A Warning Message to Principals and Superintendents-Before You Plan Your Next School Year

The year was 1986.

It was, surprisingly, a cold day in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center.

Adults and children from all over the country were on the edge of their seats for what they were about to witness: Christa McAuliffe becoming the 1st teacher to enter outer space, along with 6 other astronauts from NASA.

The countdown ensued-”T minus 10.9.8.7.6. We have main engines start. 4.3.2.1. And Lift off. Lift off of the 25th space shuttle mission!”

History_ChallengeSpace_Shuttle_Disaster_40614_SF_HD_still_624x352
The History Channel

The ground shook as the spaceship separated from its base. The nearby crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

73 seconds later, those cheers turned to screams.

The rocket boosters veered off to the left and right. Then, a giant explosion and ball of fire in the middle. Debris began to fall through the sky as a nightmare became a reality. The Challenger had exploded and all 7 astronauts were dead.

Why did the Challenger turn into a disaster? It was the O ring in the right rocket booster.

challenger-SRBs
clearthinking.co

Because of the low 53 degree temperature, there was a break in the ring. It let out pressurized burning gas into some of the hardware and external fuel tank.

In essence, fire spread and the result was catastrophic.

 

A LEADERSHIP LESSON FOR PRINCIPALS AND SUPERINTENDENTS

If you are a school or district leader, a big part of your summer is visioneering and prepping for the upcoming school year-hiring, budgeting, scheduling, and mission statements.

This year, I encourage you to plan with the Challenger Disaster in mind. There is a lesson in leadership to be learned from this tragedy:

You can’t reach a big goal if your staff isn’t built to withstand the conditions.

NASA and the spaceship were not prepared for the change in weather. Similarly, there may be many teachers in your school who are very passionate, but not fully equipped for the education climate ahead of them. Many of us start each school year with big dreams to reach the stars and we end up in flames a few weeks after blast off. It’s been estimated that up to 50% of us quit within the 1st five years of teaching.

Think about the fiscal cost of consistent career casualties-the cycle of recruiting, hiring, and retraining teachers.

Burnout is expensive, time-consuming, and debilitating for school leaders and the overall goals in education.

So how can an administrator create a more survivable and sustainable working environment?

A CONTROLLED BURN

For the Challenger, the problem was caused by an uncontrollable fire that spread and consumed it.

In a school setting, if you want your spaceship to make it to the stars, it’s going to be because of your teachers. You have to help contain burnout. 

So that’s the solution to the problem of teacher burnout-a controlled burn.

I truly believe we should begin looking at teacher development more expansively. There are a lot of PD’s out there to help teachers become better teachers, but none that help teachers live better lives. We should care as much about the wellbeing of teachers as we do students, because the two are intertwined.

As school leaders, you can help teachers set boundaries this school year so that they can continue to soar with kids. This can be done by helping them pursue effectiveness and happiness in every domain of their life, not just in teaching. There are 4 domains in all:

  1. Social happiness, when you have a network of connections that includes your spouse, children, friends, fellow teachers, boss, and students.
  2. Career happiness, when school is meaningful and enjoyable. You feel like you are using your gifts to serve others and contribute to a cause bigger than yourself.
  3. Physical and emotional happiness, when you are getting enough food, sleep, exercise, and time for thought.
  4. Financial happiness, when you can provide for yourself and your family. You have a positive mindset about money, and you are smart about spending, saving, and investing.

HOW THE BALANCED TEACHER PATH BOOK AND PD CAN HELP

IMG_0904I recently released my 1st book, The Balanced Teacher Path, with Free Spirit. It’s been featured nationally in Education Week and in The Miami Herald.

This is a deeply personal book, where I confess my own battle with burnout, depression, anxiety, and a prescription drug addiction, which ultimately landed me in rehab at the end of the 2014 school year after serving as the North Carolina History Teacher of the Year in 2013.

The meat of the book gives practical strategies I learned from recovery and research that could help any teacher. A few of the current favorites teach readers how to…

  • avoid vampire teacher attacks
  • be Wonder Woman and not Superman
  • swallow feedback from the principal
  • take family field trips
  • deal with discipline issues quietly
  • find your teacher flow
  • reclaim your recess
  • survive the zombie teacher apocalypse
  • set up a ‘step below’ budget plan

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 2.20.50 PMI’m getting testimonies from teachers and administrators across the country who calling it an all-time favorite and using it as a spark for life change. It’s restoring health, marriages, finances, and improving teacher effectiveness. It’s keeping teachers in the classroom with a smile, and happy teachers make happy students.

If you are interested in purchasing The Balanced Teacher Path, it’s available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. My publisher is running a discount on bulk purchases if you want a copy for every teacher at your school or in your school district.

Message me on Facebook if you’re interested or email me at justinfashley@gmail.com. I’m available for trainings, too. You can shoot me an email or go to justinfashley.com for more info.

DISCOVERY, NOT THE CHALLENGER

Christa-Mcauliffe
arabamerica.com

Once Christa McAuliffe made it into orbit, she was planning on using videos to teach students about outer space, from space. Tragically, she never got the opportunity.

Looking back, there may have been some teacher casualties under your leadership, some school years that were disastrous and out of control for you and your staff. You had several teachers quit or transfer. Your proficiency or growth scores dropped dramatically. The achievement gap widened. Discipline issues skyrocketed, etc. etc.

Whatever the failures were in past missions, if you help your teachers with work/life balance now, you can give them better odds to withstand adversarial conditions and carry out the school vision in the future.

space-shuttle-discovery-1988
NY Daily News

Almost 3 years after the Challenger exploded, the Discovery Space Shuttle was launched from the same site in Florida.

As it neared the point in the sky where the Challenger took a turn for the worse, I imagined the astronauts and NASA staff flash backed to that devastating day in 1986, fearing they would fail again, but the spaceship kept soaring. It kept climbing higher and higher, all the way to space.

 

Why? For starters, the weather was warmer. Also, technological adjustments had been made. Lessons had been learned and applied. Essentially, they were now built for the conditions they faced.

As the school leader, you are at the helm. You are in charge of the controls. Teachers are on your spaceship. There’s students, too.

My hope is that your upcoming school year will be your Discovery, and not your Challenger.

How Electronic Devices Mess with Your Teaching Life (And How You Can Fight It)

A recent research study on technology use revealed that on average, adults checks their phone 85 times a day. 85!

The saddest part is a lot of that phone time is spent in the company of others, especially our family. How does this addictive phone checking impact a teacher’s family life at home?

Imagine a student with their phone in class…

  • responding to texts every time it vibrates while you’re teaching
  • sending silly selfies through Snapchat during group work
  • playing Candy Crush during the test

That distracted kid might pick up on some of the content being covered in class, but there would be a lot of gaps in their learning. The impact for teachers at home is no different.

For students, too much technology distracts them from learning. For teachers at home, it distracts us from loving and connecting.

How You Can Fight It

  1. Take all email off your phone.

Scrolling through your inbox on the couch may not seem like a big deal, but what if you read a spiteful message from a parent that gets you fired up? Or what if your principal asks you to turn in something by the end of the week? Then what happens?

That email can drop your mood, increasing your anxiety for several hours while you’re with your family, when you really shouldn’t be worried about it until you are back at work the next day.

Check your email 1st thing in the morning when you get to school and before you leave each day. You don’t check for mail from the post office 20 times a day and you don’t have to check your email more than once or twice either.

  1. Have designated storage spots in high-traffic rooms of your home.

If you keep your phone in your pocket or sit it beside you, you are going to be more likely to pick it up. Out of sight, out of mind, so have a place picked out in each room to place it while you’re cooking or helping your kids’ with homework.

If you are in the kitchen, put it on the counter by your keys. You can still keep it in the same room in case you need it, but make accessing it just a little more inconvenient than normal.

  1. Make Screen Swaps.

I learned from a movie called Screenagers that the reason we check Facebook every few minutes is because we are craving a boost in serotonin via new notifications-comments from friends and personal messages.

So cutting down on phone checks is just half the battle. We also have to replace them with a separate activity that provides the same serotonin boost.

img_0459In Reset Your Child’s Brain, Victoria Dunckley suggests a tip that can benefit adults as much as kid-stocking up on kinesthetic, tangible things-board games, comic books, magazines-and having these on hand throughout the house. Pick these items up instead of your phone and you still get that jump in happy juice.

  1. Use wallpapers, backgrounds, and screensavers as redirections back to your family.

My wife recently gave me an Apple Watch for my birthday. I love it of course, but I was checking ESPN a lot, receiving text messages, and scrolling through emails, even at the dinner table.

I realized it was getting out of hand and decided to delete all the apps from my watch, except for one-the Photo app.

I made an album with 100 photos on my phone of my all-time favorite family pics (at the beach, graduations, basketball games, and on our wedding day) and linked the album to my watch-making it the Watch Face.img_0458

That’s the only purpose now for the device. Every time I bring my wrist up, a picture from the family album pops up. It makes me smile and redirects my attention back to the people around me, the most important part of my life.

No messages. No emails. No distractions. Just fam.

Sometimes I also check the time, but that’s it.

img_0457I read a book by Richard Freed, called Wired Child, where he shared a prophetic quote from John F. Kennedy about technology. He said technology has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man.” (and woman)

By strategizing and limiting your phone use, you are using it to your advantage rather than giving it power over your personal life.

For more tips on tech use and work/life balance, my 1st book, The Balanced Teacher Path, is available for pre-order now! Support me by ordering it from the publisher, Free Spirit. Also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target.

The 1 Decision That Transformed My Family

A few years ago, I remember typing up lesson plans for the first week of school as the summer was coming to an end.

My family was spending our last summer day at play while I was trying to get ahead for work.

My planning spot was on the dock of a lake. My wife was sunning herself beside me. My four-year-old son, Cole, was jumping around on a giant water tube, tied to the dock.

To him, it wasn’t a water tube. It was his pirate ship. He waved his sword around as he protected his treasure from an imaginary Captain Hook in the water.

Then he stopped abruptly. “Daddy,” he begged, “can you stop working and play pirate ship with me?”

He wanted me to join his crew.

“Not right now, maybe later.” I insisted.

He frowned for a second and started playing again without me. I knew he meant well, but he was a distraction. I had too much prep work for school.

After an hour or so, I decided to take a break. I plugged my headphones into my phone and hit the play button on Laura Vanderkam’s audiobook about what the most successful people do on the weekends. How fitting, or so I thought.

Her first point hit me hard: We’re not really living in the weekend when we spend it prepping for the workweek. The most successful people don’t put off enjoying the weekend until they are less busy. They do it now.

I flashed back to what I had said to my son when he wanted to play, Maybe later.

11357121_10101957322701777_3722685524054468080_oThen I thought, Maybe not later, maybe now.

I turned my phone off and closed my laptop.

I yelled out to my son as I ran toward him, “Captain Cole, look out for the cannonball!” His eyes were as wide as an owl’s when I jumped off the dock and crashed into the water just beside him.

When I came up with water spewing, he was laughing uncontrollably. We spent the rest of the afternoon paddling around, fighting Captain Hook and searching for gold doubloons.

Later that night, I finished listening to the audiobook. It offered another tip for getting the most out of weekends:

Plan fun events that get you out of the house and keep you busy. I’ve come to refer to them as Family Field Trips.

On the way home the next day, my wife and I wrote down a list of 50 places we could travel as a family within a 2 hour radius of our home. We started taking our Family Field Trips the next weekend and we’ve been hitting the road pretty regularly ever since.

11010295_10101809732413897_5908070111211836526_nWe’ve chilled with Hugo at the Charlotte Hornets game.

10592686_10101530915734757_5918156526517522382_nWe’ve hit up the mountains in Asheville.

11038652_10101864816719507_7466305263163151959_oWe’ve stood under the same waterfalls where Katniss and Peeta hid in The Hunger Games.

10612631_10101561252694247_279980953322052667_nAnd we’ve shoveled out handfuls of food to giddy llamas at the zoo.

TBH, these trips have been a game-changer for my family.

There’s a deep connection that wasn’t there before-the stories, the memories, the shared experiences. And it all began with a decision to close my laptop and do a canon ball beside my son.

The teacher struggle is real. If you’re spending large chunks of weekend time on schoolwork, or you’re feeling burnt out through the workweeks, think about how Family Field Trips can help:

  • you are forced to have fun because you can’t take the schoolwork with you
  • you will feel more recharged and be more efficient for the workweek that follows
  • you will create a stronger bond with your family

Here’s how you can get started:

  1. the-family-field-trip-planMake a Family Field Trip Plan

By yourself or with your family, create a list of places you want to travel.

Try to come up with at least fifty places,
each within a 2 hour radius of your home. Setting a limit on the travel time saves you the added expense of an overnight hotel stay.  Use the  
Family Field Trip Plan Mini-Poster on my website under the Free Stuff tab at justinfashley.com.

  1. Keep the Plan in a Highly Visible Location.

Place your plan on the fridge or in the corner of your bathroom mirror. Put it anywhere in the house that works for you, so long as you’ll see it often.

Our list stays in our kitchen, just above our key box. Every time I drop my car keys off or pick them up from Monday to Friday, I get excited about the family vacation that awaits.

  1. Take at least 1 Trip Each Month.

Commit to an excursion on the regular, whether it’s once a weekend or every month.

The goal is not to take all 50 field trips in a year; it’s to build a habit of spending time with your family.

Still to this day, my son will sometimes stop and remind me about our pirate excursion on the lake. He refers to it as “The Best Day Ever.” It was as awesome for me as it was for him. And to think, it almost didn’t happen because I wanted to get ahead on a few lesson plans for the upcoming school week. What moments are you missing out on to get ahead?

Your weekend belongs to you-not your principal, your district, your students, or their parents-so own it.  

Escape. Get out of your house or apartment. You’ll discover a special part of yourself where your schoolwork can’t follow.

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***The Balanced Teacher Path is available for pre-order now! Support me by ordering it from the publisher, Free Spirit. Also available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Target.

Excerpted from The Balanced Teacher Path: How to Teach, Live, and Be Happy by Justin Ashley, copyright © 2017. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.