Ever since I started my journey in bringing E-Colors in Education to every school in June of 2013, I began with Texas educators and schools I had established a connection. My expansion to California was brought about with my relationship with Taft Union High School. Soon, Parlier Unified School District learned about our efforts from social media. Almost two years into my journey I returned to both California unified school districts to validate coaches to sustain the Realizing Potential Journey.
In between the two cities, there were many others. One particular town stood out. I found McFarland. I pondered for a minute if it could be the same town from the current movie showing in theaters. Without much information other than my GPS, I took a detour and traveled to McFarland High School. Before I take you to my experience of walking through the doors of McFarland High School, I wanted to offer some additional insight I learned from a walk and talk with my coach for life, Lewis Senior.
In the fall of 2014 Lewis and I attended a conference together in Washington, DC. We connected with many people participating in the conference, as we often do for the time we are present at the site. On our walk from the hotel to the conference we encountered an elementary school. Lewis asked me to practice, if you will, my elevator speech. It was not the smoothest experience. What I did learn from this encounter was that reaching out to potential new connections that were not familiar with me and/or the efforts we were attaining through E-Colors in Education was a skill I needed to expand.
Honestly, having spent more than 17 years as a public school educator, I recognized that I was not professionally trained in elevator speeches or selling a product and service for that matter. My purpose as a principal was to serve my community, offer an undeniable education to students and inspire everyone to reach their fullest potential daily. Making cold calls to offer my depth and breadth of who I was and what I represented in two minutes or less was easily the worst task that I could be asked to accomplish. Making cold visits to a school would generate just as uncomfortable feelings. I was used to collaborating and establishing partnerships with people who knew work, my reputation, and me. I had a long-standing relationship that had proven to reciprocate results and improve communication, culture and human performance coaching. That was comfortable, organic and natural.
Once I walked in front of the main doors, it did not take long to see that I was walking through the very McFarland High School that was depicted in the movie McFarland USA.
I had on me my dissertation depicting my life story, growing up in abuse and poverty along with Lewis and Laura Senior Garcia's book, At the End of the Day: How One Man Learned to Live Like He Was Dying. My goal was to see if the front office would hand the books to the freshman (grade 9) counselor. The receptionist took the books and indicated that she would gladly deliver them. Her positive tone prompted me to inquire, "May I see the freshman counselor and explain to her why I am bringing these books to her attention?" Without any hesitation, the receptionist called the counselor's office and let me in to see her.
Before the buzzer rang to allow me through the counselors' office door, I remember thinking that my conversation would be authentic, honest and mindful of her time.
I stated to Counselor Cardoso, "I asked to see you because you oversaw students in grade nine."
Counselor Cardoso asked, "Why grade nine?"
"The ninth grade is first time students experience high school. This transition is foundational and can change the trajectory of a student's life, depending on the guidance and support that has been established and recognized by the students and parents." I added, "I was a former principal. In that role, I recognized several ways we, as a school could positively impact the course of a students' life, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to see a life beyond high school."
Counselor Cardoso paused. She got up from her desk, "I want to call my colleagues to hear what you have to say."
I met one more counselor and further explained how utilizing E-Colors and Personal Intervention brought about impactful change systemically and individually.
• Student attendance increased.
• Gang violence reduced.
• Bullying addressed purposefully and intentionally.
• A framework for continuous improvement established.
• Student-Teacher communication evolved into holding each other accountable for our words and actions.
Then, I concluded and admitted, "I have not watched the movie but in the previews your story resonated with me because it was partly my story. I also spent some time driving by the neighborhood and visible was reminded of my childhood hometown. You know, Arianna Huffington wrote a book called Thrive. In there she offered the idea that moments like this are not luck. They are serendipitous. The counselor took down the name of Arianna's book and continued to listen to me explain her words, "Coincidences connect us across time, to one another, to ourselves, and to an invisible order in the universe."
Both counselors stated, "Did you know that one of the runners featured in the movie works here? He is our counselor colleague." Danny Diaz, who was a part of the cross-country team in 1987 that won the first state championship title was the third and final counselor I had yet to meet.
While I did not know this fact initially, our brief conversation became a one-hour visit with an opportunity to see the gym, take photos and expand our dialogue beyond that day. I know that this is not always going to be the case in all schools I visit, but I also realize that having direct communication with a team of counselors would not have happened if I had not taken the chance to make the visit and as Arianna has stated, I chose "to be open to their power" of serendipity.
Here are a few points I learned from this visit:
• Approach each opportunity with humility.
• Believe in serendipity. You were meant to be in that place at that precise time for a grander purpose.
• If you are your authentic self, people are willing to listen.
• Educators truly want to make the difference in the life of a child.
• Helping others reach their fullest potential is timely and timeless.
I will continue to remind myself of the benefits of expanding beyond what feels comfortable to what will leave me appreciating the magical moment that was created and will allow me to thrive personally and professionally for years to come. As my dear colleague Stefan reminded me when I shared this experience with him, "Each moment, each geographical location, each marker in this time/space continuum that we are a part of is laden with grandeur and high purpose."