Which is Better: Talent or Perseverance?

We all want our children to be successful in life.  But do we know what tends to make a person successful?  What attributes can we cultivate in our children that will lead them to true success?  These are some of the questions that Author Angela Duckworth addresses in her excellent book Grit.

We’ve all heard the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  The hare was talented and intelligent – a “natural” athlete.  In contrast, the tortoise had little talent or wit – a slow performer.  Things came easy for the hare, while life was harder for the tortoise.   But when the two went head-to-head in a long distance race, the tortoise won.

Of course the moral of the story is that perseverance helps us be successful more than talent.  But why is that?  The Bible says, “the righteous falls seven times and rises again” (Proverbs 24:16).  Every time the righteous person gets up, she learns from her fall.  Eventually she sees falling as an opportunity to gain wisdom and get smarter.  And through the process she gains the grit needed for success.

But several factors are working against the hare.  First, he finds that he doesn’t have to work hard because his talent can carry him along.  He doesn’t grow as a result.  And then, if he is a modern day rabbit in school, he may have parents who want to shield him from any troubles or conflict.  Life might seem easy for him now, but he isn’t prepared for the difficult times ahead.

So how are we doing at allowing our children to get knocked down without having to rescue them?  Grit can be acquired when we face adversity and learn from our struggles.  And with grit we learn to rise again!

Reconnecting with Heritage Families of the Past

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  That quote, which is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, could have been said about our school many years ago.  When we left our campus on Hwy 100 amidst financial struggles that made the newspapers, some people thought our school was going out of business.  But the positive, steady growth we’ve enjoyed rarely makes the headlines.

Tuesday night I had the privilege of meeting with four former families whose students graduated over a decade ago.  We gathered at one of their homes to discuss what God was doing at Heritage.  While very concerned about our troubles in the past, they were equally interested to hear how the school is currently succeeding.

I took them through a presentation that covered our history, mission, values, and portrait of a graduate.  We talked about recent graduating classes, growth in enrollment, academic success, and renewed financial strength.  They heard about how our current strategic plan and fundraising success has led us to a much brighter future.  And of course I shared with them our dream to build a first-class addition to the Middle/High School building that would allow us to reunite our K-12 students on one campus.

I wish you could have been there with me to see their excitement when they heard about how God is blessing Heritage.  They told me about the many times they prayed earnestly for God to help our school when times were tough.

I’m wondering if you know of someone who once was close to Heritage who would love to hear how things are going.  Please send their contact information to Mary McCarthy (mmcarthy@hcsmail.org).  We will connect with them to help them know that we are, indeed, alive and well!

The Flip Side of Transparency

A few weeks ago I wrote about our desire to be transparent with all of our constituents by making as much pertinent information available and answering as many questions as possible.  I urged everyone to attend our Annual Meeting which took place on October 26 (you can find the presentation here).  Thanks to all who came, listened, and asked good questions.

We put a lot of work into that presentation and hope that it was helpful.  But today I want to talk about real communication, which leads us to the flip side of transparency.

Great communication goes two ways.  In the next couple of weeks we will be sending out our annual schoolwide survey.  I cannot emphasize how important it is that we hear from you!!!  We need to hear how you rate Heritage in the categories that are covered on the survey.  We need to hear your comments about what we do well and what we need to improve.  Without your input, we are crippled in our ability to move forward.

And this is a year in which we are planning to move forward!  The survey will not only help us assess how we are doing at addressing issues, but it will also be used extensively in our strategic planning process.  In late March we will be working with a consultant to lay out a brand new Six-Year Strategic Plan.

So while I always hope you will talk to us, whether in private meetings, group settings, or even the car-line, your response to this year’s survey will be exceptionally important.  Please keep your eyes peeled for its arrival mid-month and be sure to fill it out right away.  The benefits will soon be very clear!

Reflection

I recently asked a friend to give me input on my blog.  He lives in another state and has been a consultant with many Christian schools.  After reading a number of my blogs, he said it was obvious that the habit of writing a weekly blog caused me to purposely reflect on what we were doing and what I was learning, which then positively impacted the decisions we were making at Heritage.

James 1:22-25 says that reading the Bible is like seeing our reflection in the mirror.  That reminds us of getting up in the morning and seeing what we really look like – and it’s not pretty!  The reflection we see should make us think about what we really want and lead us to make the changes that are necessary.  The trouble comes when we see the problems and then quickly forget and do nothing.

I once knew a mother of a student who was pretty sure she had cancer but refused to do anything about it.  She thought it could kill her, but she didn’t want to concern her daughter more than necessary.  Of course she wasn’t doing herself or her family any favors.

Taking time to reflect is one of the most important things we can do.  What about our troubles at work, at home, or in our families?  Do we take the time to look deeply at those situations to perceive what lies below the surface – the root causes that can’t be fixed in a day but will continue to plague us if we don’t deal with them?

I invite you to join me in figuring out how, with God’s help, we can continue to deal with our problems at Heritage and keep improving.  Our students will be the beneficiaries.

Transparency

I remember standing before a crowd of school parents with the task of painting a picture that was not pretty.  I was at my first school in South Bend, Indiana as a fairly new administrator.  Our finances were dramatically changing – in a bad way.  The church that sponsored the school was making drastic cutbacks on its subsidy of the school, leaving the coming year’s budget hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red.  I laid out the case for why we needed to increase tuition by over 33%.

The parents were stunned and quiet.  But one-by-one they stood to speak, not in anger, but in appreciation for the school’s honesty in the situation and its commitment to pursue excellence in the face of difficult financial news.  In the end we survived that crisis and the school was stronger as a result.

I’ve never had to deliver a message that difficult again in my career and hopefully never will.  But I learned a lesson through it – don’t sugarcoat the message.  Give people a clear picture of where things are.  That practice builds trust that is crucial when tough times come.

Next week we will hold our Annual Town Hall Meeting (details included below).  There it will be my job to paint a realistic picture of where the school is: financially, academically, spiritually, programmatically, etc.  This practice was started before I was hired when School Board President Dave Cotteleer helped everyone understand the dire straits we were in at that time.  But his clear, unvarnished presentation helped turn the tide for Heritage.

So please accept my invitation to come to this year’s meeting.  Don’t’ worry – we have a lot of good news to deliver!  But we’ll also give you a transparent view of exactly where we are.

Pursuit of Best Practices

Ooops…Wrong blog got posted on the Hotline.  This is the one intended for this week!  Apologies for any confusion.

How do we pursue success at Heritage?  Apart from our fierce loyalty to accomplish the mission of the school and our faithfulness to behave in ways that are consistent with our core values, what are the practices that drive us and set us apart from the crowd?  These were questions we spent a couple of hours talking about at a recent meeting of our school leaders.

In the attempt to answer the questions, we started listing on a white board “how” we do things at Heritage.  The list included things like providing ample professional development funds, strengthening our curriculum review process, being in touch with educational research, taking a reflective approach to what we do, etc.  After coming up with dozens of ways that accurately describe how we do things, we came up several general conclusions.  Here is one of them: we are pursuing best practices.

When we pursue best practices in the light of our mission, we can look past educational fads to find the ideas and methodologies that are truly making a difference in improving the planning and delivery of excellent academics.  We need to become experts at the best ways of thinking and doing.

The pursuit of best practices is why we our teachers are attending the Professional Development Forum provided by the Association of Christian Schools International in Aurora, IL.  We will participate in sessions taught by educational experts in areas such as critical thinking, assessment, differentiation, technology, diversity, spiritual growth, strategic planning, etc.  Setting aside our teacher hats, we will put on our learning hats and be hungry students.

We have to become the best school we can be.  Our core value of being exceptional and our love of Christ demands this grand pursuit!

The Importance of Self-Discipline

Discipline equals freedom.  That may seem counterintuitive, but that is the premise of the last chapter of Extreme Ownership, a book I mentioned in last week’s blog.  Author Jocko Willink is so convinced of this he is coming out with a new book this month called Discipline Equals Freedom.

So how can that be true?  Most students and many parents think that self-imposed discipline is a necessary evil that needs to be tolerated but avoided when possible.  But maybe discipline is something we really need to celebrate and embrace.

What happens when we lack discipline in any area of our life?  It usually leads to the opposite of freedom.  When we don’t control what we eat and fail to work out on a regular basis, we are not free to do the things we could do if we were in shape.  We can’t run in long races and we tire too easily as we participate in other sports.  My dad, though he wasn’t fat, lived like this and ended up having a fatal heart attack at age 55.

Discipline allows us to reap the reward of freedom.  The student who studies every night, regardless of whether homework is due, is free to go to bed on time the night before a big test and has better recall of the information while taking the test.  Discipline also provides the freedom that comes when we earn the trust of others.

Some think discipline is the antithesis of fun.  But while discipline leads us to do the hard things first, it also frees us to go have fun afterward with no cloud of worries hanging over our heads.  So think about what restricts you and choose the discipline that will free you.  And then do it!

Extreme Ownership – The Buck Stops Where?

I once heard someone say that after you have spent three years as the head of a school it is easy to find whom to blame if things aren’t as they should be: it’s you.  After four years at Heritage I realize that I’m the one responsible for all of the biggest problems we face today.

In Extreme Ownership authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin use their experiences as Navy SEALs to illustrate powerful leadership principles we can all use without ever firing a bullet.  The key message is this:  The leader must own everything in his or her world.

One of the authors told about a mission that went bad under his leadership in Iraq.  Through a series of mistakes made by his men, they found themselves being attacked by other US forces.  Although none of his men were killed, one was wounded and the confidence of his team was shattered.  After he carried out an investigation he met with his superiors to report who was to blame.  He recounted errors made that painted the picture of why things went wrong, but when pressed for who was to blame, he said he was.

He was not there when the bad decisions were made, but he took the heat for the fact that his men had not been better prepared, the dangers had not been properly thought out, and the communication plan wasn’t good enough.  His admission caught his superiors by surprise; they worked through the issues with no one being dismissed.

Do you play the blame game?  Good leaders don’t.  If we want our students to take responsibility we need to lead by owning our failures.  It may be hard, but it is the right and best thing to do!

What Do Parents Really Want from Christian Schools?

What drew you to Heritage?  What was important before you came and how did that differ after your children were enrolled for a while?  These are important questions and schools like ours need to know the answers.  Research is coming to the rescue!

Heritage is a member of the Association of Christian Schools International which recently sponsored a study by the Barna Group to understand how parents make decisions regarding Christian schools.  The results shine a light on the things we need to keep making better while also helping us understand the thinking of those who are considering enrolling in our schools.

After surveying hundreds of parents with students enrolled in schools like Heritage, researchers found that the attributes most valued are: safety, teachers care, academic excellence, character, accesible teachers caring, college prep, and spiritual formation.  Also interesting is the list of attributes that were least important to parents: ethnically diverse, economically diverse, convenient schedule, facilities, location, and athletics.

These findings do not mean that the latter list is not important, but relatively speaking the first list is what parents are looking for the most.  For example, great facilities would be nice, but safe facilities would be far more important.  Athletics are good, but caring teachers make a much bigger difference.

The Barna Group also surveyed parents who said they would seriously consider sending their children to a Christian school but had not done so yet.  How did their priorities differ from current parents?  They were very similar, but spiritual formation was relatively low on their list while location and facilities ranked much higher.

So what are the implications?  Delivering excellence in these valued areas is essential in keeping current families and attracting new ones.  We gladly accept that challenge!

What Does It Mean to Be a Leader at Heritage?

Sometimes when working on big projects something very important gets left out.  Last year we made a lot of progress toward identifying what our plan should be for developing leaders at Heritage.   But when we reached the end of the year we realized that had failed to do one very important thing: clarify our definition of leadership!

Leadership means a lot of different things to different people.  We must articulate a definition that fits our school and meshes with who we are and what we believe.  Much of what the world calls leadership isn’t relevant to Heritage.  So during our teacher orientation we split our faculty and staff into six teams and charged each one to draft a definition of leadership at Heritage.

After school started a group of administrators worked together to mold the six definitions into one cohesive statement.  We found the following words woven into many of the definitions: Christ-centered, exceptional, inspiring, and humility.  And while these descriptors are very integral to who we are (the first three are our core values), the essence of these statements led us to the definition we sought:

Leadership is influencing others to reach their God-given potential.

Further discussion helped us realize that a definition about leadership is a bit distant to students.  We would do better to define what a leader is at Heritage:

A leader influences others to reach their God-given potential.

All of our teachers are leaders.  All of our students are budding leaders.  Therefore all of us need to realize it is our duty to help those around us reach their God-given potential.  We look forward to the challenge of living out the implications of this definition while celebrating the fruit it will bear!