I’m Not a Businessman

It has been an emotional and challenging rookie year, but I made it to my first winter break as a high school Assistant Principal.

Among my many notable experiences so far:

  • a gaffe that landed us some unwanted local and national media attention, and elicited painful accusations of racism
  • a post-election community event that included about a dozen community organizations, a dozen immigration and civil rights lawyers, and a few city leaders
  • a handful of uncomfortable conversations with colleagues around performance
  • struggling to gain traction with our school’s intervention team
  • learning about our district’s $74 million projected budget shortfall and the tenuous employment status of the district’s many new employees, including my own

I am savoring this opportunity to reflect on the ups-and-downs of the still new school year, because there are so few opportunities to stop and think. Leaders in public education often preach the value of reflection and its invaluable role in improving practice system wide, but I have found it nearly impossible to put their advice to practice during the normal ebb and flow of the regular school day. Thankfully, winter break affords everyone the elusive chance to reflect.

Of particular interest to me right now is how I understand the nature of my job. There are some who believe the school leader should model their work after business executives, who maintain a results-oriented culture. Others find the school-leader-as-doctor model more compelling, particularly for the emphasis it places on promoting healing and wellness.

While both capture important and often overlooked functions of the role, I don’t think either capture what I aspire to in my work. My vocation is to shepherd, to lead and guide, and provide care. I fight for a more just world, and do everything I can to ensure that everyone within my fold – students and staff alike – have what they need to thrive. My job is to help people believe that a better future is possible, and to know how to wield the tools to make it so.

That’s why I find it most helpful to think of my work as pastoral.

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michelle, mom-ified

to kill time at the airport this weekend, carrie and i hung around the bookstores to read magazines. and as we perused all the covers, i was amazed by the sheer number of articles about michelle obama. 

there were articles about her perfectly toned arms, her fashion sense (j-crew must be really cashing in..), and her romantic getaways with the president. one article was about michelle as a wide-eyed woman beginning her new, luxurious life in dc. some columnists debated if it’d be more appropriate for michelle to wear sleeved garments; others praised her mothering skills.

all the while, i was left wondering where’s the real michelle obama, because i’m not convinced that this “mom-ified” version actually exists. where’s the michelle that campaigned with her husband, the one whose oratory skills rivaled the president’s? where is the brilliant individual who earned degrees from princeton and harvard law, who worked at a big law firm and a big hospital, who held strong political opinions, and who had a big powerful voice? you wouldn’t know it from reading her headlines, but i suspect she uses her cognitive abilities for far more than just fashion choices.

sadly, that michelle is gone. while i recognize that there are political reasons why the white house wants her to be portrayed a certain way, i can’t help but think she could act as a role model for more individuals than just women who want nicer arms.

president barack obama

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when i was rooting for john kerry four years ago, i remember being blown away by a young senator from illinois, so much so that i actually prayed he would one day run for president. i did so never believing america would actually elect a black man who’s last name rhymed with the most infamous in american history. as i read earlier — today, barack obama is the first son of africa to ever lead a nation-state outside of africa. i couldn’t help but feel really happy for a teary-eyed jesse jackson, as he watched a man achieve what he fought his whole life to make possible. while i’m normally too skeptical to get emotional watching a political figure give a speech, i was moved by the moment, and moved by what barack obama could represent. i may be a total sucker, but i must confess: obama inspires me, my heart is full of hope, and i’m truly proud to be american.  

it has been a terrible last eight years. we endured the worst president in american history. our country has been thrown into an unpopular war and an economic depression, and we lost the respect of the world. so the euphoria i feel tonight is tempered by reality: obama has set unrealistic expectations for himself and he will inevitably let us down; he will at some point make an unpopular decision, and his supporters will second-guess him. he has an enormous challenge ahead of him; still, i am nevertheless confident that there is no one in the world better for the job. rather than painting a fairy tale about how much easier life will be if he becomes president, he asks for all americans to give their best. the solemnity with which he spoke tonight, his humble posture toward those he disagrees with, and his unflappable demeanor all give me hope that we have indeed turned the page on a dark period of our history.  

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in my cgroup, we reflected on the idea that the kingdom of god is a subversive society here on earth, where small, insignificant people conspire with god to transform the world. and so while i choose to fully participate in the political process, i must take the time to affirm that my allegiance is always with god’s kingdom, the only true hope of the world; so i will follow through with what i resolved to do before this election was decided: no matter who is president, no matter how upset or euphoric i may feel, i will continue to conspire with god, know my calling, and be faithful to it.

political coverage = sports + reality tv

i recently got cable tv, and every now and then, I tune into the cable news channels to watch coverage of the presidential election.  

and today, i decided to watch some coverage of tonight’s debate.  

it sounded strangely reminiscent of the weekly pre-game show for monday night football.  

they were talking about tactical strategies. obama should attack mccain by doing this. mccain should counter obama’s attack by doing that. mccain looks like he’s going to take risks going down field, obama looks like the more confident player.

then, they cut to a sideline reporter who asked the screaming crowd decked out in the paraphernalia of their favorite presidential team who they thought would win, at which point everyone goes nuts screaming their heads off, high fiving one another, and spilling their beer all over themselves.  

msnbc talked about who had the home field advantage. cnn actually came up with a live scoring system.

after the debate tonight, there will be much discussion about who won the debate. then, there will be a lot of political posturing, maneuvering, spinning, and other worthless PR moving designed to dupe the thoughtless among us. 

then, on november 4, america will be polled to determine who will be voted off the island.

thinking good thoughts isn’t good enough

while i was in school, it became increasingly en vogue for christians to “engage the culture.” this was novel at the time, since christians would more commonly withdraw from culture into a safe enclave of fellow believers. leaving the enclave to engage with the larger culture was refreshing.

but this had some problems (not the least of which is the fact that there’s no such thing as THE larger culture). according to andy crouch, engaging the culture today is almost synonymous with merely thinking about the culture, with the frequently false assumption being that action would come soon after reflection. the belief was that cultural artifacts like film, art, music, etc. emerge from deeply-rooted philosophical beliefs/world-view, and we must study these because they should be engaged rather than ignored. but when trying to engage the culture by watching movies and viewing contemporary art, the viewer gets better at thinking deep thoughts (thank you CHID!), but gains no such wisdom in how to participate in the hustle and bustle of creating culture, which is where i think the task of cultural engagement actually lies.

so, when talking about addressing america’s social ills like racism, sexism, etc., you may have heard people say, “we just gotta change people’s world-views” via dialogue, criticism, or some events that promote awareness. the hope is that an increase in awareness (or change of world-view, thought) will lead to new cultural artifacts (like laws) that address said social ills. it isn’t enough to critique & expose racist representations in the media. it’s not enough to think good thoughts — the impact of the best social criticism will never rival the cultural impact of the ipod. so i’m starting to wonder if we’ve got it backwards — the task of changing an internal world-view actually begins with the external development of new cultural artifacts, and not the other way around.

don miller @ the dnc

don miller gives the benediction at the dnc – very cool.

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.