We do what we’re set up to do – no more and no less.

I got back late yesterday from Dallas where I attended AVID Summer Institute.  I’ve attended Summer Institute more times than I can remember in the last 13 years, so to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t pumped about going.  I’d been there, heard it and gotten tshirts, so I wasn’t sure I was going to benefit from any great new insights.  Plus, I felt like there were others who needed to be there more than me.  I’m doing a pretty good job.  There’s plenty of others at my school that need to be fixed.  Why aren’t they going?  Perhaps I’m the only one that gets into that type of dysfunctional thinking from time to time.  Or perhaps not.

When our school first implemented AVID, we called it a college prep program, and I know all about it since I was an elective teacher, site coordinator and eventually administrator.  I could talk about the AVID Essentials and certification process all day long.  This year got me to a deeper and better place.  I attended a training in the fall when AVID hit me with the insights of Simon Sinek and challenged me to find my “why.”  It has resonated with me all year and really changed my outlook and approach to the way I do my job and the way I look at the challenges we face in public education.  Here’s a 5 minute clip from YouTube if you haven’t heard Sinek’s insights.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPYeCltXpxw  (Here’s an earlier blog post where I discuss the why https://ericlfox.com/2018/02/10/how-do-you-remember-your-why/ )

So I was challenged with a great team of educators from my district with site team activities and my leadership strand to focus again on the “why” of what I’m doing individually and what we’re all trying to accomplish together.  I admit as a teacher, I used to hate the question “why are we doing this?” when I heard it from my students.  I took it personally.  I took it as a challenge to my supposed earned authority as the educational expert and the one who knew what good for all my students whether they knew it or not.  I owe lots of apologies to students who for many years posed that point of inquiry, perhaps in a non-threatening and truly curious manner, when I took affront to it.  Truth is, if I couldn’t (can’t) articulate a “why” to them, I probably needed to re-think the activity, assignment, or hoop that I was asking (requiring) them to jump through.  I have to also admit that as an administrator, there are times that I am asked why that seem to get under my skin.  Again, I take it personally.  I see it as a challenge to my position and my expertise.  I also ask the why question in lots of meetings, and if it bothers me from time to time, it probably annoys others as well.

However, our leadership strand had a great facilitator from Wisconsin named Brett Bowers of Homestead High School.  Brett challenged my thinking right off the bat as he talked not about AVID, Cornell notes or binders, but about leadership – true leadership.  He talked about how most of us in the room have “business card” leadership because of a title on a small piece of cardstock we carry around and like to hand out to show our importance.  He also talked about how there is the discussion that we have as “leaders” in the staff meeting and then the real discussion that takes place in the faculty lunch room or the parking lot.  My effectiveness as a leader should be measured much more by the parking lot discussion than the one I presided over in the meeting.

Another quote we dug into as we talked about effective leadership, instruction, systems and culture was by Dr. Victoria Bernhardt of the Education for the Future Foundation who stated, “Schools are perfectly designed for the results they are getting.  If schools want different results and improved student achievement, they must measure and then change the processes to create the results they really want.”  Here’s a link to their website https://edforthefuture.com/

My takeaway?  We need to ask ourselves, and feel the freedom to ask others, “why are we here?”  We also need to grant permission for others to ask “why?” of us.  It needs to be a point of reflection.  Otherwise, we will continue to get exactly what we have been getting, because we have designed procedures, processes, metrics, expectations and foregone conclusions to do so.  If we ask, “why is this happening here?” the answer is that we’ve set it up to do so.  We’re going to get no more or no less than what we’ve designed, decided, or permitted.  What process, support, training, or attitudes need to be examined and redesigned to get something different?  If we don’t demonstrate the courage to confront why both personally and collectively, we will continue to be the school we’ve been.  I was challenged by another conversation from a new colleague, Dr. Chris Sartain at Oak Park High School in North Kansas City who reminded me as a leader that our schools have the choice to be the school we currently are or the school we need to be for all kids.  To break that down, I have the choice to be the administrator I am currently or the administrator I need to be for all kids and adults at my school.  Thanks for the challenges, reminders and inspiration from the educational leaders in Pegasus Ballroom A, as well as my Jenks Public Schools AVID peeps.  It was a good week in Dallas.  I know why I went, and I know why I’m coming back to work towards being the administrator our students and staff need.


Here’s a link to AVID’s website for more information on the AVID system from elementary through secondary to higher education.  https://www.avid.org/



4 thoughts on “We do what we’re set up to do – no more and no less.

  1. Awesome job Eric! I enjoyed getting to work with you at the AVID conference. I learned so much more than I thought I even knew thanks to the help of some great educators in the room.


    • Thanks Jae. We had such a great collective learning experience. It was reassuring to hear of similar struggles in our schools yet determination as leaders to face the challenges head on. I look forward to continued conversations with these new colleagues.


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