A New Day for Jeff’s Blog

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cc photo by J. Delp – The Mogollon Rim, Arizona

I enjoy writing, but lately I have struggled to create and publish on a consistent basis. Upon reflection, I realize this is (at least in part) because I have felt too “constrained” by what I believe others might expect to find on my blog.

With the goal of sharing more, I am refreshing my blog and feel obligated to let my limited readership know that you may begin seeing a wide variety of posts, on a wide variety of topics. I will, of course, continue to share my perspective on education related issues, but I will also be posting:

  • Photos I have taken
  • Stories about my outdoor explorations and adventures (lot’s of Arizona)
  • Reviews of books I am reading
  • Quotes I find inspirational or thought-provoking
  • Quick snippets related to almost any topic that strikes a chord

In other words, you might expect about anything. My goal is to share more frequently and write for reflection and enjoyment. I hope you will find some of these new posts useful, or at least entertaining.

Regards,

Jeff

A Letter to My Staff

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July 22, 2018

To the Exceptional Staff at Willis Junior High School,

We are embarking on what I believe is the most important week of the school year.  As I write this letter, our campus is quiet and empty, but on Monday morning it will be abuzz with activity as our students return for the 2018-19 school year. Some will be ready. Some will be nervous. Some will bring baggage — problems at home, poor previous experiences with school, or any number of things that will impact their behavior and performance.. We must be ready them all. Every. Single. Student.

How we conduct of ourselves this week — our interactions, the connections we make, and the relationships we begin to build will truly shape the remainder of our school year and may, in fact, determine the level of success of some of our students. We are a community. We need our students to see evidence that Willis will be different (in a good way) than any of their previous school experiences.

With so much riding on a short period of time, I ask you to focus your efforts this week on making it evident to our students that at Willis they are safe and valued (WJHS Core Value #1).

  • Work as a staff to ensure that every student has at least one positive and personal interaction with an adult on our campus every day this week
  • Learn, and call them by, their names
  • Be diligent about giving students a voice in what happens in your classroom
  • Allow students to share something about themselves and then work to acknowledge that they are a unique person with infinite value
  • Share some things about yourself — they need to see that you are a human being with your own interests and unique experiences
  • Be determined that you will not be offended by a junior high school student, or take their behavior personally
  • Be sure your filter is fully operational — biting sarcasm, rude comments, or any statements that might be perceived as belittling or treating a student as “less than…” have no place on our campus
  • Take every opportunity to acknowledge and reinforce the positive behaviors you see on campus
  • Shake hands, fist bump, high-five like crazy
  • Model kindness, patience, empathy, and humility
  • Be visible — a strong adult presence helps students feel safe and gives them someone to go to when they have questions
  • Smile, affirm, reassure, encourage, and smile some more

Let’s all commit to doing everything in our power to ensure that when each one of our students leaves on Friday they describe this week as the best of their entire school experience. We want every child to know that they matter and to be excited about coming back next week. I have unshakeable confidence in the Willis staff and your commitment to doing what is right for our kids! You are truly the best and I am honored to work with you.

Have a great week!

Jeff


Fresh Paint: A Resilience Metaphor

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cc photo art by J. Delp

I spent Saturday morning at school painting classrooms. Lately, I have been a bit discouraged about the physical appearance of our facilities and the unspoken message that dingy walls, stained carpet, institutional like classrooms, and dated buildings send to our students and parents. Over time, things wear out, students spill things, ink pens break, and hand and fingerprints become a permanent part of the walls. We just can’t keep up. With this in mind, I enlisted the assistance of our local community to make some improvements. On Saturday, one of our recently graduated eighth graders worked with about forty volunteers — as a part of his Eagle Scout Project — to paint two of our classrooms. The difference a few coats of fresh paint made were staggering.

Sometimes life is a little like the classroom walls at our school. We get run down, tired, and even discouraged. The effects of time, stress, busyness, and an unsustainable pace slowly erode our attitudes and leave us like those dingy classroom walls — chipped, stained, and not looking (or feeling) so good. We can’t change what has happened to us in the past, or make those things go away, but we can change our day, week, month, year, or even life trajectory.

You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. – C.S. Lewis

It is during these times (when we feel beaten down, less than, and discouraged) that we must have enough initiative to seek out a coat of “fresh paint.” This is not to imply that we should — or that we are able to — “paint over” our problems, but that we do need to take the time to adequately care for ourselves. Sometimes we can do the painting ourselves, other times we have to seek out the assistance of friends, family members, and colleagues.

As we ended our last school year, I definitely needed a fresh coat of paint. I am incredibly blessed to work in a profession where I have the flexibility of taking some time off. I spent time at the beach with my wife and daughter. One coat. While we were in San Diego, I met up for coffee with a good friend who I don’t see as often as I would like. Two coats. I visited family in Kansas, saw my nieces and nephews play basketball, and celebrated my parents fiftieth wedding anniversary. Three, four, and five coats. I spent a lot of time being outdoors and fishing. Six coats. In addition, the local community has really begun to pour into our school (I was foolish for not asking for assistance sooner). They are volunteering to mentor, supporting campus projects, and making donations for our Community resource room. Seven coats. While many of my struggles still exist, and I know the coming year will bring more, the “fresh paint” has made me feel more optimistic and resilient — ready to tackle the challenges ahead.

The thing is, we all own proverbial brushes and paint. From time to time we should apply our own coat — take a vacation, breathe, go for a walk, read a book. Whatever it takes to refresh and re-energize. But, we also need to watch out for others who are in need — a word of encouragement, a note or positive email, lunch, or just being present. Any of these actions might be the “fresh paint” someone needs to carry on.

As we finished up finished up Saturday’s painting project, I was checking out the finished product, when one of the volunteers said to me, “It’s amazing what a couple of coats of paint can do. It is so much brighter in here.”

Yes indeed. Things are so much brighter.

This article is cross-posted on my Medium page.

Slow Down to be Fulfilled, Focused, and Purposeful

Kansas Sunrise – cc photo by J. Delp

We have several dogs. One is a West Highland Terrier (a Westie) named Kosmo. Kosmo has a personality that matches his name — he is mischievous, full of energy, quirky, and strong-willed. One of my favorite things to do is take Kosmo to the local dog park where he is free to run wild and socialize. There is only one problem. Kosmo has F.O.M.O. — fear of missing out. Although the park is a small one, Kosmo runs miles as he darts from one dog to the next and from one person to the next — rarely spending more than a few seconds in any one place. It genuinely appears that he is so concerned about what might be happening elsewhere that he must check out every potential source of entertainment, even if it means leaving something good behind. When we leave, Kosmo is typically exhausted from all of the running in his effort to greet every creature at the park (human and canine).

There are many times in life that I feel a lot like Kosmo — running from one thing to another out of concern that I will miss out, or fear that I won’t get everything done. More of my days than I would like to admit are marred by chaos and a lack of focus. In the end, in spite of my busyness, I am left with an empty feeling in my soul and a full to-do list. The frantic pace of my day is counter-productive. Like Kosmo I run all around, spend little time focused on any one thing, wear myself out, and accomplish very little.

This week I ran across a blog post by John Spencer entitled, The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive. The post resonated with me, because even though I know better, I still struggle immensely to avoid busyness and stay on the productivity tract. If you have been following my blog you know that I have been considering ways to challenge my current practices as a principal, get back to being a passionate leader/advocate for my staff and students, and redefine the principal position (at least for me). John (for whom I have a great deal of respect), writes about his ideas on the benefits of “breaking up with busy.” In addition to sharing his written thoughts on the issue, John put together this video:

As I explained in a post about my “not-to-do” list, busyness has been my nemesis — even though I am very cognizant of the difference between being busy and being productive. John’s post helped me out by reinforcing the notion that it is worth the time to ensure that I have a plan for being productive — focusing on the “big rocks.” I have always loved this quote by Goethe, but constantly be guilty of allowing “things that matter least” to dominate my days.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This morning, I found a wonderful piece in the Harvard Business Review that touches on the notion of living a balanced life. In her post, In Praise of Extreme Moderation, author Avivah Wittenberg-Cox explains what she means by investing in extreme moderation.

I want to do a reasonable job at the different parts of my life and a stellar job at the balance between all of them. – Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

As consider what I want as a professional, and as a person, this seems like a pretty sensible approach. For me, the suggestions given by both John and Avivah are not so much earth-shattering as they are humbling. I know what productivity looks like, and I know that is what I want (as opposed to busyness). I know extreme workaholism and I certainly have a sense of what it would be like to live a balanced life. So far, I have just been too stubborn, or to lazy, to make either a priority. The trick (at least for me) is taking the time to slow myself down and be deliberate about my daily activities — moment by moment (i.e. don’t be like Kosmo).

Are my actions moderate in nature? Are they contributing to a sense of chaos, or do they leave me fulfilled, focused, and with a sense of purpose?

While responding to the siren call of email may seem like an act of productivity, in reality it may just be a distraction from what is truly important. Responding to email does not leave me feeling fulfilled, focused, or purposeful.

One of my favorite things to do during student lunches is to go outside and pick-up trash or scrape gum. It isn’t because I am overly concerned about the campus (although I want it to be clean), or because I am a neat-freak (although I can be). This activity provides an opportunity for me to interact with students and model actions and behaviors I want to see in them — allowing them to see that doing little things can make a difference. When I am out scrapping gum, here is a typical conversation.

Student: “Mr. Delp, what are you doing?”

Me: “Scraping gum?”

Student: “That’s gum (pointing to the black spot on the concrete)?!!!”

Me: “Sure is. Would you like a piece. I can’t guarantee the flavor.”

Student: “That’s gross. Can I try (scraping the gum)?”

This pattern of conversation typically evolves into a discussion about what has been going on in the classroom, the book the student is currently reading, the plans they have for the weekend, and a plethora of other topics. What seems like a custodial activity turns into an opportunity to build relationships. All because I spent a few minutes outside scraping gum. Fulfilled? Check. Focused? Check. Purposeful? Check.

Finally, slowing down has a positive impact on our personal lives. It allows us to see beauty and enjoy the little moments of life. We are currently visiting family in Kansas. You might be surprised to know that Kansas is not a popular summer vacation destination. Go figure. However, there is so much beauty to be seen here if you just take the time to see it. The intricacies of an ant pile, the brilliance of a Golden Rain tree, a sunrise, a Sunflower…the list goes on and on.

So while I have developed a “not-to-do” list, I am ready to begin adding to my “to-do” list. The first item — slow down, breathe, and find the beauty and joy in the little moments.

This post is a part of my Redefined Principal Project. Throughout this school year I am looking for ways to purposefully disrupt some of work habits and routines in a manner that will benefit my teachers, my students, and my school community. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments, or tweet them at me. I look forward to hearing from you!

Eyes Wide Open

About a week ago, on a hot afternoon in Arizona, I stopped at a convenience store near work for a bottle of water and a soda. As I was walking in, I noticed a young lady leaning against one of the store’s cinder block columns. There was something vaguely familiar about her. I searched my memory for a clue. Former student? Parent? A sibling of one of our kids? Nothing. It was evident that she was in some distress. Perhaps, it was exhaustion, a rough day (or a rough life), or simply the heat. She avoided eye contact, so I continued into the store where I made my purchase, grabbing an extra bottle of water.

I’m not sure why, but as I was making my way back to my truck, I turned and asked, “Young lady, are you okay?” For the first time she looked at me, and asked if I could spare any money. I handed her the two dollars in my pocket and a bottle of water. She thanked me and said, “God bless,” and that was the end of our interaction. I wasn’t able to make any connections and she either didn’t recognize me, or chose not to acknowledge if she did.

However, several days after the encounter, I have been unable to shake the thought of how frequently I walk by people without consideration for their circumstances. Some of them, like this girl, are obviously “in a battle.” In other cases, it might not be so apparent — an averted glance, a solemn quietness, or perhaps, nothing. Almost unnoticeable. It’s like voluntary blindness. Oblivious to the problems of anyone but myself.

I recently began reading the book Refugee by Alan Gratz. One of the characters in the book, Josef, is a young Jewish boy fleeing Germany as Hitler began his reign of terror. In the story Josef described the yellow Star of David he was forced to wear as a “talisman that made him disappear.” Others acted as if he did not exist. As if he wasn’t even there.

The people chose not to see them.

How often are we guilty of this? How often do we “choose” not to see those who are in distress, those who are suffering injustice, those who are grappling with burdens too large to bear without assistance. It is easier to walk on by, to turn our heads, or to simply wander with our eyes proverbially closed. Perhaps we are afraid to fully acknowledge the pain and injustice in our world because to do so we be an admission that we feel incapable, or that we are unwilling, to do anything about it.

The principle suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. – Marcus Borg

I don’t have a solution. I have a feeling it isn’t two dollars and a bottle of water. I do think it has something to do with acknowledgement. Acknowledgment that we are all in “this” together. Acknowledgement that we have the capability to help one another.  Acknowledgement of our shared humanity. 

One of the best books I have ever read about recognizing the immeasurable value of all human beings is Tattoos on the Heart, by Father Greg Boyle. In fact, it is one of the best books I have ever read…period. It is so good, that I am currently listening to the audio version. Again.

In one particularly poignant anecdote, Father Greg describes Carmen — a heroin addict, a prostitute, a fighter, a lady who is dealing with a tremendous amount of baggage and trauma. She stops to see him just prior to a baptismal ceremony he is scheduled to administer. She tells Father Greg she needs help and begins a narrative of her issues. Time ticks away and the scheduled baptism grows closer.  Father Greg grows impatient. As they talk, she tilts her head toward the ceiling and her eyes fill with tears. She looks at Father Greg, and says, “I…am…a disgrace.” The next line in the book is extremely moving, and convicting.

Suddenly her shame meets mine, for when Carmen walked through that door I had mistaken her for an interruption.

There are boundless opportunities for us to be difference-makers in the lives of others. Daily. To do so requires that we live with our eyes wide open — ready to receive others, to acknowledge their existence, to recognize their worth, and to view them as human. Not an interruption.

May God grant me the patience, the perception, and the willingness to do this. To live my life with eyes wide open to the needs of others.

 

 

Our Lenses Matter…

I used to have 20/20 vision. I could see perfectly, except for the fact that I have a bit of red-green color blindness which — at worst — led to me wearing blue instead of my preferred purple ties.

But, time…

And age…

Now, I am unable to read anything without the aid of a pair of glasses with relatively strong transition lenses. Nothing. My lenses make all the difference.

Yesterday I was reading, with a little too much intrigue (and with my glasses), the comments on a Facebook post about the current immigration crisis — specifically the separation of children from their parents. It reminded me that the lenses through which we see the world are highly individual and shaped by many different factors. So many variations that no two people see things from exactly the same perspective. Even, perhaps, when we should (i.e. in cases of injustice).

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth. — Simone de Beauvoir

I certainly don’t have this all figured out, but I am aware of the lenses through which I view what is happening around me and I’m fairly certain I have not always possessed that awareness. I grew up in a fantastic community (a small town in Kansas) which I still consider home. When I was living at there, I was unaware of diversity in the community because at that time (using the lenses I had available) diversity meant race, or ethnicity, and the overwhelming majority of people in my hometown were white.

My first teaching job was at a public school in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. I chose to student teach — and then take a job — at this school because it was so dramatically different from anything I had ever experienced. I was an ethnic minority on campus. There was overwhelming poverty and violence in the surrounding community. Many of our students experienced unspeakable trauma. The culture was extremely different from what I had experienced in Kansas.

During my time teaching in Phoenix my lenses began to change. This change not only impacted how I viewed my present situation, but it changed how I viewed my past experiences. In that small Kansas town that seemed to lack diversity, I now recognize families who undoubtedly struggled with poverty. Friends who experienced the pain of broken families, abuse, and other forms of trauma. People with a plethora of diverse experiences and stories. The diversity was there — it just wasn’t in a form that I was able to recognize or define.

I will never know what it is like to be a person of a different race.

I’ve not personally experienced poverty.

I am fortunate that I have not been a victim of abuse, or trauma.

I’ve never had my child taken away from me (although I have experienced an agonizing separation).

But privilege does not prevent me from stepping back from a situation and listening to the perspective of others. In this way, I am able to catch a glimpse through their lenses. This allows me to develop understanding and demonstrate empathy. Upon careful inspection, in many cases we share common perspectives (as a parent, a sibling, a spouse, an educator, a human). The willingness to momentarily pick-up the lenses of our fellow human beings is ultimately a critical factor in our ability to treat one another with the respect, dignity, and infinite value that all people deserve.

Our lenses matter. Our ability and willingness to look through the lenses of others matters most.

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view. — Goethe

Have We Forgotten that We Belong to One Another?

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Disclaimer: as with all posts on my blog, the views expressed in this post represent my personal opinion and are not intended to be associated with my employer. This was posted with my daughter’s permission.

My daughter is an immigrant.

Perhaps not in the “legal” sense, but by Google’s definition she would qualify. She was born in the Russian Far East, adopted by us, and traveled to the United States (on a Russian passport) just before her first birthday. She was a newcomer. She was a nonnative. She was an outsider. Now, she is a beautiful teenager who just finished her freshman year of high school. She is the pride and joy of her parents and the best thing I have ever done in my life.

Those of you reading this who are adoptive parents know that the process is long and arduous. During the two trips we made to Russia, we experienced multiple miracles — more than enough to convince me that this beautiful little girl was always meant to be our daughter. But, those are stories for another time.

Recently, the United States has begun a “no-tolerance” policy for deportation of illegal immigrants. As a result of that process, children — seventeen and under — have been torn from their families. At the time of this writing, the Los Angeles Times reported that 1,995 children have been separated from their parents. This is a tragedy, an immoral abuse of power, and a policy that demonstrates a lack of value for human life. It is wrong, and it must stop.

Regardless of political leanings, I would hope that most people would agree that children should not be used as pawns in the fight over immigration policy. The fact that our current politicians are incapable of working cooperatively to develop a reasonable solution to the immigration issue is no excuse for taking actions that are clearly detrimental to kids. And, although I am not a religious scholar, I feel confident in saying there is absolutely no biblical basis for separating children from their families. However, I can reference many verses that indicate we should love our neighbor, care for children, and act justly.

Imagine the level of trauma inflicted upon a child who likely does not speak English, has just endured a difficult trip, and is now ripped away from their family. Their “legality” has absolutely nothing to do with our ability to treat them as fellow human beings of infinite value, worthy of respect and empathy.

We began to bond with our daughter and love her the first moment we saw her. We immediately wanted to provide the best care we were able to offer her. Fortunately, we had the means and privilege that allowed us to complete an adoption, navigate oceans of paperwork, and bring her to the states legally — as our daughter.

The parents who are currently bringing their children to the United States are undoubtedly seeking the same things we wanted for our daughter — the best possible care, education, and opportunities. Unfortunately, most are coming from poverty and do not possess the material, financial, or political capital necessary to navigate the immigration process. They are not people of privilege. We are.

This is not a post about immigration policy, it is simply a plea to do the right thing for kids and keep them with their families. I work in a profession where we are taught that the best interest of kids should always come first. That should be no different in this circumstance — the needs of children should come first. As Mother Teresa so wisely stated,

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.

I fear this may be true. We have forgotten that we belong to one another. I pray that our citizens will make it clear that the current situation is unacceptable and that our leaders will step in and do the right thing for the sake of these kids. We must demand nothing less.