Every Rose Has Its Thorns…and Petals

Anyone who knows me well knows that I spend an out of the ordinary amount of time reflecting on my work.  In fact, I reflect so much that I often choose thinking about work over choosing to sleep.  Not a good thing I know. However, it isn’t so much the work I think about but rather the people who we work with and work for; primarily our staff and our students.  More than anything, I want them to look forward to coming to school every day.  I want our staff and students to feel valued, to believe that our administration genuinely cares about them and to feel that we honor them for their contributions they bring to our school community every day.  
The last couple of months have been filled with both joy and challenges.  As a building principal, I choose to focus daily on the joys of the job and reflect on how I can respond to the challenges in a positive way in order to cultivate an environment where people feel they can “own their moment. “  
In other words, when given the opportunity for self-reflection and self-change, I want us to own it!
A few years ago, my associate principal and good friend @joykelly05shared a family tradition with me whereby her family would sit in a circle and share their rose and thorn for the day, week or any length of time she chose to place on the discussion.  By the next year we began to incorporate this practice with our new teachers during our end of year new teacher social.  
This past week was no exception.  As we wrapped up our final new teacher meeting of the year, every one of us was given the opportunity to share our rose and our thorn on the current school year.  I was touched by not only their willingness to own their moment when they were given the opportunity to reflect on the year, but by the responses that soon followed.  Their roses included colleagues that made them feel valued and welcomed. They expressed their gratitude for an administration that genuinely supported them. They shared their appreciation for a student centered culture which focused on building strong relationships with students.  I have to admit, I felt a sense of joy when I heard their responses, even when they followed up their roses with their thorns.  They spoke of personal experiences that included feeling fatigued at the end of each day, working with challenging students, a desire for classroom windows, managing the workload, and the overwhelming feeling that we all felt during our first year when it seemed we could never catch our breath.
However, what brought me the most joy that afternoon was that each thorn was quickly followed by another rose, in almost an apologetic manner.  How refreshing it was to listen to our teachers respond to their challenges by focusing on the positives that would come as a result of being poked by a bristle on a stem.  In other words, they chose to own their own moment by shifting their focus to the petals on the rose rather than the thorn on the stem.
The truth is those bristles often come in the form of our most challenging students.  Yet, every now and then we are reminded that many of our students who remain closed buds during their school years often blossom into beautiful roses long after they leave us. Hence, why it is imperative we stay focused on the long term rather than the short term.
In the last two months, I have been blessed to feel the emotional highs of re-connecting with students whose petals had wilted during their high school years as we desperately tried to care for them.  Those of you who have watched a kid spiral downward right in front of you know that feeling of raw emotion when you blame yourself for not being able to help a student detour his/her path of self-destruction.  For us, it was heartbreaking to watch our talented and beautiful young kids fall victim to drug addiction, sexual abuse, runaway/homelessness, theft, prison, and hopelessness.  Yet, here they stood before us in our office years later full of life, laughter, and a new found hope for life.  Among them a mother free from addiction with a beautiful baby, soon to be wife, working and attending college. A young man free from prison with a second chance at life, enrolled in college and hoping to help others to avoid the same mistakes he made.  And finally, a young man who overcame his demons of drug abuse and criminal activity to return home to the unconditional love and support of his family in order to begin a new life, working and soon to be enrolled in college. 
Admittedly, I have not been able to stop thinking about the three of them since they re-entered my life. 
Each one of them a beautiful rose on a stem full of thorns.
Each one of them with a future full of beautiful petals.
Each one of them owning their moment.

“The power to grow lies in the power to reflect” – Unknown


  • Ben Gilpin says:

    Isn’t that what it’s all about? “In other words, they chose to own their own moment by shifting their focus to the pedals on the rose rather than the thorn on the stem.”

    Every time I read one of your posts I can feel your passion for your staff and students. It’s always about relationships first. You highlighted three, and I know you well enough that you could have highlighted 30! Keep being a Champion for your staff & students. -Ben

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Ben – thank you my friend. I am blessed to have a great staff who all contribute to supporting our kids. It is so important that we remember to focus on the long term rather than the short term so we can see their maturation into beautiful roses. Take care buddy – jimmy

  • Dan Butler says:

    Reflection is so critical in our profession, as it allows to think about future moves and put them into place. I’m grateful for your leadership and how you continue to advocate for kids, a and great teaching and learning environment at Bettendorf. Keep up the great work, friend. Any time you can quote Poison, it’s a good thing.


    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Dan – thank you partner. It truly is. By reflecting we really take time to absorb all that is around us and the opportunities there are for growth. Yet, we must always remember that reflection is only the first step. We must follow it up with action in order to maximize our potential. Thanks for being great my friend! – jimmy

  • Dave Burgess says:

    Awesome post, as usual, Jimmy! I always love to hear your thoughts on education…and life.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Dave – thank you! You have been and continue to be an inspiration. You have modeled the way for thousands of educators the power that passion, purpose and focus on relationships can have on students. You are the best my friend! – jimmy

  • This was beautiful, and I admire your care, compassion, and concern for your staff and students. I would love to try your rose strategy in my future career as an administrator.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Elizabeth – thank you! I am always touched by what comes out of those conversations. It is a great way to cultivate trust. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. – jimmy

  • Jason Bengs says:

    Thanks for the great reminder.

  • Jimmy Casas says:

    Jason – thanks for giving it a read. Strive to be great! – jimmy

  • Thanks for your great post. I am going to use it with my UNI School Counseling practicum students to help them gain better insight on reflection. We will also probably start using the rose/thorn concept. Love it! See you
    Wednesday in Ames!!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Susan – thank you for your continued support. Hard to believe it has been a year since I first officially met you F2F. Thank you for all that you do for young educators. Keep being great! – jimmy

  • Heidi Jones says:

    WOW, Jimmy…again…if I didn’t love Merton so much, and had a license for HS, I would so want to be a part of your team! Reflection is such a powerful tool and we often skip over that step at the end of a journey, assignment, project, etc..When in fact, it’s one of the most important steps of all! While I was reading your post I kept thinking about how lucky those three students were to have had you and the Bettendorf experience in their lives. Thanks for the reminder to focus on the long term rather than the short term.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Heidi – I appreciate your kinds words. We are both blessed to work in special places. Thank you for your continued spirit and the positive energy you bring to our profession. Blessings! – jimmy

  • Jimmy…great stuff! Thanks for faithfully sharing insights that help us all serve better & lead right. The relational underpinnings in the field of education cannot be ignored, and the trust and purposeful conversations you’re having with staff (and those lucky enough to have you as part of their PLN) are making schools better for kids. Rock solid as always…thank YOU! Brad

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Brad – thank you! Feel like I have learned so much in the last couple of years from both my district PLN as well as my twitter PLN. There is no doubt that reflecting on my work pushes me to strive to bring my best every day. Thank you for being a part of it. You rock my friend! – jimmy

  • Rarely do I read a blog and say.. I have to respond. This is obviously one of those cases. Your use of the rose and thorn in education is such a great way to be reflective. It is apparent that you build great relationships with your staff and students. I am a better educator/leader because I follow your insight. Thank YOU for the inspiration. Great post!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Robert – wow! Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to read it and sharing your thoughtful comments with me. Your words have inspired me to continue doing my best to make a positive impact iwith both students and staff – jimmy

  • Mr. Negus says:

    Great post, Jimmy. This motivated me to stay positive and keep on remembering that there is hope for EVERY kid! Growth mindset!

  • TonySinanis says:

    AWESOME! I really have no words at this point because I was so incredibly moved by your post. The honesty of it; the passion; the willingness to give of yourself in order to ensure that everyone around you has access to the optimal learning environment. The stories you share of those students who re-entered your life give me so much hope – hope that the thorns in our lives are there to remind us about the beauty, power and strength of our petals. AWESOME!
    Tony (Tu hermano Grieco en Nueva York!) 🙂

  • Tim says:

    Your level of compassion for students continues to know no end. Knowing some of your background and educational experiences, it is clear to understand why your mantra is “Students First.” You and your TEAM provide an environment that will continue to thrive and give back.
    Always respect,

  • Nailed it! I have used a similar t-chart visual where staff identify their own “Glow or Grow” moments. Glow means you are so proud and grateful and you have reflected and can’t wait to share what’s working. Grow means there is still room for improvement and you might need a “do-over”. Reflection is key.

  • Barbara says:

    I am loving this post not only for its metaphor but also for its authenticity. Thank you for sharing these stories and helping validate for me the importance of reflection, which it seems I tend to overdo sometimes, well, a lot! I admire how you’ve taken your need to reflect to help move your faculty from congenial to colleaguial! Keep up the ‘heart’ work.

  • The fact that the new teachers at your school transitioned from their thorn back to a pedal is a tribute to the work that you and the staff have done to constantly bring your focus back to positive culture you have built and the relationships that your team has fostered. The exciting piece is that you have to believe that this practice is being replicated in classrooms with the students in your building because it is being modeled well by the adults. Well done my friend. Now if I could only get some of that “world famous” guacamole.