Men are to be the provider, the protector, a leader and a teacher for their family. After this past 4th of July, I question my manhood.

I have always had an issue with two critical sources of life, electricity and fire, specifically hot electric wires and fireworks. This “internal issue” was witnessed first hand by my nine year old daughter Devyn on the 4th of July. We were at a friends house for a barbecue and a relative of the host brought fireworks. The list of goods included bottle rockets, Roman Candles and sparklers (more my speed).

As we ventured outside my brave daughter, who hates loud noises, brought her headphones so she could be part of the celebration. I opened the hatch of our car so she could sit comfortably inside as I leaned on the bumper.

Let me set the scene for you. This community is beautiful and well populated with houses on top of houses. There are cars parked all up and down the street and five teenagers are playing basketball right out front of the house. My four year old son is running around kicking the soccer ball and occasionally chasing down the basketball with no sense of danger. We decide that right in the middle of this chaos will be the launching pad for the fireworks display. Genius!

The first round of bottle rockets demonstrated that we as a group, struggled with the concept of safety as we used a soda as the launching pad. As a result, no rocket followed the same path twice. Multiple rockets landed on neighboring houses and at times never made it a few feet off the ground. The host, and dear friend, wisely traded the can for an oil funnel which acted as a much better launching pad. One of the teenage sons of the guests asked to light one of the fuses. After some instruction he successfully lit the fuse (which is at the bottom) of the rocket. My son cheered when it was announced that the rockets were all finished.

He was unaware that the rockets were just the warm-up as next the Roman Candles made an appearance. If you have never seen these just imagine a 12 inch candle stick that that holds fireballs that shoot out like a cannon! The candles are much louder than the bottle rockets. Each time a fuse was lit my son would say, “No thank you” as he covered ears and ran for cover.

A few rounds of candles were fired as the crowd of neighbors grew. The momentum quickly died as the adults focused their attention on the basketball game.

Out of the corner of my eye I happened to notice that the teen was attempting to lite a Roman Candle in the street. He was struggling to get the lighter lit and was lighting the candle with the fuse pointing towards him and the crowd. See where this is going?

When the fuse finally lit he held the candle towards the sky, like he saw everyone else, however he had the lit fuse facing towards him. It was like watching a movie as I thought, is that right? I yelled for him to turn it around. At this point others noticed what was going on and yelled as well. He looked at us and dropped his hands, luckily pointing the rocket away now. Unfortunately it was pointed at the basketball game where five teens were loving life including my son who was kicking the soccer ball through the crowd. Then a rocket went off and everyone scurried!

Realizing there was an issue he dropped the candle. There was a sigh of relief until I realized, there are still three rockets left. When it hit the ground it rolled slightly and now was facing right at me…well not just me, remember, my daughter was behind me in the hatch of the car.

As a rocket shot I moved to my right, skipping over the flame, ending up behind a parked car. A second fireball shot, again I jumped, staying behind the car.

That was the last one. As I looked up I noticed my daughter, alone, in a fetal position in shock. I went over to check on her and she said, “I need to go inside”. I walked her in, said I was sorry I wasn’t next to her, and felt like a massive failure.

As charter school leaders we face Roman Candle rockets every single day.

  • Ineffective employees
  • Upset parents
  • Broken HVAC systems
  • Compliance letters from the State
  • Bills we cannot pay
  • Irrelevant board member requests
  • Student attrition
  • Teachers who quit without notice

The list is never ending for some.

However, nothing was more clear to me than the similarities of the antecedent that brought this nightmare to a reality. The adults spent a few minutes teaching him how to use the lighter correctly and light the fuse of the bottle rocket. However, there was no teaching on the Roman Candle. Just a faulty assumption that he will figure it out.

If we would have spent two minutes reteaching the teen on how to light the candle, where to point it and the safety steps to take, there is no story to tell or harsh learning that takes place. Instead, I have had hours of anxiety and anguish thinking of all the ways I failed that young man, my daughter and myself.

Just a two minute follow up conversation and this mess would have been avoided. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, this is how many principals act as the instructional leader of their school. They place a dangerous weapon in the hands of the unequipped and assume the adults will figure it out because they have a college degree, a license, went through 60 minute training during the teacher workdays and “got a follow up memo”.  As a result, teachers work in isolation, forging their own methods of practice behind classroom doors left to invent their own knowledge base, unexamined, untested and typically not in alignment with their colleagues.

In Michael Fullan’s Breakthrough, he noted that “The flow of schooling is disrupted when there is a lack of alignment and coherence. Teachers and staff receive mixed messages when no one direction is pursued and communicated consistently overtime. When there is alignment there is a much greater likelihood of sustained progress” (p.30).

As you prepare for the 2017-2018 year take the time to write out responses to the following questions to ensure Roman Candles are not firing at you:

  • What classroom structures, routines and tools will be utilized in every classroom to deliver differentiated instruction and focused teaching on a daily basis?
  • What are you doing to ensure alignment and coherence flow through the halls of the school you are privileged to lead?
  • How will you calendar your week to ensure you are reteaching the skills and strategies necessary to ensure every teacher can (1) motivate students to learn, (2) utilize every minute of instructional time and (3) focus their teaching on where the students are, not where they should be.

Leadership is a choice, you can spend time each day teaching and reteaching adults the skills required to meet the goal or you can continue to allow the adults fire rockets at you and lick your wounds wondering what went wrong.

This blog was written by Dr. Thomas Miller as part of his Leadership Landmine series. If this blog added value to you feel free to share or comment below. 

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