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July 25, 2010

Can A Spirit of Service Change a School District?

by Chris Lindholm

First, I need to apologize for the drought of meaningful blog posts in recent months.  I'm currently navigating a job transition from building principal to assistant superintendent in a larger neighboring district.  While overwhelmed by the details of learning new names, systems, and procedures, I am probably more consumed by reflections on working in a district office instead of in a school.  I simply cannot be happy in a job if I'm not making a difference, and I'm just not sure yet how that will play out being one of the "district office folks."  Afterall, my whole career thus far has been at the building level where my interactions with students and the adults I am focused on moving are daily - or even several times a day.  How can I make the same impact in a job that limits those interactions to… weekly, monthly, or quarterly?  How can I make systems change if I "check in" with specific individuals 4 times a year instead of once a week?  I have much to learn no doubt…

Today I ran across a post in my Reader file from The Committed Sardine about the impact of service.  The post was actually an embedded video called The Simple Truths of Service on You Tube.  It's possible this resonated with me because it's a touching story about one individual committing to making the routine work of bagging groceries a meaningful opportunity to touch lives, but I think it's more than that.  It resonated with me because as a building principal I helped lead our school to embrace service to the community as a vehicle for teaching students about the bigger things of life, about how to develop a reputation based upon doing what is right, about how to capture the passion of youth for doing good, and about how to capture service opportunities to make memories and develop real community.  It resonated with me because I was that store manager in the story who hired great staff, planted seeds, and then captured the individual talents and passions of wonderful people to create momentum that changed the lives of kids.  So what now…?

Now I'm that district office guy who swings through once a quarter to make sure things are operating correctly.  I'm the guy who works with the board and "gets in the way" from day to day business by making policies and procedures everyone has to follow.  I don't bag groceries or even manage the store and hire the Johnny's of this story.  Is there room for a district office guy in this story? 

I believe the answer is yes.  Remember the person who led the customer service program?  She gave a speech challenging every employee of the organization to make a difference and create memories for customers that would create loyalty and a desire to return.  She's the person that Johnny and the store manager called to share the exciting news. 

As a building principal I understood that the success of my work depended entirely on the work of others.  Teachers, paras, custodians, secretaries, and volunteers worked tirelessly to make every day a memory for kids and as a result, I reaped benefit.  Most importantly, kids were loved and learned.  The staff recognized themselves as the "Johnny" in this story and committed themselves to using service as a way to touch lives.  I cherish the many wonderful people I have worked with, and I believe the same "Johnnys"are in my new place of employment.  Already I have witnessed operations staff working through the night to prepare office spaces, administrators fretting over picking the best staff to work with kids, and a few teachers ramping up for a new year – two months ahead of time…  I cannot wait to see the whole machine in action when the students return in September!! 

So…  The heart of this post is – I found great meaning as a principal who, like the store manager, hired a bunch of people like Johnny and made great things happen in one school.  We know the same can happen at the district level… and I'm determined to make that happen. 

Folks in ISD 191 – are you a "Johnny?"  Do you work in a school that pins flowers on customers and finds creative ways to make someone's day?  Do you create memories that fill hearts with a desire to come back to school the next day?  That's the bar.  That's working in education.  That's making a difference.  That's teaching.




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