Sunday, July 7, 2024

Labor of Love

During the summer of 2017, I decided to cut down a tree stump by hand. My lawn is on a hill, and a stump grinder couldn’t get up there without potentially damaging our retaining wall. So for a good part of the summer, I hacked away at the stump myself, using an ax, hatchet, handsaw, shovel, sledgehammer and wedge. When I finally gave in and asked some folks from a tree company to finish the job, they ran into all kinds of problems, as the rocks and dirt deadened their chain-saw blades. 

So I finished it all myself, continuing my stubbornness by cutting it down by hand - until a neighbor finally handed me his chain saw and told me he couldn’t watch it anymore. I combined my tools and his to finish up, and before summer’s end I had a stump-less hill, ready for sodding. 

That was my last summer off, as the following year I made the move from teacher to administrator. There would be no more time for cutting down stumps. I would be getting my hands dirty in a different sense, through an assistant principal job that required grit, perseverance, humility and commitment.

Speaking metaphorically, I chopped a lot of wood and endured a number of challenges during the next six years, both on the job and off. The loss of a principal. A global pandemic. A teen mental health crisis. The loss of my father. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis for my mom. A family to care for. A doctorate to complete. And, of course, the day-to-day challenges that come with helping to run a school. 

My focus every day has been to make myself present for students, colleagues, parents, community members, family and friends, and to keep thinking of new ways to support my school, community and loved ones. The work of school leadership is never easy, nor is the work of being a friend, father, son and husband. But by leading with love, humanity and forward-thinking, I have tried to be of use.

Tomorrow, I will step into a high school as principal for the first time. There will be challenges I can expect, and others I can’t even dream of. Some days it will come at me fast and furious, and other days I will find some space to breathe. I am ready for this step, with gratitude for the opportunity. I’m thankful for those I have worked with so far, and for those I will work with in the months and years ahead. I am inspired by the family and friends whose lives have touched mine, and I’m stronger for the lessons I have learned in life.

One of those lessons is to delegate a little better than I did in the tree stump days, and to pace myself a bit. Another is to never, ever give up, and to commit myself fully to making a difference. It is time - time to start another uphill project. Yet this one surely feels like a labor of love.


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