Monday, January 30, 2006

Searching for a job vs. being called for a life

Spire Top
Originally uploaded by Bucky O'Hare.
Things have slowed down. I'm not sure what I would expect, but everything has come to a grinding halt. Three interviews and, suddenly, nothing.

I'm not searching for a job, but I am answering "a call." However, unless I get my name "out there" there will be no call at all. I've sent letters to 88 schools, with the last batch going out just this past weekend. It's just a lull, I'm sure, but I want answers.

Things which still need doing:

1. Notes to the folks I've met with over the past couple of weeks.

2. Follow-up with all the headmasters who have replied to my original inquiry.

3. Figure out a way to get the NAIS position postings delivered to my inbox or RSS reader so I don't have to log in to the site every day.

4. Continue networking.

5. Find a couple of other folks who are looking for appointments to independent school faculties and form a cohort or support group.

6. Write a "statement" about my philosophy of working with students, being in a residential community, and teaching.

And who said I didn't have much to do?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

But I'm not wearing my pajamas

A school in the snow
Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse.
On an interview, and the head's administrative assistant says to me, "Almost didn't recognize you in that conservative suit. I thought you might show up in your pajamas."

"Ooops," thought I. "Once again, remember people actually read your blog."

Yup. Like the time the admiral asked me who'd been fired and did he need to intervene. Ah, so it goes.

Three interviews. Hopefully three invitations to return to campus, and a chance to continue the conversations.

I love interviewing, getting the chance to see schools, see what works, see some good ideas. Today, saw some excellent & enthusiastic teaching at a friendly school. When I asked a couple of administrators what made their school different from others, what set them apart from the competition, they said the school, the community, was "like family." I wonder how you can market that.

Does a school need something they can hang their hat on? I think so. I need to check the demographics, but what I've heard is that the pool of high school aged students is getting smaller, while, at the same time, the number of families that can actually afford boarding schools (at least at the full pay level) has dropped by some 75% to less than one percent of the families in America. A slippage from 4% to less than 1%: I figure some schools are going to either close their doors or become schools for non-native speakers of the English language.

And so it goes. Three interviews complete. A couple more hot prospects. And a good half-a-dozen on the hook.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One down. Two more on the calendar.

One interview down. Two more next week. This week, I'm actually working... ;-)

I thought the interview went well. After my last post, I wandered around, talked to a few students, walked the halls, and visited the athletic complex. Everyone I met was friendly; the students all claimed they liked being at the school. The most negative I heard was the weather.

I went down to check in to the hotel and change for the evening: chapel attire, you know. The room was great: spacious & plush & well-appointed. I changed into my suit and then headed back to the school for dinner and chapel.

The food at dinner was good: roast chicken, beef stir fry... I was in 7th heaven: carb free. I sat for a while with two hockey players; they seemed bright, funny, articulate. Good kids. When they left, I moved over and sat with a couple of teachers. Friendly; committed; diligent; humorous.

After dinner, I headed over to chapel. Now, I generally like church services: the liturgy, the sense of peace, the music, the calm, the sense of reverence. Not so here. It was as if we were on a race to finish. All the boarding students attended; only six faculty members were in the congregation, and they were taking attendance. There wasn't a non-on-duty faculty member in the room.

When I spoke to my bride that evening, I mentioned I thought this was odd. If the object is to torture students and faculty members, success. If the object is to have a community gather for a spiritual hour, a time when people of every faith can gather in a quiet time, well, no success there. I'm not sure the setup is intentional in nature. What do I mean by intentional? What I mean is that we do things consciously, intentionally. We create community, we don't just let it happen haphazardly. Why do we do what we do? What do we want to get out of if? If Sunday services are a time for a community to gather, then create such a thing. Sure, it's the Eucharist straight out of the Book of Common Prayer, but 42 minutes (with music)? A read sermon delivered from the nave? The breaking of bread as a time trial?

I know it's difficult. But, hey, let's talk about it.

Jennifer said I'd better not talk about it, better not get on my high horse, better not get passionate, better not tell them how to run their school. After all, I don't want to start out on the wrong foot.

True enough, but an observation is an observation; a paradigm is a paradigm. And, I am who I am.

As it turns out, several people asked me what I thought about the service when they learned I'd attended; and, I told them; and, they didn't appear to disagree.

After all, I'm just making observations and asking questions. And, if that's not okay, I'm likely not going to fit in anyway.

Monday dawned late; I arrived on campus a couple minutes after seven for a 0700 interview over breakfast with one of the associate heads. I fixed a plate, sat down with a couple of faculty members, started eating & chatting, and waited for the associate head. At 25 after, I mentioned to those I was sitting with that it was odd that she wasn't there.

"You know," said one helpful possible-future colleague, "there's a dining hall at the other campus."

Oops. I'm not off to a good start.

As it turns out, the rest of the day went well, aside from the fact I ran late the entire time, bouncing from person to person to person.

We'll see what happens; they actually aren't sure what position they have. I know; sounds odd. But, it's not. It's a new position. & they want to carve out the position based not only on their needs, but the strengths of whomever gets the job. The person, the fit, is most important.

Well, I can relate to that: for me, the place, the organization, the community is most important.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I'm in a foreign land

Sunday afternoon. I've arrived in the Midwest for the first interview of the season. I drove down from the airport and arrived in town shortly after noon. After driving around a bit, I found the hotel where the school is putting me up. Small place; I think it's a bar with a couple of rooms over top. The bottom line: the room will not be ready until 3pm. So, I drove out to campus.

I'm currently sitting in the library, a room that looks like it's out of a some stereotypical English boarding school film. Actually, the whole campus -- at least what little I've seen -- does. But, then, don't many?

Yesterday I was in class -- Statistical Methods -- and we somehow got talking about how anxiety impacts performance. And the professor made a comment which struck me at the moment. He said that some stress, some anxiety, is actually helpful in creating high performance. Those of us that aren't stressed, well, we're not pushed.

I thought about my current job. I realized that, indeed, I'm no longer anxious about any aspect of my job. I can very easily do what I need to do; there's no stretching, there's no growth, there's no challenge.

I think this is what excites me about coming back into the independent school realm. Something new and challenging.

I'm particularly interested in the role of school counselor. The interview here is for the newly-created position of school counselor. One of the southern schools which I'm interested in is also creating a school counseling position.

These are not to be confused with college counseling or residential counselors; from what I gather, both of these schools want someone who will do personal counseling as well as develop and implement various development programs.

This excites me.

So, the library: Three students are here. One young man is asleep in an overstuffed chair, and two young ladies are working at a computer. They're writing a paper... for their class on the history of Japan.

Well, off to poke around.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The phone calls keep coming

Cascades of ice 2
Originally uploaded by emjulien.
Had several phone calls today with folks at three schools. One call with the dean of students at a small, New England school. They have a non-teaching, dorm master position open. We had a good talk, and I like what I hear about the school, but the job doesn't thrill me. I don't think I'd have enough variety to keep me satisfied.

Second call was with another small, New England school. This call was with an admissions rep; before I'd heard the call to return to an independent school faculty, Andrew & I were talking about boarding school for him. We'd sent off for information from a host of schools. Anyway, this school also sounded like a great place to be, both for faculty and for students. We shall see.

And the third call was with the head of a southern school. The head had been at a school in Virginia, and I suspect we have some common acquaintenances. That call was cut short as he had to go off to a meeting; we'll pick up tomorrow.

So, things roll around. So far, I'd say I have much more of a chance ending up in a cold climate than anywhere else.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Things are starting to get real

Well, things are starting to get real. At work, people are asking if I'm really going to leave my perceived cushy job. "Damn straight," I say.

Had a preliminary phone interview with a headmaster of a school out in the western part of the Commonwealth. It went okay -- we've agreed to a visit to the campus later this month -- but I thought I sounded a bit like a duffus. You can learn a great deal by looking at a school's website and reading the school's literature; what are those things that stuff doesn't tell you. I didn't have any questions at the ready. I could have asked things such as these gems:
  • What sets your school apart from competitors?

  • Tell me about the school's culture and your purpose, vision, mission, and values.

  • How to you inculcate your purpose, vision, mission, and values into what happens daily on campus?

  • How does technology impact teaching and learning at the school?

  • Tell me about your "prize" facility or building? Where is the school lacking in terms of facilities?

  • What systems and processes are in place to create an environment for organizational and faculty/staff learning?

  • Tell me about the fiscal state of the school.

  • What is your strategic planning process? Who are the key participants in the strategic planning process? What are your key strategic objectives, associated goals, and timetable for accomplishing them?

  • How do you ensure all key stakeholders are lined up and working toward your strategic objectives?

  • How do you identify the student and market segments your educational programs will address?

  • How do you determine key requirements, needs, and expectations for students and key stakeholders?

  • What are the school's key performance measures concerning student learning, daily operations, and overall organizational performance, including progress on strategic objectives and action plans?

  • How do you review organizational performance?

  • How do you support faculty and staff?

  • Tell me about your compensation, recognition, and reward & incentive practices; how do these support and reinforce high-performance work and a focus on students & stakeholders?
I'm running out of energy, but not ideas.

For those of you who know me, yes, I've been looking at the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Hey, what can I say? The system works, baby. The system works.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Interviews and getting lost

Today is the day for the January administration of the SSAT, the Secondary School Admission Test. Andrew, my eldest son, is taking the test as I write this. We're at Saint Catherine's in Richmond. We drove up yesterday afternoon; it was a leasurely drive with no traffic to speak of until we hit Richmond and I-95. Had dinner at Red, Hot, & Blue -- Andrew's choice. Great pulled pork in a Memphis-themed restaurant. Stayed the night at a Courtyard. We got to bed early & woke up on time; had a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel. And then... Got lost on the way here.

Urgh. I'd made everything as relaxing as possible, and then I'm driving like a bat-out-of-hell trying to find the school. And, of course, the faster I drove, I wasn't getting any closer, if you know what I mean. We got here on time, but...

As to some good news (gaining a little control of myself): I have two interviews scheduled for the next couple of weeks. One is with a school in the mid-West, and the other is with a school here in Commonwealth. Both are coed; both are Episcopal schools; one has less than 250 students and the other is 250-400; both have more boarding students than day students. I am very excited about the possibilities they both provide. One prospective job is as the school counselor; the other job is a traditional teaching faculty position. Both would likely involve residential life & coaching responsibilities.

I hope our little trip didn't throw Andrew off this morning and that he fares well on the test...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The school for me; the role for me

I've been giving great thought to where I want to end up and what I want to be doing. I'm not sure it's not enough to just know I want to be at an independent boarding school; actually, I know that's not enough.

First, what sort of a community am I looking for?

I'm looking for a school that, above all else, knows what it is and is honest about what it is. I know too many places that claim one thing -- say, academic excellence -- and then do something else in a systematic manner (like dumbing down courses). I think this is the primary thing I'm looking for: a clear vision and mission; transparency.

I graduated from Saint James School. Saint James then and Saint James now are similar in many ways: the school knew what it was and was honest to that vision; the school knows what it is today, and is honest to that vision. The headmaster today, Father Stuart Dunnan (once one of the youngest current heads of any American boarding school), has a clear vision of what Saint James is, and he has worked to get everyone -- faculty, alumni, parents, other key stakeholders -- on the same page and moving in the same direction.

It's like Nemo.

"Huh?" you mumble.

Finding Nemo. The movie. Have you seen it? At the end of the movie Nemo and then Dora get caught up in nets. The secret is for all the fish in the net to swim down together. Too many organizations -- independent schools included -- are like the school of big, gray fish: everybody is moving this way and that way or floundering about. What Father Dunnan has done is gotten everyone to swim in the same direction. Purpose. Knowledge. Transparency.

I want to work in a school where everyone is swimming in the same direction.

What else? I'd like a community where I feel comfortable and where my family -- Jenny, Elliot, Richard, and Andrew -- feel comfortable. Conservative, liberal, casual, formal, uniformed or not... these things really don't matter. I see benefit in each choice; I can thrive in each milieu.

Ideally, I'd land at a school with fewer than 250 students, but larger is okay, too. Saint James is something like 225 today (was 165 when I graduated); Sem (where I taught years ago) is some 450 today; I think it was 375 when I was there. Again, there's pros and cons to both large and small, but I my preference (easily swayed, I'm sure) is smaller.

I'm enamored of Ted Sizer's work and the Coalition for Essential Schools. I'm intrigued by John Krumboltz's bias against grades. I believe in andragogy, not pedagogy.

About roles: I'm old school. I like the notion of the triple threat. I can't imagine working in a school community and not teaching at least one class & having residential responsibilities. And, I enjoy the interaction with students on the playing fields, in the theatre, or around the yearbook layout table.

Finally, selfishly, I want to maintain the same basic standard of living I have now: no commute, family time, and a decent wage. I certainly don't expect to make anywhere near what I make now (I'm a GS-12 with the feds), but I certainly expect to be remunerated appropriate to my professional experience (6 years teaching and 16 years of consulting, leadership, writing , training, and management experience) and education (B.A., M.Ed., M.A., and a nearly-in-hand Ed.D.).

I'm not asking for much, am I? ;-)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Why move? Why not remain in Portsmouth/Norfolk?

I live just several blocks from the two buildings in the foreground, the Renaissance Hotel and Harbor Tower here in Portsmouth. As you can tell -- well, hopefully you can -- I live in a vibrant urban area. I do love it it here. I'm not fulfilled, professionally, however.

I'm looking to make a difference in the lives of students and the life of a school community. Sure, I can make a difference in my current role as an organizational performance consultant, but the impact is -- at least as I perceive it -- minimal.

A couple of years ago while surfing the net, I Googled my name, and, lo and behold, this is what I found on the last page of dozens of pages of cites about "Peter Stinson":
8. Who/what was your favorite teacher in school and why?

This is a very difficult question because I had a lot of great teachers. I would have to say Peter Stinson from Wyoming Seminary. He was an English teacher for my 11th and 12th grade classes in various subjects. Basically, I was rapidly dying because of my hatred of life from public school and I acted out quite a bit. One thing he did was instead of writing me off, he took the time to emphasize my positive traits and to try to get me to believe in myself. I won't say that he performed a miracle and made me completely adjusted, but he did get me to actually start not hating, if not enjoying life. I feel that he is the reason that I became so interested in writing.
The post is now gone, having been lost by the ether or buried with the demise of the bulletin board to which these words were posted.

The post struck me, not because I had an impact, but because of the student who wrote it. I remember him, but he wasn't a student who spent time in my apartment or played on the lacrosse team or worked in the theatre. As a matter of fact, I don't remember doing anything special or out-of-the-ordinary with him.

Did I make a difference? Well, maybe here with this former student. I had an impact, and I didn't even have an inkling of it. I'm looking forward to another opportunity to serve in an independent boarding school.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Do I "seek" or am I "called"?

I've been giving thought to the whole search process, starting at the very beginning. Do I seek a place in an independent boarding school, or am I called to an independent boarding school. In my letters & emails, I've been using the word "seek," but I don't think seek is really accurate. Good school-people are called, like priests and monastics. It is, in many ways, like the life of a monk: cloistered, community, purposeful, service, duty, & dedication.

Perhaps this is what sets apart the boarding faculty member from the day faculty member. A position in a boarding school is a 7x24 life. It is similar to life in the military: it's not a job; it is a life.

When I was the executive petty officer at a Coast Guard boat station on Lake Michigan, I was "on the job" every minute of every day. There was little -- or no -- downtime. I thrived on it. Like I thrived on being a member of the faculty earlier in my career. I don't have that sense of purpose now; my job as a consultant is just that, a job.

We are not "called" to jobs. We are called to live life, and sometimes we are called to live life in a particular way in a particular place. I feel it in my gut, know it in my mind, taste it in my mouth: I am called to be a part of a school community, to teach, to learn, to help, to make a difference.

I am called, and still I seek to find out where the call will take me.

A NOTE: I have at this point sent out 54 letters of interest to 54 different schools. I've gotten a few emails in return; some nice words. I just hope they're not just nice words but have some substance behind them.
Thank you for your good letter and thorough description.

I appreciate your approach.

Your experience and credentials are very impressive.

your credentials and experience offer us several possibilities to explore

We are very interested in having a chance to talk about job opportunities here!

Thanks for your interest in our school. I was impressed by your knowledge of the school (e.g. the Coalition) and by what you could offer a school such as ours.

We would love to meet with you in the new year after our Board meetings in January.... My one worry would be that you might not be a "stayer" once you get your PhD.--we will talk of this and other more important things before you come.
I guess the next two months will be telling.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Just why did I leave?

final exam
Originally uploaded by dcJohn.
This past Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking with the head of a mid-western independent boarding school. He'd received my email the day before and wanted to chat about the possibilities. During the course of the conversation, he asked why I'd left teaching more than a decade ago. I'd been on the faculty for six years; what made me leave?

There are, I believe, a myriad of reasons why any of us do anything, but I left that independent school for two primary reasons. First, I wanted to live in a cabin in the woods and write. Second, I didn't want to be a part of a school where change was implemented deceitfully.

I did go to the woods and write. We moved to the woods in north western Virginia and lived in a cabin up a mountain near Linden, Virginia. I didn't write the great American novel, but I did finish a still-unsold-screenplay, Storm Warriors.

As to deceitful change... I am about transparency. Say what you do. Do what you say. Do it in the open. I think this is tough for many organizations, particularly those going through a transition period. It is, however, incumbent on the leaders of the organization to lead... that is to set the vision and get all stakeholders lined up and headed toward that goal. And, good leaders do this all in plain sight. From where I sat at that time, what I saw was a new head making changes without regard to key stakeholders and without involving key stakeholders. That's not the type of community I want to live and work in.

There's another, reciprocal question I expect to be asked. Why go back to teaching now?

Like I noted earlier, there are a myriad of reasons each of us decide to jump in a particular direction. For me, now, two reasons loom large. First, professionally, I'm ready for something different. I've been working as an organizational consultant for nearly ten years; the challenge has faded. Second, I've acquired a slew of learning in the last couple of years I'd like to put to some use in an environment outside of government and in a smaller organization. Third, I'd like to know I really make a difference; I don't get that in my current role. And, fourth, I'd like my family to enjoy the benefits, growth, and community of an independent boarding school.