WHAT I’VE LEARNED AS A PRINCIPAL AFTER ONE YEAR OF COVID

Last spring I wrote a post entitled What I’ve Learned After One Year As a Principal. Now that I’ve finished my second year, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect upon what I’ve learned as a principal during the “COVID Year.”

1. You’ve got to take care of your health first.

This is intuitive yet easy to ignore. Exercise, eating well, and adequate sleep are required to perform as a leader. If these items are pushed to the side, the result could range from lowered performance to significant health issues. It’s a cliché to state that you can’t help others until you help yourself, but it’s true.

The slow-carb diet, assembling a gym in my garage, Apple Fitness+, running outside, and tracking my sleep on my Apple Watch have all contributed to a healthier lifestyle for me this past year. My plan is to use the Calm app more often this summer and into next school year.

Also, now that I’m 40, when it comes to losing weight I’ve learned that diet trumps exercise. My time is better spent prepping for a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner rather than working out (if time is a factor).

2. The students want to see you.

When students returned to in-person instruction, I began doing morning announcements via Loom as opposed to over the loudspeaker, and I was shocked by the response. I thought that sending a link to teachers every morning to share with their classes would quickly get old for everyone, but students have overwhelmingly provided positive feedback. Even though they were learning remotely for a large portion of the year, they now feel connected to me in a way that wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t watching the announcements every morning.

3. Winning is the best way to improve an organization’s morale.

I’ve known this since my high school sports days, but I’ve come to greatly appreciate this truth over the past school year. An organization that experiences clear wins is going to function better than an organization that doesn’t. The best way, and possibly only way, to improve a culture is to reflect upon successes.

So schools should celebrate student growth on formative assessments. They should celebrate students’ behavior growth. They should recognize all the positive things their hard work is reaping. And if you can’t identify any wins, then the job of the team is to get a quick win right away so momentum can begin and morale can improve.

4. Humor solves or exacerbates problems.

My attempts at humor often result in lame dad jokes, but I have found some success injecting humor into situations that desperately need it. Saying a pun, even a well-timed and clever pun, will induce groans and eye rolls, but it can reset a conversation and bring levity to meetings that are either in-person or via Zoom.

Of course, this can backfire. Too many jokes, or coming across carefree while everyone else is in crisis, is a surefire way to kill culture. You’re walking a tightrope when using humor as a tool, which means it can work spectacularly or fail miserably.

5. Clarity is critical.

Learning progressions, learning intentions, success criteria… I’m learning about these important components of teacher clarity, and I’m realizing how important they are for student achievement. We want to be clear so students can own their learning–that’s the ultimate goal. Likewise, administrators must provide clear messages to team members. This means there is coherence and alignment in not just what is communicated, but also in what teachers are expected to accomplish.

6. COVID made everyone edtech experts.

Teachers learned so much over the past school year. Folks who rarely checked email began uploading assignments to Google Classroom and Canvas, communicating digitally with students and families, and replying to emails. I used to be in educational technology, and I worked hard to help teachers adopt digital tools and blended learning strategies. The pandemic forced all of us to adapt, and there’s nothing else in recent memory that spurred the same amount of professional growth within the field of education. Necessity truly is the mother of invention… and learning.

7. You will not make everyone happy.

People are divided. It’s a safe bet that whatever decision you make in our current climate is going to thrill half the people and upset the other half.

As leaders, our job is to understand that nothing is easy. Everything worth doing takes hard work–oftentimes painful work. And as we know, it’s during the hard times that we need solid leadership the most.

8. Family trumps all.

I wrote “family trumps all” at the end of last year’s post What I’ve Learned After One Year As a Principal, and I’ve relearned the importance of prioritizing one’s family. Here are some statements I think about regularly.

Life is short.

Life goes by way too fast.

Things disappear sooner than you think they will.

If everyone took care of their own family, the world would be a better place.

If you stopped working right now, your organization would continue. The wheel would continue turning. It’s important to remember this because oftentimes leaders mistakenly believe that everything would fall apart if they disappeared. This is definitely not the case, and we must remember why for two reasons: 1) It will keep us humble, and 2) It will help us keep our priorities straight.

In conclusion…

This has been a hard year, and to be honest, I don’t see the road getting easier anytime soon. That’s ok. There have always been difficult times, and it’s our duty to get out of bed every morning and try to make the world a better place.

Next year I’m opening a new school, so during the spring or early summer of 2022, I’ll write another post about what I learned throughout the process. Stay tuned.

BOOKS I READ IN 2020

Below are the books I read in 2020. Just like previous annual lists I’ve shared (2018 and 2019), I haven’t included books I didn’t finish due either to time restraints or because they were boring. I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that a handful of times over the past twelve months. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish 25 books.

This was an interesting year–both in terms of the state of the world and what I read. I finished one of my all-time favorite American novels, which was a wonderful experience, but I admit my interests resulted in a random 2020 list.

The titles have been placed in reverse chronological order, so the first book listed is the last book I read for the year. I hope there’s a book waiting for you that enriches your life and inspires you to face the New Year with knowledge in your head and hope in your heart.

1. The Great Mental Models Volume 2: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology by Riannon Beaubien and Shane Parrish.

Super interesting and accessible. I found it fascinating to reflect upon how we can take scientific principles and apply them to everyday life.

2. Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry

Intense, unsentimental, heartbreaking, meaningful… Larry McMurtry plays for keeps. Streets of Laredo is the fourth book in the Lonesome Dove series but the second one written; McMurtry wrote this after Lonesome Dove, and then he published two prequels. I’ll have to read those next.

3. The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders: Leading for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Dominique B. Smith, and John Hattie.

My big takeaway from these distance learning books being published by the Visible Learning folks: teacher clarity is of the upmost importance in both in-person and remote teaching.

4. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Eric Jorgenson.

Wonderful. I read this book very quickly. Naval Ravikant’s thoughts are important, and I’m finding it wise to listen to him.

5. Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

This contained interesting information regarding the early Stoics, but I have to admit I found it boring. I think this will be more rewarding as a reference when I want to look up specific philosophers later.

6. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

A masterpiece. The Godfather, The Brothers Karamazov, and Blood Meridian come to mind when I think of masterpieces; Lonesome Dove holds its own with these titles. The characters stick with you long after you’ve finished, and there are scenes that occur about 400 pages into the novel that truly shocked me. I love this book.

7. So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport.

This was just as good as the first time I read it. So Good They Cant Ignore You is perfect if you’re pondering one of the two following questions. 1) What’s my passion? and 2) Why am I not promoting within my organization?

8. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock.

Again, here’s another book I reread. Rereading books is not a common practice of mine–although I think it should be. As I get older, I’m valuing the books that have already enriched my life, and I’m finding it important to revisit them. I reread The Devil All the Time because the Netflix movie was released. The movie’s good, but the novel’s better.

9. The Distance Learning Playbook, Grades K-12: Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie.

This was the number one resource for how I approached this year as we prepared for distance learning.

10. The PBIS Tier Two Handbook: A Practical Approach to Implementing Targeted Interventions by Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan and John E. Hannigan.

This was helpful for one main reason—it prompted me to begin a Tier Two Sub Team, which morphed into an MTSS Leadership Team.

11. The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown by Catherine Burns.

These stories were a nice way to wind down in the evening before going to sleep.

12. The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Rhiannon Beaubien and Shane Parrish.

If you’re not familiar with mental models and how they can improve your decision making, then there’s a lot of value in reading this book.

13. Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.

I read this with a fellow principal who recommended it. It’s a light read with an interesting take on turning an organization around.

14. The Quick and Easy Guide to Winning No Limit Texas Hold’em by David Harris Griffith.

I shouldn’t be sharing this book because you’ll know my poker strategy. Or maybe I jettisoned the book’s advice and created my own way of playing… You’ll just have to play me to find out.

15. Robert’s Rules: Quick Start Guide – The Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Robert’s Rules of Order by ClydeBank Business.

I wouldn’t recommend this, but that’s because I probably needed more of an intermediate reference book.

16. Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat.

The unimaginable happened when Mo Gawdat lost his son due to an error during surgery. This book shares his thought process for how to find happiness in an unforgiving world.

17. Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Palahniuk.

This was a delightful book. If I were to boil down the advice from all the books I’ve read on writing, the commonalities are to write simply, clearly, and because you enjoy it. Do not write stories to make money or be famous. And above all else, don’t be boring.

18. How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice by Robert Pondiscio.

I found Pondiscio’s exploration of Success Academy very interesting. Love them or hate them, the charter schools in this book get good test results. The conflict arises regarding how a person answers this question: What are the results schools should be seeking?

19. The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities by Patrick Lencioni.

Some people should be leaders and some people shouldn’t—that’s the message of this book. Leading isn’t easy, and it’s important for a person to quickly recognize whether leadership is the right path. Just because it isn’t now doesn’t mean it can’t be in the future.

20. Call Sign Chaos: Learning To Lead by Jim Mattis.

Jim Mattis is an impressive American, and this book is a fascinating look into Mattis’ career and recent history.

21. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven.

This is a quick and fun read. I like the idea of accomplishing small things every day that eventually add up to big changes in the long run.

22. The Outsider by Stephen King.

A great beginning, a pretty good middle, and a clunky ending. This can be said for many King novels. Overall I liked it, and the TV series is worth watching as well.

23. 10 Success Factors for Literacy Intervention: Getting Results with MTSS in Elementary Schools by Susan Hall.

This book is what I needed to fill my knowledge gaps regarding literacy intervention.

24. The PBIS Tier One Handbook: A Practical Approach to Implementing the Champion Model by Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan and Linda Hauser.

Helpful but not groundbreaking. For me, the most important takeaway was understanding the components of Tier One so a school can successfully scale to Tier Two and Three.

25. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger.

I technically read this book in 2019, but I finished it so closely to 2020 that I didn’t add it to my end-of-the-year list then, so I’ll add it now. I really liked this book. It’s important to take the opportunity to look into the lives of successful people; especially when they’re the ones sharing their thoughts and advice in an autobiography. Iger was able to accomplish some amazing things, and ushering in Disney+ when he did pretty much saved the company from what could have been a catastrophic 2020.

That’s it! Thanks so much for visiting the site. Here’s to great reading in 2021!

THE OTHER SIDE

The following story was written during a recent weeklong training with the University of Virginia Partnership for Leaders in Education.

My first night out of the police academy my Field Training Officer and I arrested two teenagers for theft. After talking with the kids’ guardian on the phone at the station, we decided to drive them home instead of booking them. The guardian who met us in the front yard was mother to one of the boys and aunt to the other. She had just gotten off her night shift, and she was tired. She expressed her frustration and how she’d exhausted all the resources at her disposal for keeping her son and nephew off the street at night while she worked. As we drove away, I remember her standing alone on the front lawn. 

I’d been having doubts about being a police officer since the academy, but it was that moment I decided I didn’t want to be in law enforcement anymore. I wanted to be on the other side of a young person’s choice. In other words, I wanted to be there before the mistake. I wanted to help. So seven months after that night, I entered the field of education. 

It has been over fifteen years since my days as a police officer, and I’ve come to realize in order to help students achieve their potential, they must be given what they need to be successful. This includes physical safety, emotional support, access to appropriate curriculum, and quality instruction that engages students in their own learning. 

Those two junior high boys from fifteen years ago were in my classes all nine years while I taught 7th and 8th graders. They had different names and backgrounds, but their stories were similar, and I hope I helped them improve their trajectory through life. I see those students at Loudon Elementary where I’m currently principal. I see the innocent faces of children who have their whole lives ahead of them. They’re standing at the beginning of a long corridor, and every door is open. Those children deserve adults who will hold the doors so every opportunity is possible. If a door shuts, we must hand the student the key and tell her she can do it. She’s got this. The world is yours. Bust it open. Make it better.

I want to meet that mother raising those children. I want to see her on her front lawn and tell her she should be proud. Her children have arrived.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED AFTER ONE YEAR AS A PRINCIPAL

Last spring is when it all began–before the words self-quarantining and social distancing became commonly used within our vocabularies. Springtime in Bakersfield is when fans are kept on throughout the night, and a light blanket is all that’s required while sleeping.

It was on one of those nights I awoke around 2:00 A.M. My heart was racing and my stomach was churning, which surprised me even though the reason for why I felt this way wasn’t a mystery. I left my bed, walked to the living room, and sat on the couch telling myself to chill. I stared at the fireplace. My breathing was fast until it settled into a comfortable rhythm. “In through the nose, out through the mouth,” I whispered, having been coached well by various meditation apps. This helped calm my pounding heart, but my mind wouldn’t stop.

What did I get myself into?

How did I think I could do this?

I have no idea where to start.

I have so much to learn.

This last statement was discomforting, but it also framed what I had to begin doing.

I needed to learn how to be a principal, and I had to begin now.

This episode of raw nerves occurred the night after my principalship was announced. Those first few days after the announcement were hard because of my worrying, and my main concern was how much there was to learn.

Reading is important for becoming an effective leader, and I tore through books. I also cornered veteran principals and asked many questions, which was helpful. The truth, however, is books and conversations are merely companions to what’s really important: hard-earned experience.

I’ve had little time to reflect during this school year, but COVID-19 took a stick of dynamite and launched it into my hectic schedule, temporarily disrupting many responsibilities, which resulted in an unexpected respite.* I’ve seized this opportunity to share seven things I’ve learned as a principal this past school year. Granted, I’ve learned a lot more than seven things, but what I’m offering are non-technical items. They’re lessons for which I’m grateful.

I can’t promise groundbreaking insight. Maybe you’ll read the following items and think, I already knew all of that. It’s also possible this post won’t be helpful because you’ll have to learn on your own. As stated previously, hard-earned experience is the best teacher.

But maybe–just maybe–what I’m about to share will be of help.

1. That which hinders your task is your task.

I have one main to-do list, and it never runs out. It’s a constant race just to keep the list manageable.

My email inbox is another to-do list, which is true for all of us. Every time another message appears, it requires a response. Some email messages can be dealt with quickly, while others take a while.

There are also phone calls, district mail envelopes, and admin meetings–all of which require attention, and most importantly, time.

In a perfect world I could just start checking off the list. “OK, I’ll knock out some of my to-dos and clear my inbox after which I’ll call back those parents, go through the mail, and then drive to my meeting at the district office.”

That’s a nice plan, but there’s a problem: all my tasks will undoubtedly be hindered by what someone brings me, which means those items won’t be accomplished. The issue brought before me, whatever it is, has just become my task.

I know what some readers are thinking: Prioritize! Add this new task to your list! It’ll all get done, just do the most important thing first.

That’s true, and it very well is the case that whatever someone brings me should be put on the backburner. However, it’s also true they wouldn’t have come to their principal if they didn’t need help right now. A student is tearing up a room. An angry parent just entered the office. Johnny is lost somewhere on campus. A person needs to be coached, counseled, or uplifted in some way. A disagreement has to be smoothed over.

The job of a principal is to be a problem solver, and this is often accomplished by ignoring premeditated to-do lists, confronting the current reality, and realizing, as Sanford Meisner once said, “That which hinders your task is your task.”

2. It doesn’t matter who’s right at first, it matters that the best choice is made for students.

The most common advice shared with me before I became a principal was, “At the end of the day, do whatever’s best for students.” This adage is no doubt true, but oftentimes it’s hard to determine what’s best for students–especially when people have different opinions.

As a principal, it’s important to have strong opinions, weakly held. This idea helps me not only make decisions with incomplete information, but it also opens my mind to other opinions. Although it’s nice to feel like the sage who knows what’s best all the time, in reality it’s impossible, and that’s why it’s important to be familiar with what David Cote stated: “It is more important to be right at the end of the meeting than the beginning.”

You can go into a meeting, or even just a conversation, with strong opinions–that’s totally fine. Your mind, however, must be agile enough to drop preconceived convictions and side with a different opinion that’s better. To do what’s best for students is to engage in something you may not 1) understand, 2) be aware of, and/or 3) agree with–at least at first.

Holding strong opinions while being open to changing your mind is the only surefire way to support students. It’s OK to be wrong or not know a solution at the beginning of the meeting. What’s unacceptable is sticking to your first idea when evidence proves you were wrong.

3. Keep it simple–but not too simple.

Things get complicated quickly when discussing how best to teach kids. This is evident when trying to reach a consensus. Every grade level is different, and each student is unique. Combine this with curriculum, consultants, varying levels of expertise and experience, and systems can become complicated.

We must strive for simplicity, and in doing so, remember what Bill Graham said: “Make the complicated simple and the simple powerful.” As a principal, it’s my job to bring clarity to teachers. At the same time, even though breaking down complex strategies, systems, and ideas is important, these components shouldn’t be made too simple. It’s a balancing act. There are times when people should struggle through the difficulty of a complex task, and there are opportunities when leaders can make something easier to digest by simplifying.

If you’re wondering why more leaders don’t do this effectively, I’ll tell you why: it’s extremely hard.

4. Care for people even when they’re mad.

Spend one day as principal, and you’ll discover sometimes people get angry.

Often anger comes from a place of pain. When people yell, threaten, and accuse, they are reacting to emotions that may have nothing to do with you. That’s not to say they aren’t mad at you, because sometimes they will be. I’m referring to the common occurrence of someone overreacting to the situation. In those instances, it’s best to assume they are hurting and need to be cared for. This is easier said than done, but it’s important if you’re going to operate within the field of educational leadership. This quote by Krista Tippett sums it up best: “Anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”

When you hear gossip or negative things said about you, you must care about the people who are being negative. What they’re saying is most likely coming from a place of frustration and possibly pain–even if they’re just being mean. If you’re working hard and making sure you’re right at the end of the meeting (see above), you can rest in the knowledge that caring for others and remaining optimistic is the best course of action.

5. Being a principal is the most painful position on campus.

Number five isn’t popular. People want to hear how amazing being an educational leader is–and it is. Sometimes. Not all the time. Some days, it’s extremely painful.

I’ve been presented with this reality often the past year, but it wasn’t until I read Patrick Lencioni’s book The Motive that I realized the principalship has to be the most painful job. There’s no way to escape this fact. The principal is the one who makes the tough decisions. The principal has to think of the budget and sometimes say “no,” to good ideas. The principal has to deal with people who are upset but may not have all the facts. And oftentimes, the principal can’t divulge all the facts.

“Painful” is the best way to describe it. But then again, what did I expect? If I allow a scorpion to rest on my hand, can I blame it for stinging me? Of course being the leader at a school site will be painful–it’s the name of the game. So why do it?

Because it’s needed. It’s important. Someone has to lead and stay positive. Not in a false, optimistic sense of the word, but more in line with the Stockdale Paradox–unwavering faith in success while at the same time confronting the brutal facts.

There’s nothing easy about this. The best thing you can do is what another principal once told me: “Walk into the fire. It’ll be fine.” Yes, walking into the fire is important, and I’d add you must stand within the flames even when everything inside is telling you to get the hell out.

This crystallized in my mind while I read the following excerpt from Trillion Dollar Coach. The book is about Silicon Valley business coach Bill Campell, but the following excerpt is about Bill Walsh, former coach of the 49ers. At the end, you’ll find the balm for the fire.

Love is part of what makes a great team great. Yes, this was a natural part of Bill’s personality—he was way more ebullient than most of us! But it was also something he likely learned from football. Steve Young, a Hall of Fame quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, spoke of team love at a conference honoring Bill in September 2017. “Great coaches look beyond,” Steve said. “[49ers coach Bill Walsh] would get the team together every year and say, ‘Hey, guys, we’re going to integrate this team.’ There were all these little cliques—the safeties hang together, guys from different schools, socioeconomic backgrounds, geography, language, religion. He says, ‘I’m going to break all of those . . .’ “He wanted us to get integrated with each other so when you’re at Lambeau Field, down by four, with a minute and a half left and it’s third-and-ten, it’s sleeting, you’re soaking wet and the wind is blowing and eighty thousand people are screaming at you. Human nature is saying get me out of here, I just want to get to the bus, get this over with. “Now you’re in the huddle and it’s that moment. Everyone looks at each other and it’s like, we are integrated, we have a reason, we have a depth, we have a love for each other, a respect . . . “Why did the 49ers do so great from 1981 to 1998? It’s because we had a love for each other.”

Love. That’s the answer for surviving the pain. Love for the students. Love for the staff. Love for the parents. Teamwork is what will help you endure those moments when your brain is screaming at you to run.

Love may not be all you need to be a successful principal, but it’s a critical antidote for the pain.

6. Sometimes what you do well isn’t needed for the job.

Everyone’s good at something. If you’re lucky, you’re good at a few things. When what you’re good at coincides with the task at hand, it’s a wonderful feeling. When you’re in the flow state and everything slows down like you’re Neo in The Matrix, things are looking pretty good. I actually can’t think of a better professional state in which to be.

That’s why it feels horrible when faced with the fact that what you’re good at isn’t what’s needed for the job. You could feel like a fraud. You could feel subpar. You could quit. You could blame others or get angry. You could get jealous. Worst of all, you could stick to only what you know.

Oftentimes we think what we’re good at is the most important thing. So if our expertise is all about technology, edtech trumps all. If our passion is English Language Development, academic conversations are the focus. If we understand the science underlying early literacy, we’re champions of phonemic awareness and all else pales. If we’re knowledgeable about systems, all that matters is the structures we build.

These are good things; the problem arises when we’re good at one or two of these items and we neglect the rest. Even worse, it’s a shame when leaders are good at one of these topics and make the whole organization focus only on that.

So here’s what I’ve learned: I must get really good at as many things as possible, help people improve in those areas, and remember what I’m good at may not be the most important thing at a given time. In those instances, it’s best to find someone who is gifted at solving the problem.

Which leads me to number seven.

7. The learning never stops.

Within the crucible of the principalship, it’s easy to simply survive–especially as a new principal. You must build relationships, plan and attend meetings, provide professional development, meet various deadlines, address student discipline, take care of parent phone calls… and that just scratches the surface when there aren’t ransomware viruses or pandemics to contend with.

It’s important to remember a principal is first and foremost an instructional leader. That’s easy to say and hard to do. It takes a great deal of focus, compartmentalizing, and prioritizing in order to be an effective instructional leader and also take care of the fires that must be put out. Because of this, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming good at just a few things and then remaining good at only those things. While that may work for a year (or two… or three), weaknesses will begin to negatively affect the organization. The job is simply too big and important for a person to be good at only a few things. Instead, a principal must be good at many things: early literacy, math instruction, leading meetings, managing people, building teams, technology, social media, having hard conversations, attending to a budget, public speaking, 90 Day Plan, SPSA, SSC, NGSS, PBIS, AVID, LCAP, PD, CAASPP, ELPAC… and many more acronyms.

It’s important to realize a principal will never “arrive.” This acknowledgement is freeing and sobering at the same time. It’s OK to not be perfect, but it’s not OK to give up. As Abigail Adams stated, learning must be “sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” That sounds so tiring, so you need a purpose–not just passion–in order to not stop.**

I’ve learned so much within the field of education, and it’s humbling to see how far I still have to go. It’s even more humbling to realize the journey will never end. I do comfort myself with knowing I don’t have to be perfect to help others. I can still provide feedback and coaching without being the all-knowing guru I wish I was. The following excerpt from The Education of a Coach, a book about Bill Belichick, captures this idea well.

The NFL was filled with coaches with weak arms themselves, who could see things quickly on the field but who were doomed to work with quarterbacks who had great arms, but whose ability to read the defense was less impressive.

Belichick can’t throw like Tom Brady, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t help Brady become better. Similarly, I’ll never be able to teach students specific skills as well as some teachers, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide them with helpful support and feedback. It also means I need to keep refining my craft because I can always be a better instructor and leader.

And that’s life, my friends: striving to be a little better each day and remembering the competition is only with yourself.

There’s actually one more lesson.

Sorry, this makes eight items. Or, if you prefer, consider this a bonus.

Working from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. on weekdays, working on your computer before bed (approximately two hours per night), and going into work on the weekend for four hours isn’t sustainable–especially if you want to have the energy to connect with students, teachers, and families and perform the daily high energy activities required of a principal.

More importantly, family trumps all. This means trips to the park are essential. Bike rides are essential. Jumping on the trampoline, drawing, playing board games, joking, talking, connecting, and being present (physical and mentally) with the ones you love are essential.

Of course there are times work life will take up a larger percentage of time than family life, but the pendulum has to swing the other way and rest there for a while. Your family and close friends are the ones who will be there for you. They love you for who you are, and more importantly, they’re the ones who need you. You could become the most influential leader in the whole world, but who will you be thinking about when it’s all said and done? What will your regrets be?

In conclusion…

The nights are warming up again, the current school year is coming to a close, and I still have a lot to learn as a principal. However, am I sleeping better at night?

Yes. Yes I am.

*Before COVID-19, on average I arrived to work at 6:15 A.M. and left around 6:00 P.M. every weekday, and I would go in on Saturday or Sunday for at least four hours. Of course, I would work at home, too. During COVID-19, my schedule has become less intense.

**I’ve been a proponent of purpose over passion for a while now. I recommend clicking here if this controversial idea interests you. (To be honest, I haven’t met a person who agrees with me.)

BOOKS I READ IN 2019

Below are the books I read in 2019. There are many more books I started and either haven’t finished yet (A Dance with Dragons) or I stopped reading altogether (Ask the Dust). I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that many times over the past twelve months. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish reading twenty-six books.

While I enjoyed all the books on this list, none of them stood out as my absolute favorite. There’s one novel I liked the most out of the fiction I read, but nothing captivated me as much as my favorite books from 2018.

I added some commentary below to the books I especially liked. I hope you find this list helpful; let me know if you have any questions! (FYI: These books are in the order I read them–only backwards. In other words, Awareness is the last book I read.)

1. Awareness by Anthony de Mello

A lot of helpful ideas are shared for being aware and disconnecting from everything that makes us unhappy.

2. Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

Great book; I’ll read anything by Holiday.

3. New X-Men by Grant Morrison: Ultimate Collection, Book 1

4. A Summer with Montaigne: On the Art of Living Well by Antoine Compagnon

5. Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

Not as good as his first book, but definitely worth reading.

6. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon

I read this in one afternoon in Barnes & Noble. It was the perfect book for me in the moment that I needed it. I love it when books are there for us like that.

7. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

This book really helped me understand the value in pursuing knowledge within multiple fields. I like the idea of following interests, no matter how divergent they may be.

8. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt

9. Leverage Leadership 2.0: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

The most influential book on this list that’s influenced my approach to instructional leadership over the past year. The two most important items to focus on for new principals is data driven instruction and student culture. This book taught me that and more.

10. The Lessons of History by Will Durant and Ariel Durant

11. Driven by Data 2.0: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

I liked it, but you can get by with reading just Leverage Leadership 2.0.

12. Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan

Not as good as Coherence, but still really good.

13. Don’t Suspend Me! An Alternative Discipline Toolkit by Jessica Hannigan and John E. Hannigan

An important book in that it gave me a good start in developing my own alternative discipline toolkit.

14. Cherry by Nico Walker

The best novel I read in 2019. I really enjoyed this, although it’s definitely not for everyone. I heard they’re making a movie out of it, and I can’t wait to see it.

15. The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey

I’ve used excerpts from this book for quite a few conversations and meetings recently. I have a feeling this book will be a resource I return to for years to come.

16. Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins

Not really a book (it’s a monograph), but I’ll include it here anyways. I found myself almost a year later referring to this book during a recent meeting. You know a book is pretty good if that happens.

17. The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan

Fullan is the only Edu-Hero I have.

18. The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

19. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology by Cal Newport

If there is one book I could force every person in the modern world to read, this would be it.

20. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

I’m ashamed to say this is the only autobiography I read in 2019. The good news is if I only could read one, this would be at the top of my list.

21. Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker

This is a must-read for all school administrators. The main idea Whitaker teaches is something that’s taking me a while to develop within my own leadership capacity.

22. Pet Semetary by Stephen King

The 1989 version of this movie petrified me. I have vivid memories of being frighted on the trundle bed in my friends room back when I was ten-years-old. Finally reading this book at thirty-eight-years-old was no where near as horrifying, but it was damn creepy.

23. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald A. Heifetz

This book is probably one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read–primarily because it focuses on the difficulty of being a leader and the importance of knowing what you’re getting into when you lead people.

24. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Patrick Lencioni

It was interesting reading this after reading The Ideal Team Player; some of the main characters are in both.

25. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

This book can be viewed as a cautionary tale, exploitative, entertaining… possibly all three. I think it’s a good book to read as a parent. I finished it before Tiger’s comeback in 2019, so I think it’s a complete different read now.

26. Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

Great resources. I wouldn’t recommend reading this cover to cover–better to understand the structure and refer to the strategies you want to learn about at any given moment.


That’s it! I hope you found this list helpful. As always, let me know if you have any questions. Here’s to a great year of reading in 2020!