Break, not Broken

I tell myself that I don’t always limp into spring break, but I think that may be a lie.

The exhaustion of winter clings to March like the winter clouds that haven’t yet given up the fight with spring. I feel it, I hear it in the voices of so many I interact with, young and not so young, and as an educator (now circling the calendar in remote learning) feeling tired, as familiar as it has become, feels different this year. Maybe it’s that I don’t quite believe that I’ll return to start April renewed. Maybe.

But pessimism doesn’t help a thing, and a wise co-worker once reminded me that the attitude I project as a leader has more impact that I know, so instead of focusing on those clouds that are dropping rain on this March day I think it’s wise to suppose that while I may be limping now (emotionally, physically, as a principal, and as a human) by the end of this week away from work I may have found my stride again.

It’s a good story and I’m sticking to it.

And while I don’t have any pithy insight right now (I am limping after all), a story comes to mind from just a few days ago.

I was wearing my ACMA Carnival shirt, the red one with a circus tent above our school’s name, as I checked out at the grocery store early in the morning. I’d stopped there, sleepy eyed, to pick up something unhealthy and sweet before my first Zoom of the day. The cashier spotted my shirt and asked “What’s that?” I looked down. “Oh, a school,” I told her. “Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. It’s a magical place and this is from an event we did a while back, a spring party that…” I saw disappointment in her eyes, even as she seemed to smile behind her mask. “I thought it was from a carnival,” she said conspiratorially. “I haven’t been to something like that since I worked in the circus.”

I was in a hurry. I was tired. There was someone behind me in line. I foolishly did not ask a follow up question. She worked in the circus! I walked out of the store a thousand questions in my head, all left unasked.

And I have been thinking about that interaction for days.

Over the next week I hope to allow my thoughts to step off the mental trapeze they’ve been swinging on for the past few months. I’d like to go for a walk, not cram into a clown car or be shot from a cannon, both of which I feel I’ve experienced some days. And when I step back under the bigtop, playing ringmaster for a few more sunny weeks, I hope to bring with it a sense of joy, engagement, and wonder …something I know some people haven’t felt since they worked in the circus.

Take A Chance on Me

It’s March.

Teachers know what that means. Principals too. Most of the students can feel it. Just about everyone I know who makes education their world understands that March is one of the most stressful times of the year. Winter break far behind us, summer still miles away, the pressures of grades, graduation requirements, and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” It’s the Act III of a Shakespearean story complete (at least this year in Oregon) with thunder and lightning. I’m just waiting for the three witches.

In the face of this, creative sorts push back creatively. Sure they still feel more tense than they will in May, but even so there are those who come up with ways to add levity and whimsy to the hardest month of the year.

In classrooms I’ve seen Rube Goldberg machines giving middle schoolers hands on experiences with physics; debates, some with costumes, providing students a chance to argue both sides of challenging issues; and a most delightful math teacher showing up in a kilt on exam day. Laughter and learning, together as they should be.

Outside the classroom, our seniors have just finished their capstone presentations, three weeks of reflections culminating in a day of performances and art that was jaw dropping, even by our high ACMA standards. The passion students brought to this work was as inspiring as it was diverse. Actors, artists, dancers, writers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and techs all showed off what matters most artistically to them. The results were awesome.

ABBAThe staff has been pretty awesome too, coming up with creative ideas to help March act more like a lamb than a lion. A salsa tasting at a staff meeting and a chocolate tasting after a professional development day showed the spicy and sweet nature of the adults on campus. A couple of days later a teacher heading out on paternity leave brought in doughnuts for the staff, and just to show that we do try to boost morale in ways other than eating, we took a week in March and began every morning by playing ABBA over the PA rather than a first bell.

You should have seen the kids and adults singing along.

And while our 1950s era boiler has been going out lately, and while it literally snowed on Friday, we all know that the two most delicious words in education are waiting on the other side of the weekend: Spring Break.

Yeah, I capitalized it. Spring Break deserves that.

To use Shakespeare again, this time from All’s Well that Ends Well:

I have seen a medicine
That’s able to breathe life into a stone,
Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary
With spritely fire and motion; whose simple touch
Is powerful to araise King Pipin, nay,
To give great Charlemain a pen in his hand
And write to her a love-line.”

Some of us need such medicine. Some of us need a love-line. Some of us just need a nap.

Spring break offers to be that medicine that might quicken a rock, and make us dance canary.

So, to all my friends in education, I wish you a great pause in this grand play of the school year. I wish you renewal, perspective, and rest. I wish you a marvelous Spring Break!

Spring Break

I’m going to read a paperback
John LeCarre
King or Mankell

roller coaster
Take my kids to Knott’s Berry Farm
and scream
as I rush downward on a rollercoaster
that makes my daughter laugh

I’m hoping to sleep in
and get some balance back
finding my feet again after a busy winter
as I pause
in the eye of the storm
that is Spring Break
and look forward to a busy May and busier June.

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My kids and I will go to a ballgame
to Grandma and Papa’s
to the beach
maybe get a doughnut

While all the while
I’ll keep a weather eye on Oregon
a count of the boxes accumulating in our garage
and a list of the things to be done
some over this week off
some soon thereafter
all before the last day of June
when the sweet relief of Spring Break
is replaced
by the wild anticipation of July.


photo 2 (3)It’s spring break, I’m on vacation, and I’m sitting in a laundromat. A large insect is buzzing  at my ear, a book of poetry occupies the sunken basin of a molded plastic seat next to me, and a cavalcade of tattooed locals have spent the last half hour reminding me, with their laughing vulgarities, that even in paradise people have dirty shorts.

Spring break is one of the most delicious parts of being an educator. It means time to slow down after one of the most grueling stretches of the school year. It’s a time to spend a few days with my wife and kids, change up the usual routine, and breathe deep the renewal needed to make it through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from April to June.

Education, like the ocean, is made up of high tides and lows. In my twenty plus years in the game, I’ve gotten better at letting go of the stresses of work and embracing the freedom that comes from a week without an alarm clock or daily planner. Most years we stay close to home, but this year we were able to get out of town. It’s a luxury not part of every spring break, though today, sitting in this sunny laundromat, hugged by a bucket seat straight out of 1978, I’m nothing but thankful to have been gone from home long enough to need to do laundry.

laundromatSpring break for students looks different than mine, with less poetry, less laundry, and less resting. Theirs is often a week of enthusiasm and adventure, climbing things, listening to music, skiing, swimsuits, and fires on the beach. All those things are great too, particularly for the young, though for me these ninety minutes of peace, an interlude between kayaking and an evening walk beneath Morro Rock, are sublime. The hum of dryers, the laughter of locals, the scratching of my pen on this yellow legal pad, even the buzzing of that sinister looking bug, these sounds speak spring renewal to me.

A few short days from now I’ll be back at my desk, elbow deep in the final quarter of the school year. I have no doubt that one day in May I’ll think back to this afternoon at the laundromat and be grateful. There is little sweeter than spring break, in whatever incarnation it takes, and much good to gain if those of us fortunate enough to get this time can allow ourselves to relax, renew, and return to school as fresh as a newly laundered pair of shorts.

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The Tired Time

I’m writing this post from the safety of Spring Break, a steaming cup of tea beside me and my six year old son, still in his Star Wars pajamas, curled at my hip. I’m breathing now, relaxed and renewed, and actually looking forward to returning to school in just a couple of days.

A week ago I was running in a hundred different directions, doing my best to keep up, and trying to figure out all I could do to buoy morale on my campus. March and April are what our superintendent aptly calls “the tired time.”

I remember seeing the graphs when I was a young teacher. They tracked morale and looked like a wave at Mavericks. The trough of spring invites a wipeout.

As a principal, I’m particularly cognizant of the tiredness that begins to creep up on all of us adults (parents, staff, and administrators too) and the importance of counteracting it as best we can to avoid unnecessary conflict, stress, and emotionality.

Ironically, this wave of exhaustion rolls in at the same time the kids are scurrying around like sand crabs. Spring for a thirteen year old is a time of blossoms and bounce, considerably different than it is for the over thirty crowd.

So we do our best to ride the wave. At Diegueño our ASB puts on Spirit Week, when even adults dig wearing Hawaiian shirts for a few days; it’s tough to frown while wearing a lei. April 1st saw a fantastic visit by Fablehaven author Brandon Mull, who talked about imagination and creativity to a packed library. On the Monday before break both staff and students enjoyed a rollicking Spirit Day, and we’re preparing for a week long “Kindness Challenge” in late April.

Still, the best balm for the tired time is Spring Break.

School years have their patterns, their ebbs and flows, high tides and low. As school communities we’re wise to learn these and anticipate (and acknowledge) that our work doesn’t have the placidity of a pond, but the power of an ocean.

Spring Break renews, and alters the mood of people returning to campus. We’ll all come back to a busy time, as we finish the last nine weeks of this school year and plan ahead for the year ahead. When we get back from Spring Break we have just over a hundred days before the opening day of school in the fall.

And it’s exciting.

I’m looking forward to the bustle of the last few weeks of the school year. The purposeful encouragement we shared as a school in March and April and a great week spent with family have refilled my tanks for the mad dash that takes us to June.

And with that tired time on the other side of a week off, I’m optimistic that we can all take a deep breath of spring air and rise out of the valley on that morale graph, finishing strong, healthy, and together.

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