I like to think of myself as someone who does well at keeping cool under pressure. After all, I’ve had years of practice. I played the part of “Fonzie” at my San Angelo Elementary Spring Choir Show in 1977 (the # 1 comedy sitcom in the 70’s was “Happy Days” and the Fonz was the coolest dude on the planet for those too young to know!) As a middle and high school quarterback, I liked to think that ice ran through my veins. And, the ultimate test of keeping my cool? I was a middle school principal.
But every now and then, just like everybody else, I find myself feeling frustrated. In fact, it happened to me earlier this week. I’d run home for a quick lunch and was reading a work email that caused my blood pressure to rise. I must have uttered something out loud (I’ll leave what that “something” was to your imagination) because a second later, I looked down to see my dog RRanger, leaning against my leg, looking up at me with questioning eyes, tail slowly wagging.
Just like that, my frustration melted away. All because I knew my buddy was there and was hoping I was OK. Even in those times I become frustrated, I find I don’t stay that way long.
Why? Because I have systems of support all around me to help me work through challenges, find solutions to problems, or, like RRanger did for me earlier this week, are just there to remind me that I am loved and appreciated. He serves as a reminder that life is too short to stay frustrated for long.
Frustration can be a slow burn or knee-jerk reaction to an unexpected situation. This weekend, I attended the Texas/OU game — a family tradition for my wife and I and our two boys. Y’all know I’m a Longhorn, so I’m sure you know the game itself caused a fair amount of frustration, but it was what happened after the game that I want to share. As we headed to the state fairgrounds from the stadium, ready to experience some fun and food, we found ourselves caught in a crowd that wasn’t moving, people were pressed against each other and tempers were rising. Though I was feeling a bit claustrophobic myself, my chief concern was for my daughter-in-law who is six-months pregnant with our first grandchild. My son and I were doing our best to shield her from the crush of the crowd. My frustration was rising, not just at the situation but at the people around us. Then I noticed something pretty wonderful happening. Strangers around us were holding out their arms, forming a protective barrier to keep Jillian safe. Most often, our systems of support are those we’ve built, fostered and nurtured. But sometimes they just appear, like a gift, or a reminder of the kindness and humanity that still exist in our world.
I’m so fortunate to have support from my wife, my family, my faith, my fellow superintendents across Texas, and even my dog. But professionally, I also enjoy the support of my team. We all deserve a professional team around us that lifts us up, encourages us and has our back. I tell everyone who’ll listen that I have the best team in public education. But I also tell my fellow superintendents that they should be able to say the same thing, with as much confidence, about their teams.
I hope you have a professional team that supports you, that provides a sounding board for your frustration, that guides you through seemingly insurmountable challenges. And if you don’t, build one. Be that person for someone else and watch as the trust grows.
I heard the old Pretenders song “I’ll Stand By You” this week and even though I’ve sung along with it a thousand times, the words to the second verse struck home as if I were hearing them for the first time:
So if you’re mad, get mad, don’t hold it all inside,
Come on and talk to me now.
Hey, what you got to hide?
I get angry too, well, I’m alive like you.
When you’re standing at the crossroads,
And don’t know which path to choose,
Let me come along, ’cause even if you’re wrong
I’ll stand by you.
I’ve written before that you shouldn’t allow others to steal your joy. When your frustration springs from the actions of others, remember the important things in life. In the grand scheme of things, how significant is the source of your frustration compared to a child that may not have food, a homeless person in need of shelter, a refugee seeking a safe harbor?
I know we all experience frustration when we feel hampered in trying to do what’s best for our students. Whether you’re a bus driver stuck in traffic, a coach counting on a student-athlete to run the perfect play, or a teacher desperately seeking a breakthrough with a troubled student. Trade your frustration for determination and lean on your supports to help you succeed or maybe just give you a word of encouragement. Sometimes all we need is to know that someone is in our corner. Don’t take those in your corner for granted! In fact, let someone know before the day is through, that you appreciate them for standing by you!
By the way, if you’re a champion for kids, I’ll always stand by you. I hope you’ll stand by me too. We are always better together!
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.
Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools