Where am I hitting things with my tail?

Here is another takeaway from my short session with Frances Frei during my six day course, Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management at HBS.

She talked about the importance of leaders surrounding themselves with a strong leadership team who have the courage to give frank feedback. Leaders often cause problems even though the intentions might be good. I liked the way she phrased it. A leader needs to ask the leadership team, “Where am I hitting things with my tail?”

“You should understand it deeply, so you can explain it simply.” Frei on Effective Communication

Frances Frei shared these principles of effective communication during a seminar I took at HBS this summer:

  1. You need to understand it deeply
  2. So you can explain it simply
  3. They need to understand it in your absence
  4. And it should be understood by their family

If the receiver can get others to understand your message, then you have been successful in your communication.

“This is Episcopal”

DSC_0258 (1)When the school was considering moving from the Merion Campus out to Newtown square, everyone was worried that the alumni might be upset. In fact, when people first visited the new campus, many alumni commented that it was nice, but it “is not the school I attended.” With that context, you will perhaps understand why the following comment meant so much to me.

Jim Rhodes, Class of ’65, listened attentively to me, as I gave an update on the school’s progress and work. He said to the group, “After walking around, talking with the students, and seeing what is going on here today on this campus, I know in my heart that this is Episcopal.”

The buildings and locations have changed many times in our storied history, but our commitment to excellence has been a constant.

A Special Gift from the Old, Old Campus

A gift from the Class of 1965

A gift from the Class of 1965

This weekend at the dinner celebration of the Class of 1965, Peter Magee told the most wonderful story of Rudy, the janitor at the old Merion campus. Rudy had kept a lot of the artifacts that were to be thrown away when Episcopal Academy moved from Juniper Street in Philadelphia out to the Merion campus. Like many of the students over the years, Peter befriended Rudy. When looking through the things he had collected, Peter saw a wall clock from the Civil War era that once hung on the old campus. Peter asked Rudy if he could buy the clock from him and offered ten dollars. Rudy thought that was a lot of money for an old clock!

Peter eloquently shared this story with his classmates and me, and then said, “I have been holding on to this clock for all these years, waiting for the right time. Tonight, it seems like just the right time, and so we present this clock to you, T.J.” With a teary eye, I gladly accepted this precious artifact of our history. I was overwhelmed with the passion these alumni had for Episcopal, and I was honored they were asking me to continue the rich traditions of our great school.

A picture from the Locust Street gymnasium from the 19th Century. This may be the same clock that hung on the back wall.

A picture from the Locust Street gymnasium from the 19th Century. This may be the same clock that hung on the back wall.

“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.”

I recently had the opportunity to speak with our wonderful middle school students in chapel. My actual speech was perhaps a little different than the way I wrote it. I hope the kids took me up on my challenge!

“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.”

I heard this recently, and I honestly cannot remember where I was. Maybe I was at a teaching conference, listening to an inspiring educator. Maybe I was right here in chapel, listening to someone reflect on their past. The reason I don’t remember is because it is very common.

It is too common because sometimes, we do not appreciate all that we have, and we very often do not appreciate the things people do for us. In this case, the speaker was telling a story about how a former student came up to him decades later. Something had been gnawing at the student who was now an adult. He finally found the teacher and thanked him for all he did for him many years ago, and he also apologized for not having done it sooner.

“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.” A simple statement, but a powerful sentiment.

I don’t know if you know this, but my wife is a former teacher. She taught first grade for many years, and she recently received this email.

Hello!  This is an old student of yours (and I mean old)!  You had me for 1st grade in 1993. I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but I just wanted to let you know that you were by far the most caring and wonderful teacher I’ve ever had, and that to this day I think back to your classroom with a smile.  Just wanted to say thank you for being a wonderful person, and I hope you are doing well these days!

That email probably took her 30 seconds to write, but I will tell you my wife felt great for weeks!

I joined Facebook in January of 2008. I had to look it up. I remember hearing that all of my upper school students were using Facebook, and I wanted to see what it was all about. I assumed it was some silly thing for kids to use to gossip, but I was pleasantly surprised. I joined and people from my past started “friending” me, and it allowed me to catch up with everyone. But the biggest joy for me was when my former students and players I coached reached out and connected. They just wanted to say hello and see what I was up to. They shared their favorite memories of my classroom,  and they thanked me. It made me feel so good to know I made a difference. And the bonus for me was that many of them went on to become teachers.

Recently, a student I taught in 8th grade found me on Facebook and told me that he was constantly ridiculed as a kid because he was very short and because he was, in his words, “different.” He thanked me for always making him feel special and safe in my classroom. I cannot tell you how happy this made me.

An EA teacher just received a note from an alumna, who is about my age. Here is an excerpt of what she wrote about one of our teachers at Episcopal:

She was my physics teacher but she became so much more! She became my advisor and a great friend at EA. We all loved her dedication to making us believe we could do anything, even when it was really challenging…Most of all, though, we loved the love we got from her! She treated us all fairly and with a gentle hand and made us smile even in the midst of challenges. I remember her telling me that I could do anything because it was all possible and that I had talent within, even when high school got a little rough for me….She was a wonderful example of a great teacher, a great friend, and a great mentor.

When teachers hear something like this, it changes their lives.

So when I heard the story about the student finding his teacher many years later to thank him for making a difference but also apologizing for never saying so earlier, I thought of you. I thought of you because you have a special gift. You have the gift of not going through your whole life and regretting you haven’t said thank you. When I heard that story, it made me want to come here and ask you to give thanks to someone.

Find a way…Find a person…Find a reason…Be creative!

What are some creative ways people have said thank you?

If you sit with your friends at lunch today and talk for 5 minutes about this, you will think of a dozen different and creative ways to thank someone. It can be a surprise like the bank commercial, or it could be something very simple. Think of a teacher or someone here at school whom you want to thank and find a way to tell them.

Do it together…Do it by yourself…Make it anonymous if you would like

The point is, it does not matter how you do it. It matters that you do it.

If you want, you could let me know what you came up with. I’d love to hear from you. Share with me what you did and why you did it. I promise you it will make you feel good.

All teachers have a few examples of these because we are very lucky to be rewarded each day with the gift of working with young people. And sometimes, someone will go out of his or her way just to say thank you. And when they do, I can tell you it means the world to us.

Awe-inspiring collaboration! Matisse at EA

DSC_0079Even though we are already preparing for our next show, I wanted to comment on the last gallery exhibition by the Art rEvolution class. Our students were impressed early on in J-Term with the work of this class, but the final product was awe inspiring. The crowd who attended the Arts on the Move evening was treated during intermission to a collection of work as prolific as it was impressive. My favorite piece was the collaborative Matisse wall mural. I love that it was inspired by the field trip the class took to see the Matisse exhibit in New York. I love that they all started with white paper and mixed the colors themselves, and of course, I love that it was a collaborative piece.

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Winter Shorts- Lots of Layers

IMG_0257One of the many J-Term classes on display at the Arts on the Move event was the class that wrote, directed, and performed one act plays. I had heard there were good things brewing when our J-Term class submitted this early piece highlighting the power of community within the class.

Our students were struck by the fact that “no one is ever alone.” Even though there were students from four different grade levels in the class, the students supported each other in a true collaborative effort. “Mr. Clay, who teaches with Mr. McCreary, explained that they begin the class by listing community norms so students understand what it takes to create a safe environment on stage.”

I was able to witness the final product last week, and once again, I was impressed with both the quantity and quality of work that J-Term classes were able to produce in just two weeks. The class produced nine “shorts,” ranging from funny and satirical to moving and disturbing. I remember cackling pretty loudly during the evening, and I definitely remember one truly horrifying scene. And while some of the school’s most experienced actors were on display, there were many newcomers who may have just discovered their calling.

If we can do all this in two weeks, I cannot wait to see this Spring’s production of The Sound of Music!