How We Respond Is Our Choice

A couple of weeks ago I was working late one night clearing up a pile of paperwork on my desk that had sneaked up on me over a period of just three days.  As often happens to me when I am organizing my desk, I got sidetracked. I came across a stack of paperwork for early graduate students that needed to be signed and as I began to examine each student record closely, my mind wandered off a bit. Instead of rejoicing in the fact that these students had met the criteria for early graduation, my mind wandered to those students who over the course of the last couple of years and had given up and quit school. I quickly began to pull up their pictures on our student information system so I could look at their faces again. In doing so, it became personal to me. As their principal, I couldn’t help but feel I had not done enough. After an hour or so of doing this, I sent out the following tweets.


There is not a single one of us who has not at one time or another hid behind the standard line, “I don’t have time to…..”  The hard truth is we determine what we have time for and what we don’t have time for. All of us can dig deep down far enough to find the time when something matters a great deal to us. In this case, our efforts netted five students returning to school beginning January 6th.  Like the starfish story, we may not have reached all of them, but I am hoping it will make a difference with these students and they in turn impact our lives and inspire us to continue to reach out to those who have given up.

In our line of work, every day brings on new challenges. I was reminded again this past week when dealing with a student who wanted to quit school.  Here I was coming off the high of five students wanting to return to school and now I was in danger of losing one right back to the streets of lost hope.  I had recently read a quote by Thomas Paine so I decided to share it with this particular student who was conflicted – “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph,” I told him.  I wanted him to see past his current internal conflict and help him believe that from this turmoil would evolve perhaps an experience from which to grow from in order to serve a greater purpose.  In the end, I explained to him that he had the power to determine which chapter he wanted to write to help him define his story. In other words, how he responded could help define his triumph.

Challenges like the ones I describe above are all too common in schools today.  Perhaps just as challenging is how we can help school personnel remain positive on a daily basis. We must start by recognizing that it is not our successes nor our failures which defines who we are, but rather it is the choices we make in how we respond which defines us.

Therefore, I challenge you today to CHOOSE to……
  1.  Bring your best to work every day, whatever your best may be that day. Be grateful that you get the opportunity to make a positive impact on a child every day!
  2. Give two minutes of your time to one student and one staff member every day. Be intentional with your time and then follow up with a quick word or note. The small things can make all the difference.
  3. Be empathetic.  Taking the time to understand, share, and be sensitive to another person’s feelings is critical in building a culture of trust.  Every student and staff member will face some sort of challenge at one time or another.
  4. Value the mistakes of others. Risk takers are born here. If you yourself make a mistake, own it, apologize, and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  5. Model forgiveness – if you want to be an effective leader, be willing to sincerely accept an apology and move on. Believe that most people’s intentions are good.
  6. Understand you will not always see immediate results when working with kids. Be patient and think long term. Many are just testing a system which has failed them many times over long before you came into the picture.
  7. Have high standards for all kids every day. Do not make excuses for kids based on race, socio-economic class, environment or poor parenting, etc. Believe in all kids all of the time (it also helps if you love them all of the time too!)
  8. Acknowledge inappropriate behavior of kids. By not doing so we are sending a message that they are not worth it or we have given up. If we hesitate to correct poor behavior based on their response to us, we have become part of the problem.
  9. Not be negative. Constant complaining and being negative about kids, staff, work environment, etc. without offering a solution says more about us than it does about those who we are complaining about.  Bring positive energy every day.
  10. Take time to smile/laugh and encourage others to have fun. When it is no longer fun to go to work, it is time to do something else.
For me personally, the same things that keep me up at night are the same things that get me up in the morning charged and ready to go to work. Every day is a great day because I choose to make it a great day.   We are not going to be able to control everything that happens to us on a daily basis, but we can control how we let it affect us.  It is our duty to bring a positive voice to school every day.  It is our practical measure of our own excellence.

If we are doing the work worth doing, then how we respond begins and ends with us. 

“The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before a miracle happens. Don’t give up.”- Unknown
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22 Comments

  • Matt says:

    Jimmy,
    Thanks for writing such a powerful and timely piece. I especially found your list to be a reminder of how the choices we consciously make impact the lives of others. Our responses matter sometimes more than we realize.

  • Cory Radisch says:

    Jimmy,
    As always great job. Our roles as educators are to be merchants of hope. I hope you would consider reading my blog on this subject: http://cradisch.blogspot.com/2013/03/merchants-of-hope.html

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Thanks Cory. Definitely plan to give it a read. Yes, continue to face the challenges of hopelessness on a daily basis, but inspired daily when we are able to make a breakthrough and make a significant difference in the lives of kids. No better feeling! – jimmy

  • Matt says:

    Jimmy,
    Thanks for writing such a powerful and timely post. Your list is an extensive reminder of how our choices can make all the difference in the lives of others. Your post will help me continue to focus on my interactions with others. Great post!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Thanks Matt. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read my post and comment on it. I value your friendship & feel fortunate to have connected with you. Looking forward to #BBQfeast2 this summer! Take care! – jimmy

  • Thank you for sharing this inspiration! Important to ponder as we finish one semester and get ready to start another one. I will be sharing this. Especially love that it came out of a distracting activity. 🙂

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Sandy, thanks for taking the time to share this with others. I hope you can find something here that will assist your team. Yes, sometimes I do my best when I am distracted. 🙂 – jimmy

  • Kris Mitzner says:

    Eloquently written! May your words inspire others to be the change that they want to see in the world! So happy that you are part of my PLN ( I’ll miss IAedchat tonight …going to a Christmas show!)

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Kris, thank you. I hope you know the feeling is mutual. Being connected has pushed me to always keep working to be better! Glad you are a part o f it. Make a great day! – jimmy

  • Absolutely love this! It is a great wake-up call that we all need to read and consider from time to time! I feel like putting a checklist with some of these things on the steering wheel of my car so I remember it daily on the way to school. Great stuff!!!

    Oliver Schinkten
    @schink10

  • This is important to me because a negative attitude toward school really trips students up. The culture of learning at school for staff and students is so important. Some students feel so insecure in themselves even in HS and without kind, solid concern and direction, can drown in their insecurities. This is the worst thing that can happen to a learner. It results in a cold hate if not dealt with in a positive way.

    It bothers me when people seek to hurt the weak and the different…the weird and the strange. It bothers me when differences are seen as that which we should be isolated from instead of first, seeking to understand. My hope is that students can finish HS with a restoration of the dignity and pride in themselves. Creating a positive culture of learning for all students all the time is vital.

    Thanks for a post that resonates with hard core truth.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Kim, I can tell we share many of the same sentiments when it comes to the treatment of others, especially students. Thank you for taking the time to share your personal thoughts. The work we do is of the utmost importance! – jimmy

  • Anonymous says:

    Equally as important is our demonstrating the fruit of a positive attitude. We’ve all seen educators who correct their student’s behavior but then exhibit the same behavior themselves. It isn’t enough to set the boundaries, we have to show young people how to test a boundary, accept a boundary and set personal boundaries. They hear us complain about administrators and other teachers, even our spouses. Do they ever see us praise, encourage and thank these same people? To teach is such a privilege; let’s live like we believe that one.

  • Dave Burgess says:

    Another powerful post, Jimmy!! I’m honored to know you and can’t wait until we can break bead yet again. Keep up the amazing work…you’re creating a lot of positive energy and inspiring many!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Thank you Dave! Means so much coming from you. Agreed, always looking forward to the next meet up. Thank you for the positive comments. I will continue to do my best to live up to the standard. – jimmy

  • Thank you for sharing your efforts as a high school principal with ALL students and continuing to share your thoughts with us. I’ll be sharing this blog post with my staff this Wednesday at our Staff Collaboration meeting. My goal is that every day is chosen to be a great day for every member of our staff community. Thank you again.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Todd, I appreciate your comments. Honored that you would share this with your team. I hope it is able to make an impact for some of them. Thank you for your work and for your feedback! Be great today! – jimmy

  • Thank you for reminding me about what is important. As a 2nd yr high school principal in a large, urban school I was recently distracted by many outside forces (most especially a brand new testing law that was just implemented). Your post reminded me to keep my focus where it should always be…on the student. I will share with my team as we return. Thank you again!

  • mona busiek says:

    Reviewing you list of challenges is a great way for us to begin the new school year! I’ve printed these off & have read & re-read them. Keeps everything in perspective. I’ll be sharing this with my team when we meet next week. Thanks for your encouraging blogs.

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