From Horrific to Outstanding: a 2-Year Journey.

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How Chaos Brought Our School Success

How you manage chaos, as the school leader, will determine if you succeed.

I used to think that I would love to walk into a new school and think, “Huh, guess I’ll just see where the last guy left off and pick it up from there.” That’s not what I was thinking after the first day. No, it was more like, “Oh my God! What kind of chaos have I walked into? “

Welcome to Chaos High

What’s my idea of chaos? How about the fact that there had been three principals in less than two years? Or that we had no English teacher. Then there was the math teacher who constantly belittled students and failed to show up to work on time. And the school maintenance manager who would hide in his office. He was known for surfing the net instead of taking care of his duties. They should have been fired years ago.

How about the increasing absences or decreasing enrollment, and declining graduation rates? Not enough? Let’s add to that a list of student disciplinary problems too long to think about. Toss in the athletic coach who may be stealing from the program. Top it off with the fact that there was no football coach yet. Of course, this was waiting for me a few weeks before the start of school. Oh, and there was the delayed WASC visit (necessary for accreditation) coming up. The staff couldn’t get it together on time the year before. To make matters worse, the school had recently adopted a very controversial substance abuse initiative. In other words, this place of chaos was the perfect place to run away from.

She Just Walked Away

And that’s exactly what the Principal did the year before. She left before November. She told the staff that her plan was to ‘love the students enough’ to make everything okay. A nice thought. Poor execution though, that led to students lined up at her door, and down into the hallway. Every day. She would say nice things to them, give them candy, and send them back to the teachers to deal with. She kept that up until she snapped and walked out. Love without discipline doesn’t work. She had created chaos.

A Familiar Solution

Thank goodness the retired Principal was still living in town. He volunteered to fill in until someone new could take over. And for him, that couldn’t happen soon enough. He did what he could to restore some order and get through the rest of that year. I imagine that his goal was to survive. He had been around a long time and he knew how to keep the ship floating until June. It didn’t include taking on anything new or getting too involved. Like, why bother with disciplinary action for a student who vandalized the school and started a fight on the last day? Summer break was on the horizon and he’d be done. The new guy could handle it.

Getting Started

I was that new guy and it was already mid-July when I started. I made living arrangements, met my secretary, who was the last Principal’s wife, and settled into my office. Scattered stacks of notes and letters collected dust and avoided any action. I searched through the disorganized and incomplete files in an attempt to get a clue about what to do next. Nothing but chaos. No help.

For the next several days, I tried to make sense of anything at all. During this chaos, the question of where to begin taunted me.

We Need a Teacher…Now!

It should have been obvious, hiring an English teacher had to be first. The district office, which is 103 miles away, helped by posting ads. Weeks went by without any luck. Nobody showed interest in traveling to one of the most remote areas of the states, in a dead town. Not a soul applied to teach at a high school comprised of over 50% of Native American students. And no one wanted to work where the previous three principals lasted no more than a year at best.

No one that is, except for a wonderfully gifted, young recent graduate, who grew up in the area. Too bad she hadn’t even started teacher training. I was doubtful. And desperate. Without knowing if there was a way to get her on board, I decided to talk to her anyway.

I called my county office of education to find out if there was any way to hire her. We discovered there was. Her education level was enough (a Master’s degree). It allowed her to teach while in a teacher training program and attending classes.

Now, several years later, she has proven to be a great asset. As our English teacher, she fosters relationships and brings life and love to that little school. She also changes the course of many lives through modeling and expecting greatness. Students who once thought they would not make it through high school now attend college. Thank you, chaos for creating the first step towards incredible changes.

Accepting Chaos as Change-Maker

I knew more changes had to come. I accepted that I wasn’t faced with doing the mundane tasks that I learned in school. No, I had to tackle the giant of changing the school culture. It was to become my mission. And it was going to take a lot of work, from a lot of people, taking a lot of difficult steps.

Otherwise, Chaos would continue to rear its ugly head. I decided then to make chaos be the agent for more positive changes. It took over two years. And it paid off.

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Changing Relationships

I chose to adopt Capturing Kids’ Hearts. I had seen its power in a very difficult school. We started slow and gradually became fully immersed. The results were astonishing. Behavior problems were disappearing. Students felt respected and valued. The graduation rate went to 100%. Out of school suspensions dropped by 90%. We received the highest rating possible for our WASC Review. And the results of our CA Healthy Kids survey about both teacher and student satisfaction improved dramatically.

Stay the Course

Changing the environment was difficult. Capturing Kids’ Hearts was one part of the solution. I had to make other tough choices as well. There were days when all I wanted to do was hide under my desk. But I had a small group committed to change that helped lift me. They made sacrifices and the school became united. We all became determined to expel chaos from our community.

You got this

You will have changes to face. You can choose to see the chaos as an opportunity to flourish by leading a charge for change. Or, you can ignore it, hoping things get better. Be willing to face temporary pain that will lead to long-term joy. You have good people around you that are looking for your leadership. Lead them. Don’t let the chaos you’ll face further deteriorate your environment.

If you’d like to know about how we implemented Capturing Kids’ Hearts drop me a note. I’d love to discuss it with you.

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