My family and I have had a month. It’s all little stuff. But it adds up. It started with my dog Oliver. He weighs a hundred pounds. He’s beautiful. I love him very much. He’s not a very good boy. A couple weeks back he ate everything in sight. Didn’t matter what it was—two sticks of butter, some socks, my hat, the lilac tree, a pair of boots, cookies on the counter. He ate and he ate without prejudice.
It’s really hard to live in a house with a wife and three children and two dogs and three cats when one of the dogs eats absolutely everything in sight. I used to live in a row house. A while ago I moved to a single-family home, not far from one of my schools. It’s got a lot more square-footage than my old house. It also has Oliver. Oliver makes it smaller by half.
After eating everything, Oliver crashed into my wife’s leg. He was chasing the cat and caught her knee-cap instead. Minor mistake. No breaks, luckily. But she’s gimpy. So now I had a wife with a gimpy knee and a dog that eats everything.
And then my oldest child got sick. And she got sick a few days before her state swim meet. Not ideal. But when it’s time to compete, you have to compete. So we went to the meet. It was in Annapolis. And the first call I get from my gimpy-kneed wife is to say that my Oliver has crashed into the front window and smashed it right up. Oh my!
When this week began I was ready to start afresh. Got the window fixed. My oldest child recovered from being sick and had some good swims at the big meet. My wife’s knee was still not great but better than gimpy. I got right to it Monday morning. I drove to a meeting about future construction work at one of my schools. After that, I zipped across town to a meeting at another school about some interesting instructional work. There I was, idling at a red light, when—bang!—I got hit from behind. Then—bang again!—I hit the car in front of me. A four car mashup. Ouch. And it’s a new car I was driving no less.
My car got beat up pretty good. I got whiplashed. I’m still dizzy, truth be told. I’m probably slightly concussed as I write this. I’ll be alright.
It’s a lot though. Enough that I need to learn some lessons from this, lessons which, I think, directly tie to what’s going on in our school system right now. And so here they are—lessons learned from living with a crazy dog, a sick child, a gimpy-kneed wife, and a car crash:
Lesson One: Find perspective. Yes, my life has been slightly out of control lately but others face challenges, too—often bigger. A dear friend of mine, and a fellow school leader, has a little boy who will soon have his third open-heart surgery in 18 months. A bad dog? Not a problem!
Lesson Two: Go as slowly as possible and delay as long as you can. And once you’ve delayed as long as you can, delay a little longer, until you have all the information you need to make a reasonably sane decision. I have five animals in my house. I don’t exactly know how this happened. But I’m sure a lot of it is related to rash decision-making. Once my wife and kids went down to BARCS to get one cat and came back with two. That’s rash. Principals around the city are being asked to load up budgets in just a few weeks without knowing important information about revenue. The decisions they make could affect their respective schools for the next 16 months, maybe even much longer than that. My advice? Do as little as possible for as long as possible.
Lesson Three: Keep working. A week or so ago some teachers protested this budget crisis by not reporting to work. No teachers went to work! Not cool. Who knows what comes next? We might get $130 million back from the city and state. We might get $42 million. We might get in a car accident. We don’t know. But go to work we must. That’s what professionals do.
Lesson Four: Take care of others first. My car accident was relatively small but people looked out for one another. A police officer, driving the other direction, slowed to say he was reporting the situation and calling in for help. A witness stopped and left her information. The various drivers checked on one another to make sure everyone was ok.
In these challenging times, the best leaders will be the ones who are the most selfless. They will give everything they have, even though they’ve already given everything they had. The other day 50 principals went down to City Hall and gave of themselves. They spoke for their schools, their communities, their city. They were selfless. More of this, from still more people, is needed.
Lesson Five: Remember the little things, the ordinary things. This past Sunday, Oscar winner Viola Davis championed the great writer August Wilson, saying he “exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.” So should we all—ordinary people and ordinary things. The little boy I mentioned above, the one who has had two open-heart surgeries and will need another: he took his very first steps just this Tuesday. A teacher I know well keeps coming to school even though his newborn twins keep him up all night. He’s working. The kids at Tunbridge have started rehearsing for their annual musical. Can’t wait to see it.
In these ordinary things, and others like them, we should search for and find the artistic. We should celebrate, dog or no, what it means to live a life. We do these things and our schools will be better places.