to do about it?"

My answer? How about show some leadership? Sure, boys will be boys. I get that, but principals had damn well better be principals. They had better be leaders. No, they can't prevent everything. But leadership gives us a chance. Throwing up our hands gives us...well...

While they're not educators and didn't set out to be public speakers, their appeal and courage was as strong as anything I've seen. A heartfelt appeal from a mom. We can do better. We need you to do better, future teachers. A burning question from a dad. What will be your legacy?

With all due respect to the famous speakers I've heard, they weren't in the Long's league Wednesday. They were pin drop powerful.

They warned the audience of aspiring teachers that they're going to enter environments where the system makes it incredibly difficult to do what we know is right, whether that means teaching in a way that actually promotes learning, rather than increasing test scores to make a governor look good or whether it means one young teacher, not only teaching kids, but also reaching them--letting empty kids who may be hanging on by a thread know that someone cares. And that it can and does get better.

What will be your legacy? I hope we're asking all of our future teachers and leaders because I can't think of a better question. Nor can I think of a better person to ask it than David Long.

Monday, September 9, 2013

You're Welcome and Thanks

Several years ago, we were busy revising our principalship program. We were fortunate that our process coincided with an upcoming visit from the Iowa Department of Education, which happens every seven years. A few weeks after the state visitors left, we hosted two additional reviewers from other universities who would review our program as part of a university-required process. Both were a ton of work but very well timed. It was a busy spring.

As we met as a team to determine what changes we felt would strengthen our program's ability to develop and nurture difference-making principals, we stuck closely to our mission statement and core values, which we had sharpened and put in graphic form in all of our offices a couple years before. We knew firsthand the stresses of being school administrators and the danger of taking on so many things and losing oneself in the process. At that point, our well intended attempt at cautioning our students against the dangers of job stress was limited to finger wagging. I remember telling students, "Whether you run, pray, paint, hike, mediate or watch the Cubs, you better do something because what you're doing now to manage stress and maintain wellness won't be enough when you're the principal."

So, we incorporated some things into a unique seminar course, including a lecture from a colleague in Physical Education who shares stress management breathing techniques and the dangers of Type A personalities left unchecked. Following some reflection and discussion, we require students to complete a template that specifies what they will do in order to maintain their physical well-being, who will help hold them accountable to their plan and what they need in order to make it work. It's a long way from perfect, but the aspiring leaders our program attracts are of a caliber that takes all of this very seriously.

Today, this tweet showed up:

Amy Miehe   Amy Miehe    @AmyMiehe

13.1 completed, personal wellness goal achieved @UNIEdLead @northerniowa @pantherprof @NJPace40 @mcnultyuni @Vlrob

You're welcome, Amy. Thanks for the feedback. And thanks for the motivation to do what we do.