Failure Dreams

Each one is almost exactly the same. 

I’m back in college but not supposed to be there. At my current age, I wander around a campus I don’t know, enter a dorm without a roommate, and never attend a single class.

I’m most often at the plate when the pitcher blows fastballs by me from what seems like an arm’s length away. Sometimes I’m in the outfield, but I can never seem to make the catch. 

I’m back in the classroom and have totally lost control of the kids. No one is listening, the computer doesn’t work, and the noise is unbearable.

My failure dreams are perpetual, vivid, and haunting. 

But they’re only dreams. 

I’ve always maintained that were it not for education, I’d be in Psychology. Fascinated by how our minds work, the subconscious, and, obviously, dreams, I suspect I would have carved out a nice career built on curiosity and research. So I did the next best thing. 

I blended the two. 

This year our district embarked on a three-headed monster of vital and related issues: trauma informed care, restorative practices, and SEL. For me, it was like being traded from the Philadelphia Educators to the New Jersey Psychologists. Sure, I would play the same game but in a totally new league. And I couldn’t wait. 

Now, I can leave my bizarro world failure dreams on a subconscious shelf while I delve into the very real world of my students. 

Crippling anxiety without an identifiable antecedent. 

Just beneath the surface and difficult to prove abuse or neglect. 

Imbalanced group dynamics which always result in a party of one. 

Hormonal changes at a rate that is far too fast or far too slow. 

For these kids, there is no fit or start to wake them, no alarm clock to signal the end of a panicky, dark, unsafe dream. 

Theirs is a failure reality, one that demands our attention, our kindness, and our compassion. 

It’s time to wake up and help them. 

Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame is available on Amazon.


WTF is IVF?

Listen, I spend far too much time thinking about (read: obsessing over) the social emotional health of my staff. I check in too often. I will occasionally overstep. I have their backs. I don’t know any other way to be.

As I cleaned up my Drive, I stumbled upon a piece I wrote over ten years ago that, though unpublished and apropos of nothing, helps to bring into focus why I choose to lead the way I do. Ultimately, our humanity in any field, but particularly in education, is what leads us to and makes it nearly impossible to leave each other. We all have “stuff,” and the moment we forget that, we’re doomed.

So here we go. From the fall of 2009:

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WTF is IVF? The other side of infertility

I’ve really only been fooled by women twice in my life.

When I turned 21, my mom told me I needed to go to the proctologist for a consult because “you know what happened to your father.”  I agreed, begrudgingly, and made my appointment with the Ass-Man.  While the first ten minutes would fall under the category of a consult, as my mom had promised, the final five would belong under the more appropriate banner of “exploration.” When the doctor said, rather matter-of-factly, “while you’re here, let’s just have a look,” I’ll never forget the silent arsenal of swear words I unleashed at my mom, no doubt smiling to herself over her duplicitous deception, which ended with some combination of fingers probing my caboose.

The second time I was duped was when my wife talked me into visiting our fertility doctor with her because it would help me understand what she could only loosely translate after each weekly visit.  I hadn’t been putting off joining my wife for any particular reason. Besides, she assured me that my presence was really only necessary in cup form during the early stages of the process.  Again, I marched dutifully to yet another doctor’s office, still reeling from the last time I was asked to go some fifteen years ago, and again, I was hoodwinked. 

What I thought was going to be a routine meet-and-greet, “you’re-the-husband-I-keep-hearing-about” kind of appointment rapidly disintegrated into a “now-that-your-wife-is-in-the-stirrups-do-you-want-to-see-her-ovaries” fright fest.  No amount of ER episodes or George Romero films could have prepared me for that legs-up position usually saved for nights when we’ve both had a bit too much to drink.

But that became our life, and as I hopped, skipped, and slid over fertility handbooks, how-tos, and metric equations on a regular basis, I noticed that there really was a dearth of literature about infertility from a man’s perspective. Ironically, the books my wife had wallpapered our house with seemed to borrow titles from their bizarro world counterparts in pornography.  In the same way that porn gives us The Boobyguard (nee: The Bodyguard), I woke up to find A Few Good Eggs (nee: A Few Good Men) staring up at me from under our bed.  As I thumbed through it, I was met with a cornucopia of now germane phrases and acronyms I once thought reserved for 400 level grad school courses in Anatomy and Physiology. 

No longer would my acronymic lexicon be limited to DVD, DVR, and PS3.  From then on, I’d have intimate knowledge of any combination of the following: PCO (Polycystic Ovaries, from which my wife suffers), HSG (Hysterosalpingogram, a horrifying procedure featuring an unclogging of the female machinery through the use of dye inserted directly into the uterus), IUI (Intra-Uterine Insemination, the gynecological version of “capture the flag,” which we tried once and then bagged), and COH (Controlled Ovarian Hyper Stimulation, which amounts to Roger Clemens doses of uterine steroid injections meant to get those “few good eggs” ready to party).

If that weren’t enough, my actual vocabulary had been sullied as a result of words like retrieval (what my baseball players do after an overthrow), sample (borrowing old riffs and chord progressions to create, largely, hip-hop jams), and even shot (Jolly Rancher, Lemon Drop, Mind Eraser) morphing into pregnancy specific terms far superior in form and function to their predecessors. 

Then came the mother lode of all OB/GYN acronyms, proven to cause a sigh of resignation or a cheer of jubilation, in one fell swoop, depending on the clients to whom it is spoken.

 IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).

After our woefully unsuccessful IUI attempt, our doctor breathed this possibility in our general direction, which elicited a distinctly antithetical response from each of us.

Me: So, we still have a shot?

Wife: No, this is it. This is our last shot; then it’s over.

The fact that three letters could cause euphoria and devastation at the same time speaks to the procedure’s awesome power to create life or to forsake it.  What once was a perpetual education in science was now a profound and life-altering test of faith…in science.

Almost four years ago, we ventured into our first IVF retrieval and transfer process. One miscarriage and another IVF later, we had our daughter, Abby, a process that took two-and-a-half years. 

Finally, my wife and I could add three more letters each to our life’s Pinterest board. 

M-O-M and D-A-D.
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Never forget the awesome responsibility you have to protect, support, nurture, challenge, and connect with your staff.

Because we all have “stuff.”

Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame is now available on Amazon!

Indispensable

In the 1993 social satire Falling Down, Michael Douglas plays William Foster, a recently laid off defense contractor who, quite frankly, loses his mind as he treks, on foot, across Los Angeles to attend his estranged daughter’s birthday party. 

As he makes the modern pilgrimage, he encounters a cast of characters who either validate his journey or fuel his rage. At one point, he fixates on a black man, dressed very similarly to him, who is holding up a sign that reads “Not Economically Viable” as he rails against his recent firing. At the end of the scene, the two men lock eyes, and the black man, now in the back of a police cruiser, says, “don’t forget me,” to which Douglas nods imperceptibly. 

A late year meeting with my superintendent was probably long overdue. That year, my 4th as the Chief Academic Officer (nee: curriculum and instruction) of a K-12 district and 19th in education, was my worst as a professional. The combination of being a year from tenure in a district I love, during a contract year for our staff, while negotiating the looming feeling that “it was time to start looking” made for a level of perpetual discomfort I hadn’t felt as an educator. Plus, I simply wasn’t my best. Ideas I had landed with a palpable thud. Interpersonal issues among our team could no longer be ignored.

Something had to give. 

“You need to make yourself indispensable. I don’t know what the budget will look like beyond next year,” he told me. 

Suddenly, there was a very real possibility that I was no longer economically viable. 

Curriculum and instruction positions are a beautifully flawed cog in the leadership wheel. With an aerial view of the district’s mission and vision, we provide our district with identity and our teachers with support. Because of the aerial view, however, we are wholly ignorant to the daily grind of building leadership, we don’t interact with parents often, and, let’s face it, there are no curriculum emergencies. 

Then, quite miraculously, a shift in the leadership team included me switching places with one of our K-5 principals, a woman I respect and admire deeply and who provided me guidance as I navigated the first couple years as CAO. Suddenly, I found myself in completely unfamiliar territory, like those dreams where you come to school naked. 

But I was coming to school fully clothed and ready to lead this group of talented teachers. 

At the end of my first year, one in which I found myself having to replace five teachers, all of whom had children, a long term sub left me this card. 

Well played, universe. Well played.

Ultimately, my superintendent was right. I hadn’t made myself indispensable. In fact, I was woefully dispensable during that slump year. Now, that word is emblazoned on my psyche, like an invisible tattoo, demanding that people “don’t forget me.”

Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame is now available on Amazon!

Outkick the Coverage

In the pantheon of ambiguously worded, cleverly passive-aggressive, pseudo compliments, “outkicking the coverage” lands firmly in my top 3. I’ve used it ad nauseam and have reveled in having to explain it to the unsuspecting buddy to whom it refers.  

Derived from a term in football, outkicking the coverage means you’re dating a woman who is far too attractive to be seen with you, let alone date you on purpose. Though I don’t know if there’s a female equivalent, I remember my friend Jennie, herself a beautiful blonde mother of three, asking me if I knew what it meant because someone said it about her and her ex-husband. 

Yes, of course I have. I love it! And yes, your ex definitely outkicked his coverage. 

Therein lies the complexity of the euphemism. It simultaneously suggests that a woman is beautiful and her partner is, well, not. What’s the proper response, then?

Thanks?

Um, that’s not very nice (but thank you!).

There’s more to a relationship than looks (but thank you!). 

Somehow, there are couples all over the world whose very existence evokes eyebrow raises and elbows to the ribs from gawking onlookers. Inquiring minds just want to know how those couples are even a thing. 

Because sometimes things just don’t make sense, and that’s okay. 

Think about some of your “best” kids. Your interactions with them are universally pleasant and positive, you look forward to seeing them, you miss them when they graduate, you know they’ll be happy, successful people. Typically, behind those kids are functional, empathetic, kind grown ups who once had the very same things said about them in their youth. So, it adds up. 

Now think about some of your most challenging kids. Your interactions with them are universally forced and generic, you notice when they aren’t at school because it means they won’t be in your office that day, you worry about them when they graduate, and you aren’t sure if they’ll be happy, successful people. Typically, (way) behind those kids are dysfunctional, aloof, or absent grown ups who once had the very same things said about them in their youth. So, it adds up. 

What about those kids, however, who outkick their parenting coverage? Whose temperate, well-adjusted, anomalous existence, despite having little to no grown up influence, makes us question everything about everything. Moreover, such kids inadvertently, and simultaneously, dim the brilliance of the “best” kids (because of course they’re set up for success) and shine a light on the challenging kids (because of course they’re set up to fail). 

When we recognize such kids, it’s vital that we call attention to them. Praise them effusively, elevate the otherwise mundane or expected results to hero status, empower them by asking them to help us support other kids, thank them for sharing space with us. 

Because as much fun as it is to make fun of our friends who have outkicked their significant other coverage, myself included, it’s just as important to remind our kids that they are so much more than the sum of their parts, especially when their parts equal a grand total of one. 

Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame is now available on Amazon!

Santa!

She knows about Santa. Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long. 

My 10-year old daughter mythbusted right through the Santa facade last year but chose to celebrate as if she hadn’t. You know, for old time’s sake. 

So this year she made it clear that she knows and wants in on the action when it comes to her 6-year old brother. Not quite blackmail, not quite quid pro quo. Just a tacit agreement that she would help us keep the magic alive for him as long as we let her help us with hiding our Elf on the Shelf (mundanely named Rob) and other ancillary holiday chores. 

A holiday win-win! 

Thankfully, that was something we got to experience as a family. We were all “in on it” as it were, and Abby didn’t hear the truth about Santa on a random Tuesday over a bag of Cheetos and a Dragonfruit Vitamin water in the cafeteria at school. 

But that’s not always the case. 

Last week, I had to handle the fallout after a particularly graphic sexual conversation between a group of my fifth graders. Suffice it to say that the word they were bandying about didn’t enter my lexicon until I was about 14. Now, I was a late bloomer, but yikes. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation with the students’ parents, and I found it increasingly difficult to even utter the word (it rhymes with some) to them knowing each’s background, values, and parenting style varied so dramatically. 

However, one of the fifth grade teachers, a mom of three small children and someone whose professionalism and grace I respect, provided me a tagline that Don Draper and his merry band of narcissistic ad execs would be proud of. 

That’s a conversation for parents to have with their children, and now that opportunity has been taken from them.

While the grown ups in school act in loco parentis for the grown ups at home, oftentimes in a far more functional way, we can’t protect against everything. Conversations like the one this group of kids had happen every day on campuses across the nation, so whether it’s about an oversized, and presumably over caffeinated, man delivering presents (or coal) to children around the world or about the slang term for what happens at the end of sex, we know they’re talking. 

And the answer is not to stop them. It’s to remind them and their families, that Santa, and a host of other things real or imagined, is still a mystery for many of their friends. 

We need to let those mysteries be solved by the proper detectives. Unless, of course, Fred, Thelma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scoob are available. Then, just call them.

Have a wonderful holiday season, friends!

Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame is available on Amazon!

Funny how?

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series in which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do.

The thing about teaching is if you do it long enough you’ll have taught every character archetype imaginable. It’s like being in a never-ending Steven Soderbergh film. For me, there’s a Super Bowl MVP, a murderer, a kick ass video game designer, a model, an award winning writer, and so many others.

Pat Barker sat to my right, about three or four seats back, as a senior in my English class. He was self-effacing, sharp, and far smarter than he gives himself credit for. His humor was too bright for scatalogical laziness, too witty for a typical high school audience. So, he bided his time, tried traditional adulting, and ended up exactly where he is supposed to be. Like so many other #formerstudentFriday posts, Pat’s winding path was the most direct.

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I wish someone had told me that this was an option. Or, more accurately, I wish I had been listening when they did.

When I say this, I mean the life I’m leading now. I’m currently in my seventh year in Los Angeles. In three days I start my new job as a writer and producer for a TV show on Fox Sports One. A couple months ago I wrapped my last job as a writer for the Comedy Central Roast of Alec Baldwin. Between those jobs, I was a full-time Uber driver – a very common story in the notoriously “feast or famine” world of Hollywood. I went from writing jokes that made Robert DeNiro laugh on a Saturday to driving strangers to the airport on Monday. I’ve lived this reality for the last seven years, and there’s no place I’d rather be in life. I know because for the seven years before that, I did the exact opposite.

When I started high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be. Maybe an accountant? My uncle was an accountant, and he made good money. Drove a Lexus. That’s a nice car. Accountant it was! Until I took a few accounting classes in high school and realized something – being an accountant sucks. Sorry to anyone reading this that ended up in that field. I’m sure you love it, the thrill of balancing debits and credits and all that. But it just wasn’t for me.

When I started college, I still had no idea what I wanted to be. Maybe I should get into business management? Managing businesses seemed like a “successful guy thing.” So I registered for that as my major, thinking that my worst case scenario was changing my mind and my major the next year. Wrong. Worst case scenario, as it happened, was graduating and getting a degree in a field I just didn’t care about. I went through all five years (yeah I know it’s only supposed to take four, shut up), took all the classes, had no passion toward the subject matter, and graduated. Then I took a job managing a CVS – a job that I’d hold for seven years – and did it every day, even though I had no passion for it. I did it because I thought that’s what life was. I didn’t even realize how much I hated it at the time, because I didn’t think there was any realistic alternative.

The alternative had been under my nose the whole time. I started doing standup comedy as a junior in college, and it turns out that I was pretty good at it. I quickly rose through the ranks of the still-developing Philadelphia comedy scene, and by the time I was 26 I was a big fish in a pretty small pond. I absolutely loved doing stand-up, and the contrast with my professional life was so stark it was ridiculous. I was just too close to see it. I had my “real life” – 50-60 hours a week, good yearly salary, benefits, the whole deal. Then I moonlighted as a comedian, a career that seemed like an absolute pipe dream even as I was achieving it. There’s no stability in comedy, and therefore I never saw it as a viable career option. So here I am, with a thing that I’m passionate about and really good at, and I’m just putting it off to go in at 6 AM and unload trucks to set up the Tide display. Crazy, in retrospect.

In 2013, CVS scheduled an inventory on my birthday. Inventory was always insane – managers would typically work around the clock to make sure their store was in immaculate condition. I worked 36 straight days leading up to that inventory, and on my 30th birthday I celebrated by telling my district manager I wanted to transfer to a store in LA. This officially started my new life.

I only lasted three months at the CVS out here. It sucked, and it wasn’t what I moved here for. I took a job at a warehouse instead, then transitioned into Uber driving. As I worked my way down the career ladder, I started succeeding more in the entertainment industry. Somehow, it all led to me doing more cool shit than I ever thought possible and making a real living in the process.

The moral here, I suppose, is that there’s no universally correct path. I’m sure there are accountants out there who are reading this from their Lexus and thinking, “damn, this guy’s an idiot.” Fair. But this life, with all of its uncertainty, works for me. I spent so much time worrying about being “realistic” that I never considered being happy. I’m a father now, and I can’t wait to tell my son he can do anything he wants with his life. My parents told the same thing to me. Wish I didn’t take 30 years to listen. 

But hey, better late than never.

Pat Barker is a comedian and writer. Since beginning his standup career in 2005, he has gone on to appear on Comedy Central and the NFL Network, as well as release a full-length album titled “Nice Jokes”.” Pat has also written for HBO, Fox Sports, SpikeTV, Comedy Central’s Roast of Alec Baldwin, and four straight years of Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” award show. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where he lives with his wife and two-year-old son.

Journapist

True confession of a lifelong educator: I can’t do anything else

And I don’t mean that in a fun-loving way. I mean I have no discernible skills outside of education. I can barely hammer a nail, I struggle with basic math, I have exactly zero interest in cars, business, or medicine. I’m a terrible salesman. 

There’s a great Seinfeld scene in which George is trying to figure out his next career move after quitting his real estate gig abruptly. Though completely farcical, it hits a little too close to home for yours truly. 

While there’s power and pride in knowing you were put on this Earth to do one thing, it is also terribly humbling and more than a bit intimidating to know you were put on this Earth to do one thing. 

But hope is not lost. 

During one of my “walk and talks,” a way for me to connect with kids outside the walls of our building, a 4th grader with whom I work often provided me with what could be a possible career backup plan should this whole education thing go awry. 

Me: Tell me about what’s different for you since I got here. 

Him: I dunno. The last principal wasn’t a therapist like you. 

Me: Buddy, I’m not a therapist.

Him (after long pause): Well, you could be.

And there you have it. All the eggs in my educational basket were cracked by a 4th grader who associates his time with me as therapy. 

I’ll take it. 

Actually, despite my self-effacing commentary to the contrary, I often say that if I weren’t an educator, I’d be in the psychology field. I find it all fascinating and can picture myself wearing a tweed, elbow-patched blazer, puffing on a tobacco-less pipe, sitting in a gigantic leather chair as I opine, “Tell me about your relationship with your mother.”

Frankly, this field demands that we have a touch of therapist in our delivery and approach. Kids need to feel heard and advocated for by someone other than their parents. Ask any random sampling of people about their favorite teachers and you’ll inevitably hear about how those teachers made kids feel

But there’s yet another facet to our work as educators: the journalist. 

Communicating with parents, though not explicitly covered in pre-service lecture halls, is one of the most important, if not challenging, parts of our job. And for those of us who have a touch of therapist in our Edu DNA, that communication can become, well, confusing. 

Reporting a student’s transgression should be simple. Give the day and time, the circumstance, and the punishment, if applicable. But as journapists, we have an innate desire to coax, cajole, and counsel our way through those conversations. Sometimes we have to steel ourselves against some common refrains.

As a parent, I get it…

He’s still a kid and kids make mistakes…

I would (insert blinding pearl of wisdom)…

The thing is, the more we speak to parents, the more journapist we become, like going to the gym but for social-emotional learning. 

It’s Tuesday morning at 5:45am.

Our time is up. 

Jailbreak!

As a kid, I couldn’t wait until Friday night. Without the specter of another school day looming, my friends and I would play “Jailbreak” for hours on end, losing time and making memories. The street on which I grew up, Princeton Road, was full of kids, fifteen to be exact, separated by five consecutive houses. Add to that our friends who would come from all over town to play in our weekly game, and we could easily be mistaken for the kids from Lord of the Flies, without all that pesky murder.

For the uninitiated, the rules of Jailbreak are simple. Two teams decide on a playing area, a grid, in which one can hide. Then, one team tries to capture the other and keep them in jail. However, despite being captured, players can be freed by a teammate who approaches the jail, avoids the sentry on duty, and touches the jail while yelling, “Jailbreak!” Once all the members of that team are captured, the teams switch roles. The beauty of the game is that there are no winners and losers because it is just as fun to hide as it is to seek, so the game can go on for hours.

In our case, it went on for years. 

For me, the intrigue of jailbreak was in the darkness. Playing a game at night seemed somehow dangerous, somehow adult, like being in the very same yards in which we played wiffle ball during the day made us renegades. The darkness made what once was familiar an undiscovered frontier full of danger and wonder. Moreover, it was never in my own yard that I would prefer to hide. To do so would be commonplace, safe. 

As I hid from my captors, I remember tiptoeing around backyards just noticing things. 

The Thomases rarely used lights at night, so how did they see?

The O’Brien yard always had way more fallen branches and detritus than any other yard. 

The Johnsons’ was the only yard with a chain link fence surrounding it.

The Kramers’ yard had a majestic treehouse, which no one ever used. 

The Fishers’ yard, like the people inside, just seemed sad. 

Make no mistake, there’s something special about a backyard at night. Whether you’re supposed to be there or not, the yard maintains its integrity, its personality.

This is what it’s like when you visit another teacher’s classroom. You know what to expect, you know how things are supposed to look, but somehow you know very little else. 

At first, a cursory glance around the room provides a backdrop for the class and teacher personality: walls adorned with content specific visuals, anchor charts, and character ed reminders; a desk with understated glimpses into the teacher’s personal life or a slew of yet-to-be-scored papers; desks in rows or pods; a box of tissues or band-aids. 

Then, watch that teacher in action. Notice how she pulls a small group to the back table and is still able to manage the other 20 kids during centers. Listen to the subtle way she compliments a student after an answer that had absolutely nothing to do with the question. Marvel at how his affect and intonation are the only classroom management strategies he needs. Steal every great idea that teacher has.

Next, watch the kids. Better yet, only watch the kids. Whose constant movement and inattentiveness are you noticing again and again? Which kids are natural leaders, able to lead and carry group work through to presentation? Whom are you just now noticing for the first time as if she just transferred in yesterday? Whose parents do you need to call to thank them for sharing their amazing kid with you daily?

It’s funny. Back then, I would have done anything to not get caught during Jailbreak. Now, I will do whatever I can to make sure that I’m seen.

Get Better

Enough was enough. 

A year-long slump at the plate destroyed my confidence, forced me to move myself from the leadoff spot to the bottom of the order, and kicked my Imposter Syndrome into hyperdrive. If I had a closed umbrella in my hand, it became a bat as I took phantom swings around town. If I could sneak away for 30 minutes, I would take swings off the tee. If I was on social media, I found myself scrolling through baseball feeds, breaking down swings and trying to pick up anything to save my own. 

Finally, I pulled the trigger on a most humbling decision. 

I asked a teammate to film me swinging in the cage. 

And it wasn’t pretty. 

While I’ll spare you what I identified as the (glaring) problem, the video allowed me to break the fourth wall and provided me inside access to my own shortcomings. What’s more is my teammate filmed me in slow motion, allowing me to analyze (read: obsess) over every part of my swing. 

The result, last Sunday, was a respectable 1-3 and a renewed sense that I don’t, in fact, suck. 

Blessed with the kind of staff who is constantly “filming itself,” albeit not in the literal sense, my job is to be the cameraman and to offer the kind of honest, unfiltered feedback an actual camera would provide. Moreover, everything from pre-observation conferences to “hey-do-you-have-a-second” conversations are opportunities for each of us to get better, so the camera, as it were, should always be pointing both ways. 

Let’s imagine, however, a world in which getting better didn’t even dawn on me. 

I continue to insert myself in the leadoff spot despite my performance and the numbers screaming at me to the contrary. Each game, I am an assumed out, and in the leadoff spot that’s likely four outs a game, setting a negative tone and providing no lead for the rest of the lineup to follow. I am an albatross and everyone knows it, but, meh, I don’t want to get better. Maybe things will just change. 

As a leader, I simply have too much to do to invest in getting better, so I complete observations, run monthly drills, attend district meetings, and call home when kids get in trouble. My staff rarely has questions for me, knows little about me outside of school, and dreads any interaction with me that isn’t mandated by contract or necessity. I am an albatross and everyone knows it, but, meh, I don’t want to get better. Maybe things will just change. 

For me, and I’d like to think for most of us, getting better isn’t a final destination as much as a series of weigh stations on a perpetual journey. Moreover, wanting to get better isn’t synonymous with admitting failure; in fact, wanting to get better is the most important step to staving off failure.  

For the record, my swing is messed up because I keep lunging, causing me to become off balance.

But that’s a topic for another post. 

Want more leadership ideas? Pick up a copy of Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame today!

Space Invaders

Let’s face it. They’re everywhere. 

In the gym, they stand directly in front of the weight rack while completing an exercise, making it impossible to access what you need. 

In the supermarket, they leave their carts in the middle of the aisle, usually on a diagonal, while they browse a shelf, daring you to breach their line of demarcation. 

At the soccer field, they meander behind you, cell phone in hand, discussing loudly how they’ll break it to the kids that sometimes grown ups make mistakes and have to “go away for a while.”

At the concert, they assault your field of vision with repeated selfie sessions while singing largely inaccurate lyrics.

They are the Space Invaders, and like their video game namesake, they just keep coming. 

What’s even more menacing is there are two types of Space Invaders: those who know exactly who and what they are and simply don’t care and those who have no idea they take up the space they do. The former are beyond reproach and the latter are simply clueless.

So where does that leave the rest of us who just want to grab a bottle of Hidden Valley Fat Free Ranch off the shelf and be on our way. 

The answer, my friends, is not to fix or cure the Space Invaders; rather, we need to practice self-awareness to the point at which we don’t become Space Invaders. 

Presence

What true Space Invaders are incapable of understanding is how their physical presence affects those around them. Whether they constantly hover over a particular student’s desk or find themselves parked in a familiar spot in the faculty lounge, Invaders can dictate a mood, a day, or a culture. 

Be mindful of your presence as often as possible. Consider if a disaffected kid needs you to move closer or to stay away. Think about how often you speak during group conversations or staff meetings. Ask yourself if your staff would describe your presence as hovering or lording. 

Swivel

Space Invaders tend to lock in on a certain target and allow the rest of the world to melt away around them. In some ways this can be a virtue as they are keenly focused on what’s in front of them, often literally. 

To borrow from my former life as a basketball coach, keep your head on a swivel. Build an awareness of what’s going on around you, both the seen and unseen, to determine if you’re invading space or if someone needs you in their space immediately. 

Reflect

Like their video game namesake, Space Invaders don’t have time for all that pesky reflection. Because they’re so laser focused on what is, it doesn’t dawn on them to consider what was or what will be. They just keep invading, daring the world to stop them.

For the rest of us, reflection is what helps us determine how to best use our space daily. Whether it’s through a journal, a blog, or a happy hour, reflecting on the space we inhabit for and with our schools is what keeps us from joining forces with the Invaders. And for the daring few (like me), it’s totally worth it to ask your teachers what they need and expect an honest response. If that response is, “yeah, man, you’re kinda all up in my business, and I need you to back off,” then stand down. 

Whether they’re pixelated and falling from a digital sky or wearing a sharp pants suit and standing uncomfortably close to your clearly private discussion, Space Invaders aren’t going anywhere.

So be warned, friends. And if you are an Invader, kindly let the rest of us through. We come in peace.

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