Posted in School governance, School Leadership

Learning From Those Who Came Before You

Here’s some advice if you’re currently leading a school.

Do a checkup on your cumulative files.

Because there is a good chance a non-educator will be sending out cumulative files in the future, I’m using this time to sort them out and get things out of them that need to be removed.  While doing this, I’m also learning a few things.  Here’s some of what I learned.  If you’re a parent, this will tell you what to watch out for.  If you’re a teacher or a school leader, this will help you to understand what not to do (as well as what to do!).

Continue reading “Learning From Those Who Came Before You”

Posted in Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership

Protection

I write, once in a blue moon, about my boss, but only indirectly.  He’s a priest, and heads our parish, of which the school is a ministry.

He has a lot of strengths and people generally like him.

But he has some weaknesses.  He doesn’t like confrontation (and heck, neither do I…who is supposed to do the confronting if neither of us can?) and he seems to have a whole lot less faith than I do in the parishioners and what they can do, if asked, and in God and what He can do.  But I accept that sometimes I’m a little too Pollyanna (Hayley Mills version, at any rate) or Anne Shirley about things, and so I can accept that maybe I might be a little too sure that God can work through our parishioners to save us when the lesson might be, “look, guys, you gotta close.”

Yesterday, though, I learned that this decision was botched badly, and the Diocese is in the process of advising me on how to work through it all because, since my boss is gone for two weeks, there are (as you might imagine) things to do, things that would have been better handled had we taken these two weeks to get our ducks in a row first and then announced our closure second.

There is little vindication in being right about how this should have gone down.

There is little excitement about doing the right thing here, which is protecting his career and making sure that parishioners are okay with his authority to the extent possible.  That’s what the Diocese and I are doing now.

My family says I should let him deal with the mess he created; and I will…later.  He can fix the parish.  But at this point, my job is to try to save this for the kids, to try to focus on getting them into another Catholic school and arguing for the money necessary to pay for them to go to school there and for the jobs necessary for as many of my people as possible within the Catholic schools here.  If I’m going to work on getting them as much money as possible, I can’t very well destroy things here in the meantime.

If I don’t focus on doing something, it’ll be like Agamemnon (and yes, I am dramatic).  The kids loved this story: the story of having no choice but to fight to get Helen of Troy back due to a pact he made when he was a suitor to Helen (they didn’t pick him), then he can’t get the wind to sail so the oracle tells him to sacrifice his daughter, which he does, then goes off on a boat to Troy, fights the war, and brings back Cassandra (the prophet cursed; she spoke the truth, but no one believed her) as his mistress, and tells his wife to take care of her, as he’s gonna have a bath.

Not surprisingly, Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, conspires with her new boyfriend to stab Agamemnon in the bath.  Of course, the Greeks can’t let this stand, so her two surviving children will do her in later.

But heck, I get why she’s mad.  It’s not bad enough he has to fight to reclaim an old girlfriend, he kills their child, then comes back with a mistress, like she’s nothing to him.  And (this is the point I am actually making here) she’s had time to stew about it.

That’s what we’re fighting now.  Two weeks to stew about how messed up this is, is quite possibly not going to make any of us happy campers when he returns.

But if I can focus on the kids, and the Diocese can focus on the PR and logistics, well, maybe we can compartmentalize our anger in such a way that we can direct it to help him learn from this, rather than having us instead set fire to what’s left of the parish.

Metaphoric fire, of course.  We do understand that a real fire would be bad.

This is the strangest lesson in leadership: what to do when your boss really messes up, but apparently this is the one I get to learn…hopefully.

 

Posted in Catholic education, Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership

School Courtship: Hoping to Beat the Odds With Careful Planning

When Catholic schools close or consolidate, most everyone ends up in public schools, no matter how careful the planning.

We have a unique situation, though, where the ones who wanted to give up already gave up last year, and those who remain would really rather stay together, if they could.  We are also within a mile of two other Catholic schools with a third slightly further away than that.

So, we’re courting the closest, our first “daughter” parish, the second oldest school in town.

On paper, this is a good arranged marriage: fact one, they need us.  They need our kids and our money, such as it might be, because they are the next to go, on paper, if they can’t right themselves financially.  Unlike us, however, they have more reserves since families were wealthier when they began and they have had the time to grow and nurture that investment.  They have the time that we didn’t.  We have an interesting dowry, too, with a whole lot of books that are new, and a nice endowment of our own for scholarships.  And a parish who will be feeling guilty soon about how they let this closure happen, so I’m hoping to negotiate for more scholarships besides.  We think, but are still investigating, that a merger means they get credit for our Title I kids, and all of my kids were Title I eligible so they will get increased Title I services, if this is the case.

Beyond that, they are the most liberal, educationally-speaking.  We were caught in the 70’s, and the school that “everyone will say” we should join is lagging behind by about two decades.  They have already failed one of our students (she will never go back there) and their unsportsmanlike behavior and bullying have gone unchecked; I have family that has just said, well, that’s the mean class…as if that’s okay.  Meanwhile, our intended school has historically been more progressive, educationally, so it is arguably the best match philosophically.  They have had fidget toys in the classroom for nearly a decade and used to use a popular program called “the Daily 5” (maybe I’ll find they still are!) which encourages choice and independence in educational decisions, though with more scaffolding than we’ve managed to build in, so it tends to be easier for parents to understand.  I believe they use the same math books, or have in the recent past.

Then there’s the aesthetics.  Their school was actually built before our current building, but has many of the same features: big rooms, high ceilings, natural light, and they boast a bigger, but traditionally set-up church, with real aisles and stained glass instead of what I jokingly call “theatre in the round.”

Finally, because there’s no guarantee our parish won’t close next, they are the most likely to be ready to take on Hispanic ministry, should the parish merger ever occur because they are more progressive socially and have a native speaker of Spanish on payroll to teach Spanish.  We are hoping that, if this works out, we could encourage these parishes to join, if they must.  They are both downtown, after all.  Alternatively, if all goes well, we believe they would be better able to help guide what happens to our old building if it should be repurposed as a school again in the future because they have an older building as well and will have connections who understand managing these beauties.

So, after talking to their principal, we’re beginning the courtship this week.  It’s Catholic Schools Week, the Catholic school equivalent of homecoming, and they are having a dance at school, with littles and bigs together.  My middle schooler will love being able to stand off to the corner and talk to his friends (he has two there now) instead of being in the office with the adults.  My tiny kids will love dancing with friends their own size.  And their kids will LOVE that we might be bringing them more kids in the very age range they have lower numbers.

And he’s invited the parents and wants to come to us to meet with them and talk, too.

He’s also interested in my teacher, if he has an opening.  Multi-age teaching experience, much less love for it, is hard to find in a teacher.  She is eager to make a good impression, because she wants to stay in town with Catholic education.

So we will begin dating, and see if we will marry.

One of my parents, the one who already was thinking she’d be pulling her child out at the end of the year, is thrilled by this, and wants us to end the year AT this school.  She wanted more kids around, and this will solve her concerns.  Another was also considering moving her child at middle school because of numbers as well.  This would increase the numbers for them, too.

On paper, it’s the perfect match.

We’re praying this courtship turns into love and marriage to follow, because if I can keep these kids (and hopefully their teacher, too!) together and beat the odds, that will still be a very big win.

Posted in Burnout

Autistic Gratitude and the Workplace

I have a picture of a drawing one of my former mentors made.  It’s of a white candle, embellished with gold rings at the bottom and a cross on top.  It illustrates the words of Blessed Theresa Gerhardingher, founders of the sisters who sponsor my alma mater: “The candle consumes itself as it serves others by its shining.”

As principals, we were encouraged to not keep ourselves burning constantly, and take time to replenish ourselves so that we would not deplete our reserves.

It was impossible this year.  I worked almost every day, and all summer long planning and trying to bring plans to fruition.  My priest took two days off, half days Sunday and Tuesday, and a full day Monday.  He’s had true retreats and mini-vacations.  I was working weekends and every day, and if I was very lucky, I could work at home on the weekends.

Even Mass was working for me, as it was for him.

A candle’s wax burns, but if you let it cool off once in a while and grow firm again, it lasts longer.  Yes, it will eventually consume itself, as we should all do to serve others, but it should take a long time.  Protecting the candle helps a lot, since if the wax all drips off to the side, it’s not very useful when it firms up again.  Apparently you can add things like salt to candles, the internet tells me, and they’ll last longer.  I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it’s a nice thing to say, since care and feeding of the candle are important, I’d like to think.

My candle is gone, or near to it.  It’s like I didn’t even burn the candle at both ends; it’s like I tossed it into a bonfire and wondered why it melted so quickly.

I’ve been blogging for months about near burnout.  A funny thing about us Autistics is we’re so used to the world giving us shitty treatment even when they don’t realize they are (he kind of knew, but didn’t bother himself about helping me to find ways to take time off) that when someone appreciates us, we’ll do just about anything to please them and prove worthy of their support.

Until we wear out and can’t go any more.

Right now, as you can imagine, I’m hurting, with the closure of the school.  But what hurts the most is that, as usual, I’ll be out of work again soon, and that I’m not even worth wooing back for another position.  I’m a strong writer, bilingual, and actually understand the Church’s mission and teachings pretty well.  I’m an asset to church ministry.

Oh, I’ll also work dirt cheap because I’m so grateful someone will take a chance on me.  And I’ll work harder than most everyone else and do more, too.

And yet, I was not asked to consider even a demotion.

This desperation-in-the-workplace is obviously not sustainable, especially since few employers, not even church employers, are going to really look out for their employees, apparently.

I have a lot of strikes against me: 1) I’m fat, so I make a poor first impression, 2) I’m Autistic, so my first impression is going to also be, well, “weird,” and 3) I have so many degrees that employers think I won’t stick around anyway.  Any one of those things is difficult for employment purposes, but all three is a trifecta of obstacles.

Then add in that I’m fresh off a rather public failure.

All this, despite the fact that I did everything (or most everything) right.

I was so grateful to be asked to take this job even though it was impossible and I probably shouldn’t have been asked in the first place.  We should have closed last year, or (more properly) ten years ago.  But I was so grateful someone wanted me to lead and loved my ideas that I tried anyway.

I want to tell other Autistics not to do what I did, not to consume yourself so you’re left with nothing for yourself, but I don’t know that that is realistic.  We have to work harder to get and keep a job than most, so we’re going to be grateful and taken advantage of without people even specifically trying.

But what options do we have, really?

 

Posted in Advocacy, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, Disability in Education, leadership

It is Over: Ableism and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

While scrolling through Twitter, I caught another poll (they seem common, lately, on Autistic Twitter) about employment.  I marked “full-time,” which really understated how much I work, and for how little.

In a few short months, that won’t be accurate again.

Fair warning: this is a post that will get ranty a bit because, well, ableism.

Continue reading “It is Over: Ableism and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”

Posted in Catholic leadership, School Leadership

Open Doors to Our Neighbors

Sometimes I know people judge us for being a Catholic school.  Sometimes it’s the specific tenets of our faith, but often it’s because we’re told we take all the good kids and the public schools thereby have to suffer.

Of course, I believe all kids try to be good.

This last week, something happened that might illustrate how my school matters, even for the public school kids down the street.

A young girl from the neighborhood stopped by on Monday.  It was 2:00, and the public school actually gets out later than we do, and we were still in session for another hour, so it was odd, timing-wise.  I let her in and learned she needed to go to the bathroom and that mom called her home early, but this was the first day.  On her way home, she pointed out where she lived.  I thought nothing of it.

The next day, she came back, and this time, she didn’t need the bathroom, but she did ask if we had candy or gum.  We didn’t.  We said goodbye and sent her back out on her way.

It was odd, but given the relatively high crime rate of our neighborhood, and given we’re on the way home from her school, I figured it was good she stopped by, even if it meant she stopped by every day.  If she visited, then we knew she at least had gotten to our place, enroute to home.  One thing people don’t always know is that while “after school” until 6 (when, presumably, parents come home) is one of the most dangerous times for kids, being on the street alone during the school day can be worse.  We have a lot of sex predators in our neighborhood, too.

Continue reading “Open Doors to Our Neighbors”

Posted in Autistic Identity, leadership

Perseveration and Derailment: the Path to Burnout

Yesterday was one of those terrible days.  It started at 8:30, when I had fallen asleep.  My teacher who has a public-school run classroom who has been instructed to get a district sub now, told me she had a sick daughter, but somehow could only find a sub who could stay until 2:00.  I woke up to this text around 10:30 and replied we needed a full-day sub (of course we did) and no, I wasn’t available to just cover that hour because 1) I had a meeting all day and 2) why would I get a sub for “most of the day”?  She never did explain why this was the sub she’d obsessed over.  There was an option to cancel the afternoon class, so I said if that was really the only sub she could find, I guessed she’d have to cancel the afternoon.

So now, of course, I’m up all night waiting to hear what she decided and how badly this would mess up my day.

And so it all began.

Continue reading “Perseveration and Derailment: the Path to Burnout”

Posted in Catholic leadership, School Leadership

Marketing Blues: How I Wish I Could Tell You All Where I Am…

I’m in the midst of intense marketing season.  It’s customary for Catholic schools to start open houses and open admissions during the last week of January, to coincide with Catholic Schools Week, where we celebrate who we are.

I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks, and all weekend, working on marketing, from postcards to the website, and planning awareness campaigns and open houses.

I enjoy telling our story to the world, though there’s a lot of pressure because we have to grow next year, even a little, or Father will start to worry again, which means we shut down.  It means Autistic me worries a lot.

I have this wonderful place where I can talk about what we’re doing and have some of these ideas fall on the exact “ears” I hope will hear me, but if I’m more specific about where I am, I may well destroy the blog because of negativity that seems to surround my school.  Negativity which we feel like we’re finally almost free of, at least on the inside, but claws on the outside, waiting for our defeat.

Ableism was rampant at this place last year, under the guise of somehow being safer for those with different ways of thinking.  Whereas the other schools made no accommodation, it looked like we did, and instead we’d scream and yell at children for nonconformity and banish teachers into two groups: the “chosen ones” and the rest of us.

It’s not like that now.

But the popularity of groups like Autism $peak$, which is really a hate group, not a help organization, reminds me always that those people will be out there, wanting us to destroy Autism, not create a haven for it.  The people who think you can beat kids to get the ADHD out (assuming it’s a real thing anyway) are everywhere.

We provide a different way of looking at things.  Not only are ADHD and Autism very real, Neurodivergent students need a place to learn who they are first, and to know they are loved children of God, and as they get older, they can move out into a world that is hostile to them and, together, make it better for the next generation.

My school matters.

My marketing doesn’t tell you exactly that message.  Plenty of parents aren’t woke just yet.  But I have hints for those who are woke, and it’s still an approachable message for those who are not.  But my goal is happy children who love Jesus and love themselves for who they are.  This is a place where kids learn to know themselves and then self-advocate.  The academics are strong; we’re a college-preparatory school, after all, but we break it down so that everyone, regardless of academic skills, can get where they need to go.  That’s an important part of loving yourself; learning that you can understand material, even if you have a learning disability or have trouble focusing and that it’s our job to help you.  We don’t do conventional grades, though if we eventually have high schoolers, we will have conventional grades even if we find them useless.  So many colleges aren’t quite ready for portfolios and standards report cards yet.  But when kids are older and can understand that the specific letters aren’t everything, they won’t hurt them so badly.

They really can derail children and young teens, though.  Either their grades are low and their self-esteem takes a hit, or their grades are high, too high to make mistakes. Either way, they don’t communicate how much anyone knows, and what areas, if any, are places that cause students to suffer.

We have increasingly educated people (either through academics or through self-reading and reflection) in my area who know that these things are important, and I’m hoping to get the word out to them, those who have heard that grades are only part of the story.

But I can’t tell you where we are.

This is an uncomfortable feeling.

Thank you for reading this blog, and for showing your support through your web traffic.  It helps me to know that you care enough to read and learn and grow with me, on this journey of learning to educate, parent, and lead Neurodivergently.

Posted in Identity, Parenting, Teaching

What We Mean When We Say, “He’ll Grow Out of It,” at My School

In the Disabilities community, there’s a certain level of irritation with parents of Autistics and of parents of students with ADHD.

They blog everywhere, and they sound really ignorant a lot of the time, talking about their child’s struggles with such an intimacy, and dispensing a whole lot of unhelpful advice.  This crew often hates vaccines and gluten and thinks eradicating both would cure Autism.  They sometimes also insist they cured their kids’ ADHD or Autism by removing it or stopping vaccines or other nonsense.

All of this is nonsense, by the way.

So typically, we never, ever talk about “cure” about things like Autism and ADHD in particular because these neurotypical “cousins” (some of us have both) will continue into a person’s life forever.

But yesterday, I had a conversation with a teacher that only I could have.

Continue reading “What We Mean When We Say, “He’ll Grow Out of It,” at My School”

Posted in Catholic education, Catholic leadership, Self-Care

Quality is What Counts: Letting St. Michael the Archangel Take Care of the Demons Sowing Doubt

In the library field, numbers matter.  There are really only two statistics anyone cares about: your circulation (the number of materials “checked out”) and the patron count (who comes to your programs).  It can be maddening.  I interviewed a teen librarian in my last career as an academic researcher-type, and she was properly irritated with this.  She’d recounted times she’d had two or three people attending a children’s or a teen program and the quality of the interaction was so high, it was fantastic, but on the paper, she had to write that three people attended.  Over the past few years, our own library’s storytimes have exploded in popularity and it’s getting hard to fit more people in the room.  The “quality” of the interactions is not great since the librarian nearly has to shout over the babies and toddlers’ babbling now, but heck, they’ve got the numbers!

In education, it’s the same.  Everyone wants to know how MANY you served and how MANY are where they ought to be.  Few even care how MUCH growth each one has, really.  Numbers only matter in aggregate.  This is why special education programs are always getting picked on by taxpayers: why should we help the few with stuff that costs so much (or bodies; extra aides can be pricey, so we do our best to avoid giving them full-time hours or benefits) when the gifted get their needs ignored?

Why, indeed?

Continue reading “Quality is What Counts: Letting St. Michael the Archangel Take Care of the Demons Sowing Doubt”