Rediscovering My Limits

Well, it’s happened again.

I made it through eight whole days believing the lie, but today, I couldn’t do it.

Every year summer seems to do this to me. I start a new year with that feeling that I can do anything and everything. What do I mean? For starters, I start to assume that I can work and work without ever needing a break, ever. Then (since that was rational enough…) I add on the idea that following that up a solid day’s work with a few hours of school work at home at night is actually a sustainable plan. That’s logical, right?


I feel like I’ve been working pretty tirelessly (or so I told myself) to stay on top of things over the past two weeks. Most of the work I was putting in was on things I really enjoy working on and thinking about, things that really don’t feel like “work.” But even with circumstances as good as these, today was the day that reality set in: I have some definite limits.

At a distance, I can say the things you’re supposed to believe about that. Things like, “Everyone has their limits” and other ideas that are a lot easier to agree with in theory than in practice. That admission is a good thing, but it being good for me doesn’t make it any easier. After all, today was the first day I felt the scales tipping toward that feeling of being more overwhelmed with my to do list than I was excited about those big ideas.


I’m not sure what the percentages are, but I’m confident that although a portion of my desire to do things myself may be to serve others well, too much is motivated by pride that I can get things done the best way or fear that I might not be good enough to get it done. Because what would that mean? It sounds silly now, but I think I’ve thought that before.

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a result of who I work with. I work for a principal who is up for trying all sorts of new ideas and constantly works to meet the needs of students on our campus. The other assistant principals are a great group of leaders, and our campus leadership team is a cohesive group that continually goes above and beyond to help our students feel they are valued, capable learners.

All that is to say that this is not a circumstances problem. It’s a me problem.

I suspect it’s also a problem others encounter.

I think people are wired up so that we naturally compare ourselves to one another (I wrote about it a while back), and I feel that the most on the days where I feel my limits. I don’t like that feeling of falling short, not being good enough. Even if that feeling only lasts for a short time while pursuing a worthwhile, challenging goal, I don’t like it. Not one bit.

But it’s going to be there. Either that, or I’m going to begin to live too safely, which seems far worse to me. And if I really believe that people can grow and that people are worth relentlessly serving, then I have to continue forward. I have to acknowledge my limits.

If I’m honest, I probably want to be known as the guy who can just keep going. Maybe it’s holdover from being a distance runner in high school, but that’s one of the places where I feel my limits most now. I just don’t have the time to do everything that could be done at school and still be a good husband and dad. 

I don’t have a pithy way to end this blog with a short and easy solution, and I’m good with that. Anyone who experiences this sort of feeling knows it’s far more complicated than a “3 ways to get past limits” post would be able to offer. What I can offer is the assurance that if any of this resonates with you, you are not alone. Maybe that’s not much, but it’s helpful for me to know that I’m not the only one pushing to do my best only to feel like I fall short.

Get Excited

This is my oldest son, Graham. He is excited to share something with you!Untitled design (1)He’s showing off a few of his recent creations from our trips to Lowe’s for their “Build and Grow” kids program. The projects have varying degrees of difficulty, but every week I know that I can count on getting a great shot of Graham showing off what he’s made.

He loves it.

He’ll tell me about what he wants to do with it at home, where it’s going to live in his room, when his brother will be able to play with it (and when he can’t touch it), and so on.

I think most little kids do this. They’ll accomplish something they’re really excited about and proceed to tell everyone about it. Doesn’t matter if you want to know. Doesn’t matter if you’ve heard it before. If they see you, you get to hear about it. And unless you’re really having an off day, it’s hard not to be happy for the kid and get a little excited alongside him/her. There’s something contagious about the excitement of a little kid.

But something changes somewhere along the line. Somewhere between being a kid making something with your dad on a summer weekend and being an adult, the ways we express our excitement change.

I’m not sure what it is that keeps adults from showing our excitement in many of the obvious ways that kids do. I don’t think I’m really qualified to get into a meaningful discussion about what drives that, but I do think that our work as educators is worth getting excited about.

I’d like to share a few things that I’m excited about for next year, and I’d love to hear what you’re excited about, too.

1) This week, we have the first group of students coming back into our building. It’s a small group of new freshmen (about 15% of the freshmen class) who we’re working with to help with the many transitions that moving from eighth grade to high school entail. I’m really excited to get to work with them, and I’m excited to work at a school that values being proactive in the ways that we help students successfully join our campus. I’m also excited because, selfishly, having students in the building keeps me centered around what’s important, serving students. There are a lot of good things that happen while students are gone for the summer (and I know I benefit from the change of pace this provides), but nothing seems to get educators all running the same direction better than serving our students well. I’m pumped for this week!

2) I’m looking forward to putting together professional development that’s different from what we’ve done in the past. We’re adding choice and a few EdCamp elements (voting with your two feet and conversations instead of presentations are two big ones) to provide teachers with an authentic experience of learning with choice. Honestly, I’m a little worried that it will tank, and I think that impacts how I get excited about this (it’s the old “if I don’t act like I’m excited about it, the disappointment will be less” lie). I’m writing it down here so that if you know me, you will hold me to this. It’s time to get excited about something risky.

3) I’m excited to feel capable of challenging and supporting our teachers better than I have been in the past. I finished the year with conversations I enjoyed centered around the question, “What do you hope to change next year?” It was refreshing to hear so much optimism and hope for change from teachers on our campus! I wasn’t surprised by their reaction, but I was surprised that I had never thought to ask about this before. As a result, I’m looking forward to starting those coaching conversations with teachers much earlier than before. I’m enough of a edu-nerd that this alone would be enough to be excited, but I’m far more excited to hear the impact that our teachers want to have on our students. How could I not be excited to encourage educators in their work toward that end?

It’s worth mentioning that I am not the person often called on to be the cheerleader in our school or on our admin team. I’m usually positive, but I’m not overly vocal or passionate or any of the other attributes that normally fit on a top ten list for those who get excited. I’m determined to make sure that’s not going to be an excuse for me. There is too much greatness ready to happen this year in my school (and in yours, too) for us to sit back and not get excited about it. The more we do, the more our students will see good models of it happening. Some of it is sure to trickle down.

If you're changing the world, you're

There is so much that I have to be excited about because there is so much meaningful work happening in our schools. I know it’s happening, and I know it matters. Deep down, you know this; the trick is to pull out your excitement because your work is too valuable to keep to yourself.

So, before you head elsewhere on the internet, think about it: What are you excited about? Share it with someone. Leave a comment here, tell a coworker, post a tweet, or even just write it down. Naming it will make it easier to share. Personality type is no excuse here. Get yourself ready to share your excitement for the coming year because your work is changing the world!

Be Good

And now that you don't have to be

When I began teaching, I walked into a wonderful English department full of absolutely incredible teachers. I was passionate and eager (and fighting my introverted nature like a champ), but when school rolled around, reality set in: Even with a few things working in my favor, I had zero minutes of teaching experience under my belt.

No student teaching. No subbing. No nothing. Nada. Zero minutes.

Down the hall in every direction, though, teachers seemed to be making the magic happen.

One teacher could make such meaningful connections with her students quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen and never, ever got rattled in class. It was almost unbelievable.

Another teacher would get 18 year old, high school senior, “I’m too cool for this” types to dance around a little “fire” she created in her room (because, of course you do this when you study Macbeth). Equally impressive.

Another taught AP English with what seemed like encyclopedic knowledge of the texts the class studied. Surely he had someone feeding him information as class was progressing, right?

Then there was the teacher who was a master storyteller with a wealth of knowledge and a gift for imparting that to students, and the teacher with the drive to take on delicate discussions about the power of our words. Don’t forget the teacher who could get more growth out of sophomores in one year than most great teachers hope could hope to see in two years and the teacher could flip from working with honors freshmen to on level seniors throughout her day. And there was the teacher who could teach expectations to any student (and actually get them to live those out).

It’s still a little crazy when I look back on it and realize that these descriptors aren’t exaggerations. In fact, I’m sure I’m selling them short. This was (and still is) a fantastic place to teach.

But from where I sat as a new teacher, it all seemed so easy for them and so difficult for me. As a result, I spent a lot of time working hard to make it look like I didn’t have to work hard at teaching.

That’s not exactly time well spent.

As I got to know these master teachers who taught in the English halls, I realized how much they had invested on the front end. As it turns out, developing teenagers into thoughtful readers and writers doesn’t always happen all that easily. What had looked like effortless perfection was really the result of years of work developing expertise at their craft.

I’d love to say that by Thanksgiving of that first year I figured this out. I didn’t. It took a lot of time and a lot of letting go of my pride (because, arrogantly, I initially thought that I would just put in the work and fake it til I made it as one who “taught effortlessly” like these others).

So why am I writing this?

If you’re an educator, it can feel like you don’t have enough to give. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t need to be perfect, and (in all likelihood) you can’t maintain being perfect for very long if at all. It’s not an attainable goal.

What I perceived to be perfection in those teachers was really the result of a great group of teachers who were determined to be good to their students and to their colleagues.

Go forth and be good.

What I wish I knew when I started teaching…

I’m nearing the end of my seventh year in education. There are plenty of people who have more experience in education than I do, but these are the things I wish I’d known on my first day.

1) Tomorrow will be better than today (the first day teaching was really, really rough… that story is another blog post).

2) If you need something (and you need plenty, first year teacher self), just ask. You work with amazing teachers who will help you!

3) Those student behaviors that are driving you nuts? They can be changed, but you’ll have to teach and re-teach your expectations throughout the year.

4) Go visit an elementary school. There’s so much a high school teacher can learn from the models set up in our elementary school classrooms.

5) Just about every teacher feels like they’re faking it at some point. Stop worrying about it; instead, talk about it and help others through the things that stump them.

Whether you’re finishing your career or just starting it, take time to reflect on where you started and where you are today. Think through what you can do to help an educator in your building make the most of the last stretch of this school year. You won’t regret it!