Leadership Guides from 2020

Leadership Guides from 2020

I experienced what you did in 2020. Some days, my drive to grow and learn translated into action. I leveraged additional pockets of time and flexibility of schedule to push myself as a leader. Other days, I fought apathy, lethargy and under-motivation. After a few rounds of going toe-to-toe with these demons, I learned to trust that they would fade. I learned to “call it a day” when the struggle became too fierce. And I learned to call on virtual mentors to push me along.

Today, on the last day of 2020, I want to highlight a few of the guides and resources that have pushed me forward.

Today, on the last day of 2020, I want to highlight a few of the guides and resources that have pushed me forward. Perhaps you, too, can gain some strength, insight, and courage from them.

John Kotter

While Kotter has been a strong voice in the leadership world for some time, I got introduced to him through my learning with the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL). Together, with 30 other principals from our district, we dove into critical topics related to transforming schools and systems that will serve all students. Of all the learning we engaged in as a cohort, over a year and a half, I was most moved by Kotter’s dual operating system for gaining momentum in an organization. His book, XLR8 ,illustrates how leaders can see transformational work take hold, if they strategically empower motivated team members, let go of control, and work to eliminate barriers that get in the way. We are in the launching phase of this work at my school, and I am invigorated to see what we can accomplish together!

Bettina Love

I met Bettina while re-staining the redwood in my backyard. Wanting to pair physical labor with mental challenge, I scrolled through enticing suggestions on my Audible account. Three deck boards in, I knew that Love was going to challenge my assumptions, and push my thinking. I listened to her book We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, and I was not disappointed.

Then, sometime mid-summer, I discovered that our district leadership landed Bettina Love for a principal PD session. She was even more compelling in person (Zoom style). In our time with Bettina, she asserted:

“The system doesn’t work for all students. So what are we going to do about it?…All the great language of the forefathers were not meant to include dark folk…[and]…Every group has not been an able bodied white man, has had to fight to be seen important in our school.” Yes and yes. I am still pondering that question: “So what are we going to do about it?”

She eluded to a starting point: “The work of anti-racism starts with mindsets.  Believing that our job, is to teach all learners.  They are ours.” I see you Bettina. #thosekidsareOURKIDS

Check out her Abolitionist Teaching Network!

Craig Groschel

Craig Groschel is not a new voice to me. But his voice cut through the chaos and silence of 2020 to anchor my leadership in some trusted principles. The Craig Groschel Leadership Podcast is a regular on my feed, providing fresh content every two weeks. This year, I gleaned invaluable direction from the episode 71, “Leading Through Crisis” and episode 76, “Becoming a Leader People Love to Follow.”

A few of the nuggets that made me pump my fist in the air while driving included:

“Most people see problems. Leaders address the problems and seize the

“You will never be a leader others love to follow if you aren’t a leader
who loves people.”

“A practical way to demonstrate that you love your team and the people you work with is to exercise these four words: I notice. You matter.”

Hamish Brewer

Hamish Brewer is known as a “relentless” principal who believes in children, works to turn around some of the most challenging schools, and shares the passion through modeling, speaking and writing. His book, Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm, is easily accessible and highly motivational.

Hamish spent a morning with leaders in our district and left us ignited with passion to realize equitable outcomes for all of our students.

I was particularly moved by the burning question: “In education things move so quick.  What will they say about our impact?” He further pressed to point out that our behaviors have to match our intentions and hopes: “Your effort has to match the dream!” Then, recognizing the full weight and ownership principals face, he asserted, “If a teacher in my building fails, that’s my fault.” He kept pressing: “You are not the manager of your school. You are the leader of the community!”

In spending time with Hamish, you will be awakened to your deepest passions for students. Whether you read his book, view or listen to media highlighting his work, you will will certainly be reminded that we must strive to be great, for all of our kids. After all #thosekidsareOURKIDS.

TJ Kids are Our Kids Too

TJ Kids are Our Kids Too

Today I took a wrong turn and ended up in another country.

It was supposed to be a day of reflection, rejuvenation, prayer, and writing. As leaders and healthy humans, it’s important to step away from school, the computer and the email inbox. It’s important to get some distance for inspiration and creativity. Today, I took one of those days.

I decided to start my day with a long run at the Tijuana Estuary. Here, a winding sandy trail opens up to a breathtaking panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, with San Diego to the right and Mexico to the left. Driving southbound on I-5, I found myself looking for an exit that was already in the rear view. By the time I figured it out, I had passed the last United States exit and was on my way to crossing the International Border into Mexico. At the inspection point, I pulled over and asked two federales, dressed in fatigues, if it was possible to turn around. They flatly directed me to the two-hour border wait in the Zona Rio Central.

What? This was not the plan. Instead, it felt like most other days at school. You likely get it: You drive into school with clear priorities, only to discover that there are fires to put out, unexpected assemblies, teacher absences, or parent concerns. So you pivot.

So I pivoted. Instead of starting my day in a multi-hour traffic jam I decided to head toward the coast. I did find space and time to reflect at Playas. I ran along the beach at Playas, sipped a locally brewed café americano, read some sacred scriptures, and let the ocean breeze clear my mind. I even texted my friend in Tijuana to meet up for tacos.

The adventure portion began on my early drive home. If you’ve ever tried to find the correct border crossing entrance points in Tijuana, then you know that it’s a bit like finding your way through a maze that your fifth grade substitute teacher gave you to kill time. I ended up in a medical lane, for emergency vehicles. Eight dollars cash, which was all I had in my pocket, is what it took to get a taxi cab to lead the way out of the circular streets back into town and onto the general border crossing. While it’s pretty hard to be rejuvenated in the middle lane of a traffic jam, I did my best to stay in a reflective zone. It didn’t help that peddlers consistently knocked on my passenger window, trying to sell me tostilocos, framed pictures of El Chapo, and wool Dodger blankets.

One of the things that struck me was how many children were employed in efforts to bring income into their families. I kept thinking about how these children should be in school. I kept wondering if they got to play with their friends. I kept thinking about my own children, and about the students at my school.

I kept reminding myself that these kids are our kids too. It’s true, they live 15 miles south of my house on the other side of a double iron wall. But, they have the same image of God in them. They have great minds and deserve the opportunity to grow them. They could be our next scientists, our next entrepreneurs, or our next educational leaders. Very few look beyond the car window-chicle transaction and see futures for these children. Likely, they don’t see roads to success for themselves. But it is possible.

After all, our oldest son, Ricardo, grew up in Tijuana before he came to San Diego with his family. Today, he is a scientist, businessman and leader. Ricardo holds a Master’s degree, contributed to research advancing cures to cancer, and has aspirations of starting a biotech laboratory. Most of his family still lives in Mexico. The difference for him was that he got the chance to be challenged, supported, and believed in. Idling in that mass of cars at the border, I reminded myself of the blessing I received in getting a front row seat to Ricardo’s story. I even got to play a part in it!

I wonder if any of these children, walking up and down the oil stained concrete, selling chicle and ceramic statues of the Virgin Mary through exhaust fumes, will get their shot. I wonder if they will get to attend school, have mentors, or receive praise for their writing.

I fear they will not. But I pray they will. After all, those kids are our kids too!