Courageous Conversations


Yesterday was a great day at the Superintendent's retreat. It's always good to see administrators from around the district that I haven't seen for awhile. Some thought I left the district...nope, just hiding out at the Orange Technical College Westside Campus. The student performers were great...the first group, Orange Center Elementary School of Rock...they knocked it out of the park...I knew by the name it was going to be good, so I filmed it from the start. The University HS Drama Department students were outstanding as well...they performed many of the songs from The Little Mermaid. The guest speaker was great as he explained the 212 concept...I think he just read us his book from his heart. I took mountains of notes...the tough thing about taking notes on your phone is people think you are playing with your phone and not paying attention. I could always send my notes to verify, I guess...since no one trusts anyone anymore. It was a great day...and the Superintendent sent us out with a $20 gift card to buy movie tickets, a book, or whatever we wanted. I think we are even allowed to buy food with it...The district doesn't give money the same way the state gives money. (Inside joke for Florida teachers.)

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A theme throughout the retreat seemed to be that "nobody can pull us down". I like being positive. In fact, I think being positive is actually my wheelhouse. There are times, though, when you need to have courageous conversations. There are times when the smart people we have surrounded ourselves with need to question us, even argue with us. This is important, because it's at those times, during those moments of tension, when we get stretched...when we really learn, and we also show that we value the opinion of others. We can't fortify ourselves behind the thought that anyone who complains is just being negative. Maybe there is a reason they are being negative.

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Something I learned as a teacher, and I continue to remember as an administrator, is the fact that because I, as a teacher, didn't write hardly any referrals for students, when I did write a referral, administrators took my referrals seriously. They knew that whatever happened, it was bad enough that Mr. Fitz needed help from someone higher up the food chain...which rarely was the case. As an administrator, I carried on this philosophy: While I address all concerns brought to me by teachers, if one of my best teachers--one that doesn't even know how to fill out a referral form--needs help with a situation or student, I'm going to pay very close attention and address the problem quickly, with my utmost concern and care. This is common sense leadership...this is "simple leadership".

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Those who know me well, know that I am an extremely positive person...some would say I'm too positive, too nice, too friendly-natured. In all honesty, I admit that I look for the silver lining in all of my relationships--with those people I work for, and also those people who work for me. Now, if someone who is extremely positive, has exemplary reviews from supervisors and staff members over a long administrative career, begins to raise a caution flag about some of the policies and practices within our district, I would hope that the folks up top pay attention, and respond a little bit better than, "nobody can pull us down". I hope that those who preach the art of courageous conversations don't shy away from them when they are on the receiving end...the gate must swing in both directions if we want to grow as a district.

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Does it feel bad to have someone that always seems to be focusing on negative things...areas of improvement? Now you know how teachers feel when administrators come into their classrooms with a list of 41 elements of teaching, and the administrator seems to only focus on the negative things. We, as leaders, have to be careful what we are looking for, because it will become all that we see. The Marzano system of teacher evaluations can be used for nuclear power or a nuclear weapon.

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In conclusion, I like being positive...that's my wheelhouse...it may not seem like that to some--especially those who don't know me well--but it will become more evident as this campaign heats up over the summer. But even as I love being positive, I also love solving problems. If I hear legitimate complaints and concerns from people, I'm going to listen, and I'm going to act. I will stand alone, if need be. I will absorb the criticism of being negative, if need be. I will risk promotions, paychecks, and pensions, if need be. The fact of the matter is this, "Sometimes, we need to be pulled down to get our heads out of the clouds so we can see what's happening on the ground, and address the real problems that abound all around." Courageous conversations in action...do we still like them? Do we still want growth opportunities? Do we still want people around us to disagree and argue with us to help us grow and improve?


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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Matthew J. Fitzpatrick, Non-Partisan, for Orange County School Board Chair

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