I grew up as one of three boys, all of us physically active and rambunctious. That meant several things: we were rarely inside the house except to eat and sleep— kind of like a pet cat; a lot of stuff seemed to get broken in our house – windows, drywall, bones, etc.; and I knew where I fit in the social order. I was the youngest and therefore the smallest (until I was an adult; I’m now the biggest when IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER).
As children, my oldest brother was the biggest and strongest and was therefore at the top of the sibling hierarchy. He generally got his way amongst the siblings, while my middle brother just quietly did his own thing and never ruffled any feathers; he seemed to slide into opportunities unnoticed. As the youngest, I knew I had to suck up to my older siblings in order to be included in their shenanigans.
“What’s in your wallet?” The pitch in the ad is that a certain credit card ought to be in there. For principals—probably leaders of all stripes—the question might be: “What’s on your desk?” Visitors or followers can measure the value a leader puts on aspects of life by checking out that desk: “I see a Bible.” “Look at that plaque with that saying on it.” “Everything is right in place; nothing messy here.”
For principals, a viewer can grasp their principles by the sayings, the proverbs, or short, pithy quotations that hang on the walls or sit on the desks of these men and women. What’s on your desk? Some golden oldies such as “A stich in time saves nine” or “Haste makes waste”? Or perhaps the motto of former US President Truman: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
In my 25 years of military service, I spent a good deal of time on the planning staff of some high-powered generals. On one assignment I worked for what we referred to as a “fire breather.” He was high maintenance, egotistical, narcissistic, power driven, and at times tyrannical. He drove his staff to the point of burnout, with weekly firings and one-sided screaming matches the norm.
I worked 85 hours a week for a year and a half straight, with little or no vacation. I remember one year driving 20 hours non-stop from Tucson, Arizona, to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and back to hunt deer over a three-day period because that was all the time I could have. The last five hours of the drive home were spent with my head out of the truck window, singing at the top of my lungs, trying to stay awake. I must have been quite a sight!
In Tattoos On the Heart, Father Greg Boyle showers his readers with stories of “the power of boundless compassion.” Founder of Homeboy Industries, Boyle demonstrates the power of acceptance and unconditional love over the brokenness of East Los Angeles gang life. What is it like to see the image of God in each person, to see with God’s eyes? Boyle describes it well. The thought “I want my school to be more like that” sunk almost unnoticed into my administrator modus operandi.
“Thanks for meeting with us today, Bart,” they said as they came into my office. This couple—stalwart, heart-and-soul school supporters—asked a hard question. “You know, when I was serving lunch the other day I heard one of the students say, ‘OMG.’ I see the way some students dress: sweat pants, form-fitting jeans. Another time I heard one girl say to another that she looked ‘sexy.’ How should we be addressing these things?”