What Do I Really Do?

what-do-i-really-doThis blog was originally posted by leadupnow.com

When my kids were little, they used to ask me, “Daddy, what do you actually do all day?”  As the superintendent of a 10,000 student school district in Central Ohio, I would often just casually respond with, “I go to meetings.”  For a while, that seemed to satisfy them, and they moved on.  But, what is the role of the district superintendent? Officially, the superintendent is the top executive in the school district. It’s my job to implement the school board’s vision by making day-to-day decisions about educational programs, spending, staff, and facilities and by hiring, supervising, and managing the central office staff and principals.  

But, what do I really do….?

It’s my belief that my most important role, and the most important role of all leaders, is to positively impact and build the culture of our school district.  Focus 3 leadership consultant and Worthington City Schools graduate, Tim Kight, teaches that leaders create the culture, that drives the behavior, that produces the results.  

Thus, I want to spend the majority of my time leading to impact the culture of our school district.

One of my core beliefs is that humans desire leadership and want to know what is expected of them.  When they are clear on their expectations, most people will rise to meet them.  With that in mind, I communicated ”My Six Expectations” for all staff members in our school district in my opening address to the entire staff.   In speaking to the entire certified and classified staff in one room, I shared my expectations that were designed to clarify the daily actions that we would value, which began and ended with the simple mantra – “Be Kind to Kids.”  

change-the-world-3Throughout my first year as the superintendent, I attended a large number of meetings; many of those meetings were set-up to create a new mission and vision for the school district.  We intentionally designed these meetings and brought a representative community group together, because we wanted a mission that would resonate with our staff and clarify our purpose as a school district.  My goal was to create vision statements that would specify how our team would work with our community to accomplish our mission.  These statements would create clarity and help prioritize every staff member’s daily actions.  After a solid six months of regular meetings, we developed our mission and vision statements.  Instead of solely creating posters and hanging them in buildings, we unveiled them at our February State of the Schools event.

After the evening of our State of the Schools event, we recognized that we had clearly articulated our daily expectations and our team had created new mission and vision statements.  The question that kept nagging at me was, “what am I supposed to do now?”  If we were really going to move the needle and impact behavior and results, what was needed next?  Immediately, we went to work with a graphic designer to create mission and vision visuals for all schools (which turned out to be pretty awesome!).  In addition, our communications team developed a video of our students talking about “Changing the World” (also, super awesome!).  Momentum was building, but we kept feeling like we were missing a large segment of our staff.  Without taking some sort of action, our statements would look good on paper and on the wall, but may make very little difference.  In Leading with Focus, Mike Schmoker points out that a leader needs to be “obsessively clear”.  That thought kept resonating in my mind.  Am I being obsessively clear with our team? How many of our 1,250 employees would really know the mission, vision and expectations?  And, since we all process things through our own perceptive lenses, how many would really know what these statements meant to their daily work in our district?  If we were going to impact the culture and change adult behavior, we had to do something more.

With that goal in mind, we worked to be bring clarity to our mission, vision and six Processed with MOLDIVexpectations for all staff members.  This summer, working with Dynamix LLC, I created a book that each school will use throughout the school year to clarify our district’s core values.  At our opening staff convocation, we handed out to each staff member (including bus drives, cooks, and custodians) a copy of the book, “Worthington Schools Living our Mission, Vision and Shared Expectations“.  Our plan is that every Worthington Schools employee will go through this book with their teammates this school year.  They’ll meet in staff meetings, department meetings, cafeteria manager meetings, maintenance staff meetings, etc…  The central office staff will also complete the study together.  

The idea is to touch all 1,250 of our employees in a tangible way.  And, we wanted something that would be sustained month after month throughout the school year.  The book was designed as a simple way to keep the mission, vision and expectations in front of our staff.  And, it’s also a way for each staff member to internalize our values and wrestle with how they personally fit into each area.  It’s designed to be done in collaboration with peers, because we recognize that all real learning is personal and, as a district, we want to learn in community with one another.  

Each section has a short reading, a process for dialogue with peers, and an area for personal reflection.  Our belief is that when all 1,250 Worthington Schools team members wrestle with this material, read about it, discuss it, and reflect on it, we’ll help make our written statements come alive with a unified focus for our students.

By focusing on our mission, vision and shared expectations everyday, we are working to create a “Focus 3” culture in Worthington Schools that drives the behavior that will produce results that enable our students to leave our school district prepared to change the world.  If everyone moves just one step forward, the organization takes a giant leap.

That’s really what I do all-day!

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A Deadly Wandering

A Deadly WanderingEarlier this summer I wrote about the book Dreamland.  If you haven’t yet read Dreamland, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I have another book I’d like to recommend.  Last June I was at a party and Worthington parent Aimee Wellejus recommended that I read the book “A Deadly Wandering” by Matt Richtel.   Now, for those of you that know Aimee, I wasn’t about to not do what she told me to.  That would be very bad, so I immediately downloaded the book onto my Kindle.

Aimee was right (as she usually, mostly, o.k. almost always…) is. The book is a fascinating read and chronicles the groundbreaking case of Reggie Shaw, a Utah teenager who drove into oncoming traffic in 2006, killing two scientists who were commuting to work.

The book, “A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention,” not only details the events and people responsible for eventually prosecuting Reggie and enacting one of the nation’s first bans on texting and driving, but also provides one of the most comprehensive compilations ever on the research on attention.

Among the concepts Richtel examines is the phenomenon of inattention blindness, where a driver might appear to be focused on the road, but is still mentally unable to see his surroundings because his mind is involved in the last text he sent — up to 15 seconds earlier.

In addition the book describes the neuroscientists seeking to understand attention.  The simple question is: are the tools of our age (Moore’s law: “computing power doubles every eighteen months to two years”) overloading our mental grid? Is Metcalfe’s law (“defines the value of a telecommunications network … as proportional to the square of the number of users”) amplifying the human social urge to be on top of things to the point where we are essentially addicted to our devices? Hear that ring, get a shot of dopamine. The constant undercurrent of content undermines our attentiveness – no one actually multi-tasks (although we all think we multi-task).

So as I write this blog on a device and have checked my cellphone three times for twitter updates while writing this blog, it does make me pause.  How should we deal with our devices?  How much time should my children spend on their devices?  When is texting each evening normal for my 13 year old and when is it too much?  What role should devices play for students during the school day? These are questions I’m asking myself after reading this book and I think they’re really the questions of our time.  I don’t know the answers but I’d be interested in your perspective after you’ve read the book.

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What’s Your Why

Having the unique privilege to speak to the entire staff of Worthington Schools at our district convocation is one of my favorite parts of my job.  This year my talk focused on our district mission.  Here’s what I said:

“I’ve titled today’s talk ‘What’s your why?’ I’m going to share with you two different stories and then I’m going to attempt to help pull those two stories together so stay with me for a few minutes…

IMG_9097It was the 1985-1986 school year and I was a seventh grade student at Perry Middle School.  For those of you new to Worthington we used to have a middle school called Perry where we now have Phoenix, Worthington Academy and Rockbridge.  Back in 1985 we had two middle schools, the Perry Patriots and the Worthingway Wildcats.  Board of Edcuation Jennifer Best and I were Patriots, Board of Education member Julie Keegan was an aptly named Wildcat.  Back in 1985 the gym teacher at Perry was a man named Noel Noblette.  Noel passed away unexpectedly last fall.  Noel had grown-up with my dad in the Linden area.  I’d known Noel most of my life as we also attended church with Noel and Cathy.  At Perry Noel was the gym teacher and the boy’s basketball coach.  He was a Boston Celtic fanatic and loved the Larry Bird teams from the mid ‘80’s.  I, on the other hand, was more of a showtime Lakers fan and in my mind that was really the only plausible reason my dad’s lifelong friend cut me from the seventh grade basketball team.  Certainly my inability to dribble, pass or shoot effectively had little to do with the fact that Chris Piela, Kyle Lucas and Darren Grundy made the team and I didn’t.  

NoelSo I was a seventh grade boy and while I had known Mr. Noblette most of my life I certainly was not going to admit to knowing him at school.  Anyway, he was too busy wearing the old grey Riddell coaching shorts with the thick elastic waistband and showing the proper form for a two hand push pass than actually talking with me in class and thus I was safe.  

In April of 1986, I was walking down the center hallway at Perry and was about 15 steps east of the library.  I was the only student in the hallway and Mr. Noblette was walking the other way towards me.  I diverted my eyes and attempted to make it look like I hadn’t seen him.  That of course didn’t work and Mr. Noblette stopped me.  I’ll never forget the interaction that came next.  Out of the blue, he looked me in the eye and he said, “Trent, if you need anything, you come see me.  I’m here to help anytime.”  That was it. I was uncomfortable, but in fairness I was uncomfortable if any adult talked to me one–on-one.  And I went about my day.  After school that same day the bus dropped us off at our street and when I walked toward our house my mom was standing in the driveway.  That was strange, she didn’t meet me in the driveway on a normal day or any day that I could remember.  This day turned out not to be any day.  She met me in the driveway and told me that my dad was in the hospital, he had a massive heart attack and they would be doing surgery soon.  (Turns out that dad was swimming at the old Westerville Athletic Club and had a heart attack in the pool.  The lifeguard jumped in and saved his life by first getting him out of the water and then administering CPR until the ambulance arrived.  He was scheduled for triple bypass surgery but they ended up doing only double because they discovered he only had two arteries instead of the normal three.  BTW… Dad’s here today so no worries.)  

A few days later it hit.  Mr. Noblette knew about my dad’s heart attack before I did.  He knew I’d be finding out the news that night and he didn’t know at that point everything would turn out ok.  Mr. Noblette wanted me to know he was there for me, and you know what, he was.  He may have had to do the hard thing and cut his friend’s son from the basketball team but his purpose as a teacher wasn’t to teach the perfect push pass, it wasn’t to win the 8th grade basketball tournament, his purpose everyday was to connect with kids and help them learn and grow.  Some he connected with more than others certainly but that was his passion…helping his students succeed.

PotomacFast forward eleven year and In 1996 I was a fifth grade teacher at Potomac Elementary School in Dahlgren, Virginia.  I was fresh out of college and this was my first teaching job.  Potomac was a school that had many additions over the years and my classroom was in the oldest part of the building.  It was the old kitchen and had windows on three sides.  The downside was to get to my classroom you had to walk entirely through Mr. Young’s fifth grade classroom which was in the old cafeteria.  It was definitely a unique situation.  

I began that year with a mix of confidence and trepidation.  I really had no idea how to teach, but I figured that’s why we had a teacher’s edition. I was certain it had the answers I needed.  I felt like the one skill I needed was discipline.  I had read Harry Wong several times and my principal Mark Allan believed strongly in the old Lee Cantor approach of assertive discipline.  So I had a token economy and I walked around with Monopoly money all day long and rewarded my students every time I saw them doing something positive.  This worked well for almost two whole days.  It was day three when I realized I was in trouble….

On day three, a student named Alexis walked into class and sat under her desk.  She didn’t talk to me, or anyone else, she just decided that she wasn’t going to sit in her seat and she wasn’t going to do any work.  Instead, she was just going to sit under her desk.  Her morning work stayed on top of her desk as did her chair.  I didn’t think much of this at first, I just asked her to get into her seat.  She didn’t answer me, she just looked at me.  So, I said please.  I thought maybe that would help…it didn’t.  I let a few minutes pass and then I asked again.  No luck.  I let a half hour pass and I offered her a $20 dollar bill from the Monopoly money I was doling out.  She thought about it for a second and then she told me where I could stick my Monopoly money.  Uh-oh, this was not in my Harry Wong book.  So, I called the office.  I thought, I’ll show you Alexis, how about a trip to the principal’s office?  Mr. Allan came down to my classroom, all of the kids in the class turned and looked when he walked in and I thought, see, behave or I’m calling Mr. Allan.  But, it didn’t work like I thought it would.  Mr. Allan asked Alexis to come with him.  She didn’t budge.  Mr. Allan got down on the ground to talk with her.  She didn’t budge.  Eventually Mr. Allan gave up and left.  Seriously, he just left.  And, I was still in the classroom.  I can still picture him walking out of my classroom some 20 years later.  I was like, WHAT?  Where are you going?  What am I supposed to do now?  We had 178 school days left that year and on day three I realized I couldn’t even get one student out from under her desk.  

It wasn’t always Alexis.  Sometimes it was Jason, or Shon, or Carla, or Gregory.  But it was someone almost every day that school year and many days I thought what am I doing?  Why am I doing this job?  See, I became a teacher because I thought it would be a good stable job.  I could teach and coach, and the benefits should be good.  I liked kids for the most part and most of them seemed to like me.  In year one I didn’t realize it would be this hard.  But it was, until I realized why.  

I hadn’t yet developed my purpose.  I didn’t yet know my why?  Why am I going to get up in the morning?  Why am I going to choose to teach students?  Why am I going to deal with kids who won’t get out from under their desks or kids who might give me lice (back when I had hair) or parents who were going to yell at me. Why would I do a job where you can’t go out to lunch or even go to the restroom when needed?  Why?

It took me until my third year as a teacher before I totally understood what Noel Noblette understood.  The Why?  The why for me became clear that year: I want to really get to know my students and, through relationships make a positive difference in their lives.  Today that’s been broadened to include  making a positive difference in the lives of our students, the people I work with and our Worthington community.  This job is too difficult otherwise.  I work for five different people (known as the Board of Education) who often each tell me to do something different. People get mad at me for most every single thing I do.  People write mean things about me on social media and even sometimes say very mean things to my kids about me and about them.  If I’m going to do this job I have to have a strong sense of purpose.  Otherwise it’s not worth it.

The same goes for you.  What’s your purpose?  What’s your why? Why do you come to work here in Worthington?  Why do you drive a school bus or serve lunch here?  Why do you choose to teach or coach here?  I’ve got news for you, that you may have already figured out.  If you’re only here because you need a job, there are easier ways to make a living.  In public education and in Worthington Schools if you want to survive, you have to be madly passionate about helping kids succeed.  You have to care about them so much that you’re willing to put up with all measure of silliness from both the kids and the adults.  You have to feel so strongly about helping our students experience success that you might have to be willing to get bit, thrown-up on, cussed out, threatened, and sometimes hugged.  And, come back for more the next day and next and next after that.  To really enjoy your job  you have to know your purpose.  So, what’s your Why?

In Worthington Schools we spent last year working to determine our collective why.  That’s framed now as the mission of Worthington Schools:  To empower a community of learners who will change the world.  This is our collective why.  

To empower is to enable or permit, to give power or authority.  A community of learners represents our 10,000 students, our 1,250 staff members and each of the 60,000 residents of our school district.  Our students changing the world is a broad and audacious goal.  

Our students will change the world in big and small ways.  Some will start companies, do breakthrough research, or serve in politics.  Others will affect future generations as teachers, senior caretakers, our senior caretakers, or as parents. In order to prepare them for an uncertain future, our students need a base level of academic content knowledge and that academic content knowledge is not at yesterday’s level but at a much higher level than ever before.  In addition we know that academic content knowledge is not enough it’s a commodity.  What our students need most is to be adaptable, resilient, inquisitive, entrepreneurial, collaborative and lifelong learners.  If our students are going to be prepared for this future then what they do in your classroom matters.  But what they do in First Robotics or Science Olympiad or Destination Imagination, or in theatre, or on the athletic field may matter just as much.  What role does each of us play in helping our students obtain these necessary skills?  We all play a role.  Everybody here.

Few organizations and few people really know why they do what they do.  We often know how we do something and we surely know what we do.  But the why has to come first.  As noted leadership author Simon Sinek says, “We have to start with why.”  

This year we’re going to attempt to cement our why.  For our district we’ve determined our why is to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  I want you to wrestle with that some over the next few weeks and when you’re done it’s important that you’re clear on how you fit into that mission.  In addition, I want you to spend some time thinking about your personal “why?”  Why do you choose to make a living this way?  In a best case scenario your personal why aligns with our district why.  When that happens we will see our organization move and grow in exciting ways.

Noel Noblette was a gym teacher.  But really he was a teacher of kids.  He was a middle school teacher and thus he was devoted to shepherding kids through a very transitional period of their life.  He was someone who wanted to help students succeed and he used his gym class and the basketball court as his how.  For some of you the how may be marching band, or French class, or robotics team, or maybe it’s time on your bus or a connection with kids as they come see you in the office.  As a young teacher I started with the ‘what I was going to do’.  Because I started in the wrong place I floundered for a few difficult years, as likely did my students.  Once I clearly defined my purpose as an educator, the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ began to fall into place.  It was never easy but my mission was clear and that made everything else more doable.

To empower a community of learners who will change the world.  That’s our why in Worthington Schools.  Tomorrow we begin to make that happen!  Have a great school year.”

change the world

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Reflecting on Summer

IMG_0443We start school in Worthington Schools in just one week.  It’s been a good summer for our family and I hope the same is true for your family.  As a parent who is raising three daughters we had a lot we wanted to accomplish.  It’s true that the days are long but the years are short and we really wanted to maximize the summer with our family.

As summer comes to an end as parents we were feeling pretty good about things.  The kids had been to several summer camps.  We went to the beach as a family.  We hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail to the top of McAfee Knob, we attended outdoor movies, fireworks, had smores by the fire and long days at the pool.  It was summer and it was glorious!

Well mostly it was glorious.  This week my soon to be fourth grade daughter went to the pediatrician for her annual check-up.  The Dr. checked her over and talked with her about summer.  After listening to my daughter list off her many fun summer activities she asked a simple question:  how many books did you read this summer?  Simple question.

As you know, I’m the Superintendent of Schools.  My amazing wife is also a trained educator and taught elementary school for many years.  We value learning at a very high level and we care deeply about the growth of our kids.  (I’m attempting to convince you of this for what comes next….)  The Dr. asked the simple question of how many books did you read this summer and my daughter proudly blurts out: NONE!  I’m like really?  Couldn’t you have pretended you were ashamed of this, or better yet, couldn’t you have maybe said, my Mom and Dad really worked hard with me on my reading but we didn’t read many entire books….

So, as school starts next week I’d say if you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted this summer, it’s O.K.  Neither did our family.


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Lessons I Learned on the Trail

SmokiesLast winter I was talking to the mom of a Thomas Worthington student.  She was explaining that her son had signed up for several of our blended learning courses as a way to get ahead so he could graduate in December of his senior year.  He wanted to spend the spring of that year hiking the Appalachian Trail before going to college.  Not only was he working ahead in school but he was planning his hiking routes and purchasing his needed gear.  

Our conversation intrigued me. I knew a little about the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail that begins in Georgia and ends in Maine and I’d read several hiking books such as “A Walk in the Woods” and “Wild” but I’d never actually done any significant hiking.  At that time the thought of being deep in the woods without cell service was sounding very pleasant and thus I began investigating ways to do some hiking this summer.

DoreenSmokiesWith that Doreen and I just finished hiking 40 miles or so of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Because we have zero experience and were hoping not to get eaten by a bear we worked with Wildland Trekking who provided us a guide and a group to hike with.  For four days we hiked in the rugged backwoods of the Smokies (beginning on the Appalachian Trail at Clingman’s Dome and then hiking the Forney Creek, Benton MacKaye, Noland Creek and Deep Creek Trails.)  On day one we descended over 4,000 feet and promptly re-climbed it on the second day.

Let’s be honest, hiking beat us up.  It was more difficult going up and down with a full pack than I had anticipated. Others were feeling the same way. But, it was also a great learning experience and that’s what I wanted to share.  Here’s what I learned out on the trail:

I learned and re-learned that you can’t quit.  All spring I spoke to groups with that simple theme: don’t quit, keep moving forward.  But after the first night laying in our tent I said to Doreen, “What are we doing?”  It was a tough day.  On day two after about 8 miles four members of our group of seven decided they had had enough and quit.  Wildland Trekking sent a van to come get them.  We were left with just our guide, Doreen and I.  Did we want to quit too?  Yes.  Honestly a shower and the pool sounded like a good idea at this point.  We were already, sore, tired, wet, smelly and really wondering why we were doing this.  But like most things when you persevere things get better over time and each day of our hike did get better.  By putting one foot after another, uphill and downhill we saw amazing wildlife, moss covered rocks, and beautiful waterfalls.  We crossed rickety wood bridges and camped next to rushing water.  On day three we hiked 12 miles and saw no other humans. I went four days with no cell service.  I’m glad we stuck it out.

Side note that is in the TMI (too much information) category when our group members decided to quit, they left with all of the toilet paper.  I believe it was an accident but we already were having to dig a whole to create a restroom in the woods and now we were left with 20 miles to hike, two nights to camp and no toilet paper.  I told you it was TMI, but true story.

I also was reminded on this trip that it’s important to stop and look up every so often.  The Smokies are dense wooded forest and the terrain is steep and rocky.  I’m wired to want to finish the mileage and accomplish the day’s goal.  But it was when I stopped to look around that I saw small toads hiding in logs or found the markings of the yellow bellied sap sucker on a tree.  I especially enjoyed the straight tall poplar trees along our route.

Finally, I learned again that it’s O.K. to accept help. Our guide Nick Weaver was a 24 year old graduate of the University of Tennessee.  He was exceptionally competent and focused on keeping us safe while fording streams, helping us learn to hang our bear bags properly, and navigating the maps.  Without his help and guidance I would likely be lost in the park.  Age is often not related to competence in an area.  I’m 43 and Nick is 24.  I trusted Nick’s knowledge in the woods explicitly and it was a reminder that when you trust others you’re often rewarded with a better experience than if had you tried to do it alone. (Read more about what I learned from Nick on our Absolute Excellence blog.)

They say you hike to clear your mind and get focused.  For me that happened and I relearned a few lessons along the way.


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Rotary Storytellers – Father’s Day

BowersAs the Superintendent of Worthington Schools I am required to be a member of the Dublin-Worthington PM Rotary Club.  Rotary International is a service driven organization and I’m honored to have the opportunity to participate.  (Although, full disclosure while I think I’m old enough to be Superintendent of Schools, I can’t rectify in my own mind how I could possibly be old enough to be a Rotary member…)

As part of Rotary our club is scheduled to hold a storytellers event in honor of Father’s Day.  At that event I will have the chance to speak about my dad.  I’ve told many stories over the years about my dad’s commitment to our family and how he has always, always supported my sister and I.  Those stories have been absolutely true.  But, for this event I wanted to provide a different story about growing up with a father who was a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service.

My first real memory of my dad’s job was in Connie Ball’s fourth grade class at Worthington Hills Elementary.  It was a career day and my dad had come to the class to talk about his job as a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service.  He was dressed in his typical dark suit and starched white shirt.  He wore a tan full length overcoat and aviator sunglasses.  He looked exactly like he did walking along side of President Carter on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Dad showed the class his badge, his gun, etc… He passed around real money, and samples of counterfeit money, and explained how to spot the difference.  My classmates were into it and immediately and as a fourth grade boy I had some suburban street cred.  “What’s your dad do?  Is he a lawyer, a doctor, nope, he’s a Secret Service Agent.”  That was pretty cool!

But, like everything else there are two sides to the coin.  My dad was a Secret Service Agent and you just don’t turn that off.  When I turned 16 years old and earned my driver’s license I was allowed to access our families Toyota Corona sedan.  I would drive it to and from school and in those days all students at Worthington High School had “open lunch” and I would drive the Toyota to and from lunch.  In the late 80’s there were no restrictions on young drivers like there are today and the only real rule we had in our family was that I could only take as many kids in the car as we had seatbelts and everyone needed to wear the seatbelt.  In this car that meant that I could take four friends plus myself.

It was a cool fall day I and I was heading to lunch with Jeff Hooper, Scott Todd, Garrett Begeman and Chad Reynolds.  They were the normal lunch crew.  On this day a group of girls wanted to go with us to lunch.  We didn’t exactly have space in the Toyota, but seriously, we weren’t going to say no to these girls, and so everyone piled in.  Girls were sitting on laps, across the gear shift, etc..  I’d say there were nine or ten of us in the car and we headed out from Worthington High School and south on High Street to what is now Donatos but at the time was Kentucky Fried Chicken.  We were young, there were girls going to lunch with us, all was right with the world!

But, it wasn’t….When I got home from school that afternoon my dad was home.  That was odd.  He just looked at me for what seemed like a full minute but what was likely 10 seconds and then he said to me “Trent, what did you do wrong today?”  That was his question.  Seriously, “what did you do wrong today?”  Now, I wasn’t the smartest 16 year old but I was smart enough not to answer that question.  There were a fair number of possible answers and I didn’t need to provide the wrong one.  As I stood quietly my dad’s voice raised and he proceeded to tell me what I had done wrong….

“You had ten people in your car!  People were not wearing seatbelts!  Sir Mix-A-Lot was very loud coming from your radio!  When you stopped at lunch the rear left window was not raised up and the front right door was not locked!  What were you thinking?”


See my dad was a Secret Service Agent, but he wasn’t that good.  Plus we lived in Worthington Hills not close to Worthington High School.  As luck, bad luck, would have it somewhere driving south on High street with my full car I passed my dad who was also driving south on High street.  What are the odds of that?  I never noticed my dad, but he noticed me.  He then followed my car, parked in the Playboy Club parking lot next to the KFC and took notes on our actions.  Then he followed us back to Worthington High School, went home and waited for me to arrive.  Yep, that really happened.

It was a long, long time before I was able to drive anywhere again.  

That’s my dad.  He sprung the trap.  “What did you do wrong today?”  But, he already knew the answer.  

Happy Father’s Day dad!


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Graduation Speeches

photoI graduated from Worthington High School in 1991.  I tell people that I was an average student in high school but statistically that’s not accurate.  When you graduate in the bottom half of your high school class like I did, technically that’s below average.  (In my mind I was above average and I was also faster, could jump higher, and had much cooler hair than may be accurate.  But memory is a funny thing as you age….)  The point is as a student I never dreamed of the opportunity to speak at graduation.  

That’s what made today special  As a graduate of Worthington Schools the opportunity to speak to the students graduating from Worthington Schools was an incredible honor.  I was humbled to have the unique opportunity.  

As I thought about what I wanted to say to the graduates I watched several current graduation speeches.  That’s not a good strategy.  Trying to live up to John Green and Sheryl Sandberg’s recent graduation speeches was a lost cause.  Then I thought maybe I should just give Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech.  These students were seven when it was given and maybe they’d never know.  That idea soon passed as well.

So, my speech was simple.  My hope was to convey that the people you grow-up with are always with you in your memory.  That’s really unique, but so true, and I also wanted to prepare our students in a small way for inevitable adversity that we all face in life.  I’m not sure I accomplished either but I count the opportunity to try as a unique professional opportunity.

In Worthington we hold two formal graduations, one for Worthington Kilbourne High School, and one for Thomas Worthington High School.  I gave essentially the same speech twice only changing out the names of the elementary schools that feed the high school.

Here’s what I said:

“Congratulations!  Today is a BIG day!  Graduates, Parents, Grandparents, Today is your day! Graduates, to be sitting here this afternoon you’ve satisfied the requirements set forth by the State of Ohio and the Worthington Board of Education.  You’ve earned the right to be here this afternoon.  Today is a day of celebration but also a day of transition.  Today you move from one phase of your life and on to another.

Graduates as you look to your right and to your left you see your classmates.  Many of these same classmates began school with you at Bluffsview, Brookside, Granby, Liberty or Worthington Hills.  When I grew-up, I grew-up living next door to Craig Schindler.  Craig and I were in class together at Worthington Hills, we shared birthdays in the month of April and we spent many hours together as kids.  Craig could build or fix anything.  I remember one day he took the family lawn mower apart and built a go cart that we rode up and down Ashler Court.  Craig had also built a tree fort in the woods near our house.  The fort was our own hiding place and on that fort Craig had built a wood box where we could store the things we didn’t want our mom’s to know about.  Craig and I grew up together but we only spoken several times since the time of our high school graduation 25 years ago.  See, that’s the thing, the people you’re sitting with today some will remain life-long friends.  Others you will move on from, but your memories of those you grew-up with will remain strong.  As you look to your right and to your left again you’ll never forget the people you’re sitting with and your time in Worthington will always remain vivid in your memory.  By the way…I believe Craig Schindler is here today as his son Caleb is graduating in this class!  Congratulations Caleb.  As I’m sure you know your dad could build and/or fix anything.

As you move on from Worthington you will be provided many opportunities.  The world is waiting for you and you have been well prepared by this school district and this community to compete in the global workforce.  There will be no shortage of opportunity for you but, it will be up to you on whether you seize that opportunity.  The last 13 years of formal education have prepared you for your future.  But, they guarantee you nothing.  From this day forward you’ll need to earn your way.  You will go on to great success of that I have no doubt.  You will graduate from universities, start businesses, do important research, you will indeed change the world.  But what I want you to know is that while I truly believe all of those things will happen, it will be much more difficult than you currently believe.  Nothing is as easy as it looks.  No one succeeds overnight.  In life the only thing we can really count on….is that there’s bound to come some trouble on this earth.  At some point, at some time, for everyone in this room, life is going to reach up and kick you in the teeth.  I wish what I was telling you was not true.  But it is.  Graduates, your life will be more difficult than you believe.  Your friends lives will be much more difficult than they look on their Instagram feeds.  What will define your success in life is not your IQ, not your high school or college grade point average, not even the career path you ultimately choose.  What will separate those who succeed from others, is how you respond when things are difficult.  And, they will be difficult.  

So my challenge to you is this:  Go out and make your mark on the world!  Strive for greatness!  Take a risk!  Live your life!  Constantly adapt and embrace the inevitable change.  But understand that you’ll have to work harder for success than you currently believe is possible and when life does get hard….Don’t quit.  Keep moving forward.  Left foot, right foot.  Your persistence in the face of challenges will ultimately define your success.  As Winston Churchill famously said, Never give in, never give in, never, never, never never!  Hollywood producer Aaron Sorkin said “The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”

And know this…we in Worthington will be here to support you.  We will be here watching and after you have found your great success I’d ask that you remember Worthington.  It’s important to give back to the community that has given so much to you.  

Graduates today you join the over 40,000 living alumni of Worthington Schools.  Welcome to our club!  

I’ll leave you with this: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, and even dangerous, but leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

Congratulations Graduates!”

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