A Letter to My Staff


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!


Fresh Paint: A Resilience Metaphor

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.