Friday Night Lights

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I love football, especially high school football.  There is something so fun about standing on the sidelines on a 73 degree night watching our kids play their hearts out.  There are rivalries and comebacks.  There are trick plays and Hail Mary’s.  There is always excitement in the air.

But when I got home Friday and checked Facebook and Twitter, I was truly overwhelmed by post after post of pictures from the game (or one of the many games played across the city, state, and country on Friday night).  And while there were some fantastic pictures of football, most of the pictures had almost nothing to do the game.

There were little kids sitting in the grass playing with each other while the game was happening in the background.  There were cheerleaders and dance teams and band members.  There were middle schoolers and high schoolers.  There were veterans and a JROTC.  There were moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas wearing school colors and cheering.

Post after post talked about how much fun people had.  Post after post demonstrated what our superintendent and our district athletic director have both shared recently in interviews, that high school football games are about so much more than football.

In those hours, under the lights, we become a community.

Friendships are formed.  Talents are unveiled.  Students and parents and community members spend time together talking and building relationships.

“There is so much more than football going on here.”  (Jim Sutfin)

People get the opportunity to see our students shine.  We showcase the hard work of so many groups who perform on those nights.  And it goes well beyond those on the field.  Our students sell concessions to raise money for their activities.  They support their fellow classmates with cheers and applause and respect when they perform.  And they represent their schools and districts with pride.

imageTeachers and administrators who have retired come to the games.  Elementary and middle school students come with their families and imagine what it will be like when they are in high school.  Current families and staff members spend time together outside the school day.

We build a community on those nights and on countless other nights at orchestra concerts and cross-country meets, at volleyball games and plays and musicals.

There is magic in these football stadiums.  There is a small town feeling in even the largest of cities.  There is opportunity there to connect and to become stronger together than we will ever be alone.

imageOn a side note, in Nebraska (and probably in other places too I’d imagine), we do something similar on Saturday nights. I went to my first Husker football game Saturday.  I have no idea how someone who loves the Huskers as much as I do has gone 46 years without going to a game in person, but wow!  For a few hours we became a community there too.

I hope you will continue to post your pictures.  I am moved by all of them, and I am reminded in them that I am #Proud2bMPS.

Seeing Through Every Lens

imageIt’s easy to be an arm-chair quarterback.  I am often guilty of it myself.  After the play, when everything has gone wrong, I am sure I would have made a different call.  I know exactly what would have worked.  Or so I think.

In sports, in politics, in education, people frequently think they know precisely what the coach or the leader should have done.  Sports commentators fill entire programs with what the calls should have been.  There is never a shortage of pundits willing to critique the decisions of politicians, and there are always plenty of people in an organization sure they know what plan would have been better.

More often than not though, we have nowhere near all of the necessary information to make an informed decision.  It’s how the system works.  Transparency, openness, and, of course, the media allow us to know some of what’s going on almost all of the time.  But we rarely know all of it.

Leadership is about gathering all of the information, seeking to understand all sides of the issue, and then making the sometimes difficult decisions.

I was in an intense discussion last week about a discipline infraction and the appropriate consequences. It brought back some emotions tied to a difficult and very public discipline issue I had to address a few years ago.  Some in my community disagreed with a decision we made in the building, and the discussion made its way to the media. I was reminded again that everyone sees things through his/her own lens.  Leaders seek to see through every lens.

Leadership involves making important decisions that are often controversial.  In most cases, those on the outside will know only a fraction of what the leader knows.

Effective leaders have background information and experience others do not have.  They have had the conversations with people on all sides of the issue.  They understand the impact on the organization as well as any legal ramifications.  They know the strengths of their team and what is possible at any given time.  We need to trust that they are seeing things that we are not.

Now I am not suggesting that we should never question the decisions our leaders make.  I am a fan of discourse.  I think debates and disagreements are a necessary part of making the best decisions.  I consider myself lucky to live in a society where I can openly share an opposing viewpoint.

But public discourse and personal attacks are not the same thing.   The next time you share an opinion about a coach, or a politician, or an educational leader, ask yourself if you are contributing to the conversation or just passing judgement.

Just Because I Beat You Doesn’t Mean I Win

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The weather was perfect this week.  We slept with the windows open, and I could hear the marching band practicing as I ate breakfast.  There is just something about this time of year.  Our cheerleaders are fired up, and our football players are ready. I spent this afternoon at a softball game as our fall sports are kicking off.

I am a football girl…the thrill of a 4th quarter comeback, the hail mary caught in the end zone, the season that starts off slowly and then suddenly catches fire.  In fact my family refuses to let people come over when my team is playing.  To say I get animated is an understatement.

I am competitive.  I want my team to win.  I want to win.

As a middle school teacher, I used friendly competition to motivate my students.  In the fall, I taught the routines and transitions for group work with the Desk Olympics.  I would time classes as they practiced getting into and out of small groups of varying sizes.  Each period competed with the other for “prizes”.  Middle school students will do anything for a piece of candy or a cheap plastic toy.

Competition is engaging.  Competition is motivating.

Competition is also dangerous at times.  There is a balance between a competition that pushes us to grow and a competition that stops us from growing others and our organization.

Athletes know, for example, that training with someone who is just a little better than they are can push them to get faster or stronger. But what happens when that competition becomes toxic?  What happens if those partners stop sharing training tips in the hopes of staying one step ahead?  “The goal in life is not to be better than anyone else.  It’s to be better than you were yesterday.”  (Jon Gordon)

It’s worth repeating that the goal should always be to create a better version of yourself and a better version of your team or organization.  Competition can fuel that drive and push you to be the best version of yourself.  If you do 10, I want to do 12.  It’s how I am wired, and I work with people who are even more competitive than I am.  I think we push each other.

But competition is complex.

Systems that compare can make it harder to create a culture that allows for  growth.  If I want my school to look better than your school, I will be less likely to work collaboratively with you.
In education we are working with and for children.  Competition between students when it comes to learning is not healthy.  Competition between schools when it comes to student achievement is not healthy.  Competition between districts when it comes to funding is not healthy.

A rising tide lifts all boats.  A colleague from another district called me this week to process through some test scores and what his school could do to address the issues.  He just needed to bounce ideas off someone.  I’ve reached out to him (and many others throughout the years) to have this same conversation.  Our collaboration is more effective than a competition could ever be.

I embrace my competitive nature.  I intend to cheer loudly next week at the first football game.  But I also appreciate that I have things to learn from other people and that they may have things to learn from me.

I don’t think competition is a bad thing, but I think we need to recognize that there should be a balance.  We need to reflect on our motives.

When we start to care as much about other people as we do about ourselves, the world will change.