“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” -Abraham Lincoln

There are lots of reasons as to why rebranding may occur. In 2007, Walmart rebranded their slogan from “Always Low Prices” to “Save Money, Live Better.” Quite possibly this can be credited to why just three years later Forbes Global 2000 recognized Walmart as the world’s largest corporation by revenue. 

Maybe the rebranding occurs because it is outdated. Brad’s Drink, introduced in 1893, went through its first rebranding after being in existence for just five years. The new name in 1898? Pepsi. And that first logo, the swirly Gothic looking logo from 123 years ago for Pepsi? Well, it only lasted about seven years before it went through its first of many logo rebrandings.

McDonald’s went through a rebranding after Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me was released in 2004. Spurlock’s 30-day experiment in which he ate McDonald’s three times a day led to a 24 pound weight gain and a 13 percent increase to his BMI. Needless to say, upon the documentary’s release, sales fell drastically for the most recognizable fast food chain. That led to a change in restaurant colors and the introduction of salads to the menu.

Rebranding also occurs when there is an identity crisis. Although they’ve been rocking a new, simple logo since 2016, most of us think of the iconic blue box with white letters when we think of the clothing retailer Gap. Few may recall the seven days in October 2010 when Gap tried to rebrand to a new logo. Public outcry forced the old logo back and the executive behind the failed rebranding out of a job by February the following year.

Identity can also be a problem between two organizations. Financial tech behemoth PayPal took legal action against music streaming titan Pandora back in 2017 claiming that Pandora’s blue P  was interfering dramatically with PayPal customer’s experiences. The lawsuit never made it to the courtroom as both parties came to an undisclosed agreement. While I’m not sure what the agreement was, Pandora now has a multicolored P that stands apart greatly from PayPal. 

So why did I take you through some of this history of companies rebranding? Because sometimes we have to go through a rebranding of our own. And I feel that I am in the middle of a rebranding now. 

I shared in my last post that I left the superintendent’s office to return to the classroom.

Not everything has gone so smoothly. I struggled with feeling like a failure for many months. How does one go from a district superintendent back to the classroom and feel successful? But the answer was right in front of me. No one forced me into a classroom. I didn’t even need to take a job anywhere. 

The decision was mine and mine alone. If you can’t make a decision and stand firm on it, then what does that say about yourself? I did something I think many don’t have the courage to do. I revisited my why. I rebranded myself. 

In the process, I have looked at jumpstarting Anchored in Education again. But I couldn’t put the cart before the horse. Anchored in Education is part of me, but it is not me. 

Anchored in Education will air again. But it will be structured under my new rebranding of myself. My hope is that my rebranding will allow me the opportunity to work with others to reignite their fiery passion. Or if their fire is burning, then I want to stoke the fire. I want others to burn with the same energy I get from being an educator.

Engaging

I believe anyone can occupy a classroom. Many can probably teach. But engaging is the bread and butter of finding success in education. Engagement looks different at different levels. As a principal I engaged teachers in thoughtful discussions on what is best for students. We successfully transitioned away from traditional grades and became much more rooted in standards of teaching. 

As the superintendent, engagement took on a different form but was still present each day. It might have been engaging city leaders on how we could collaborate to create opportunities that benefitted both the community and the schools. It was speaking before civic groups on what is happening inside our buildings. It was making sure outside providers were engaged so someone’s needs could be addressed immediately when they arose. 

One of my favorite engaging activities was having conversations with staff on why they became a teacher. What their plans were following retirement. What were some of their proudest moments? Engagement takes effort. It takes an investment of time. But the return is incalculable.

Back in the classroom, engagement looks different based on what we’re doing. Maybe it’s standing on a chair and dancing to “Dem Bones” while we study the human body. Maybe it’s going beyond reading what animal researchers do and spending time outside using most of our senses as we observe life surrounding us. Maybe it’s making a late night trip to Walmart to buy a dozen flashlights so we could experiment with transparent, translucent, and opaque objects. 

Engaging can be serious; it can be humorous. It cannot be absent though.

Passionate

If you aren’t passionate about what you do, then step aside and let someone who is, have their chance. Or find a way to reignite the passion. My passion is seeing students treated with respect and put first. As Joe Sanfelippo so passionately exclaimed on an episode of Anchored in Education, “Without students, none of us have jobs!”

When the insignificant people were after me, the focus was off the students. Some might argue that I abandoned the students by leaving. I struggled with that thought. Especially after reading a letter from a former student whose parent was one of the insignificant people. It ended with the student writing, “Keep being a great superintendent!” 

That was why I was there. But I felt I couldn’t keep being a great superintendent while the insignificant people focused solely on me. I’m not sure these same people would turn all their attention and energy to the students as they should, but the odds were higher with me stepping to the side.

This is what being passionate is about. It’s about realizing when casualties of a war I didn’t ask for has the potential of impacting students. It’s being the bigger person in a situation. It’s stepping away peacefully instead of creating a whirlwind of back and forth arguments with the insignificant people. Being passionate is about stepping away to give the students a chance to become the primary focus again.

The return on investment of passion is getting a text from a parent one morning saying she has tested positive and her son can’t come to school and “he is bummed because he loves being in your class so much.” Or the parent who sends a text, “She loves school so much.” Or the mom who says, “Thank you so much for reaching out. We appreciate your communication and what a great teacher you are!”

Thought-Provoking

Anchored in Education has allowed me to explore the tough conversations of education. Whether it be on the topic of teacher certification, the teacher shortage, or grading systems, conversations need to be happening. But it has to be respectful discourse. 

My family is a melting pot for political stances. Truces are often declared before a family gathering so as to make sure no one’s enjoyment is robbed. I feel that robbing joy is exactly what social media tries to do. Someone tweeted recently that people are so vocal on social media because no one would listen to them in person. This is probably true for some, but I believe it is far from the truth for the majority. 

I believe that some are on social media because it empowers them to say the things they don’t have the courage to say in person. People might disagree, but then why don’t they have their name or pictures on their profile? Oh I know, some will say it’s because they fear retribution. I call BS on that. If you’re in a position where you can’t respectfully dissent from someone else’s opinion because you fear retribution, then you are in the wrong organization. 

Someone who I deeply respect and would consider a mentor contacted me back in July. We discussed what I was thinking about my future. I mentioned that I just finished coursework to receive my LBS1 endorsement (a pursuit I had started with a friend before I knew I would be stepping down). He said, “You’re not thinking about going back to the classroom are you?” I said no at the time, but in reflection, I thought, why wouldn’t I consider going back to where I first found happiness? 

And while I am quite content where I am right now, I would also go out on a limb to say I am probably more qualified and equipped now to re-enter a leadership position after seeing firsthand what teachers are going through on the daily during the pandemic.

Imperfect

My high school guidance counselor laughed when I said I wanted to be on the college prep track. He later suggested vocational track of some sort. “Not college material” is what I vividly remember him telling me. Not in his office. In the commons area when I returned from lunch as he handed back my ACT results. I got a 19 by the way.

I was going to be a teacher. Simple as that. I actually had it mapped out. Teaching by 22. Master’s by 26. Ph.D. before I turned 30. 

I graduated from Lake Land College in two years with a dismal GPA—barely scraping 2.3. I defined myself by that number. Yet despite a poor showing in community college, I continued on to Eastern Illinois University. Destined to be a teacher! I didn’t make it past the first semester. 

I didn’t fail anything. I just didn’t finish. I withdrew part way through. Convinced I couldn’t do it. The words of my guidance counselor echoing through my mind everytime I received low marks. 

Instead I went to work in a factory. It was there I learned the valuable lessons that have resonated through my life. I learned hard work. Commitment. Teamwork. Leadership. I saw what brought together teams. I saw what tore them apart. 

I got married at the age of 21 and moved to Minnesota. Destined to be a teacher, I enrolled in Winona State University. I was doing better in my courses, not wowing the socks off anyone but gaining confidence that I could do it. Then came the standardized, high-stakes test that determined if you got into the teaching program.

Testing anxiety set in and I missed the mark. Not by much. But yet just enough to destroy any confidence I had worked at gaining. A year into Winona State, I dropped out.

While in Minnesota, I worked at three jobs in three very different fields. I was a hotel desk clerk, a production assistant at a television station making graphics and running audio for four different newscasts, and I was a chemical mixer at a fiberglass pultrusion company. 

Yet, what I learned at each of these jobs helped shape who I am today. Along the way, my son was born. I was now a father. A person responsible for the life of another human being. 

We moved back to Illinois. I went back to work in the same factory I worked in when we left. They were happy to have me back. I was a good worker. I cared about what I did. I wanted the company to succeed. I had now been out of high school for six years, worked a variety of jobs and became a father. The world looked different. 

I began noticing that some people were going to complain no matter what. Some people were convinced that the higher-ups were always out to get them. Some people were going to do the bare minimum to get by. 

Not me. I was going to be different. 

After a couple of years, I switched career paths and went to work as a truck driver manager. I had 35 drivers under my watch. Every Sunday they dispersed throughout the country, depending on me to bring them back home by Friday night. Sometimes it didn’t work out. I learned how to handle the disappointment and feeling that I have let someone down. 

While at the trucking company, I learned about a teaching program designed for working professionals offered by Millikin University. There was one catch: it was to be an elementary teacher.

All along I thought I would be a high school English teacher. But life experiences and the birth of my own son made me realize how much I wanted to be involved in those formative years in education. I enrolled.

Then something miraculous happened. I excelled at school. Subjects and concepts that previously came at me like in a haze were suddenly clear as could be. I also took a job as a paraprofessional in a special education classroom to begin immersing myself in the education profession. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and was selected to give the commencement speech at my graduation. 

I was 28 when I became a certified teacher. 30 when I got my Master’s. 33 when I earned my Ph.D.

We often have this perception of what we are supposed to do, what to say, how to act. When that doesn’t go right we think less of ourselves. I will be the first to say that I have made mistakes. I also will continue to make mistakes. I am imperfect.

Real

What you see is what you get. Literally. I am unapologetically honest. Not to be confused with disrespectful. Remember, respectful dissent is okay. 

But we all know people who are different people depending on which social interaction they are involved in at the time. Being real is what led me to finally stop being ashamed of my decision to re-enter the classroom. There needs to be more conversations on being real.

PJ Caposey is one of many leaders whom I greatly respect and admire. He penned an honest article on how he, too, found himself on the brink of leaving our profession. He shared how he got himself back on track. 

We all work in different ways. PJ found ways to navigate what he called his darkest times. I can honestly say that had I not taken the teaching position, I would have walked away from the profession completely. In fact, my invite to take a position outside of education came on October 11 at 1:40pm. I wasn’t even tempted. I had been back in the classroom for less than 60 days but I could already feel my groove returning.

Another inspiration of being real came from Lindsey Hall, superintendent in Central Illinois. On December 6, Hall made what she called an “incredibly difficult and heart wrenching” decision to retire a year early. She cited the pandemic stressors and the desire to spend more time with family. That’s as real as it comes.

I am the same person online as I am in person. Yes, I’ve had insignificant people try to prove otherwise. However, they cannot do so truthfully. But those closest to me, those who truly know me, can say with complete confidence who I am as a person. 

Being real goes hand in hand with being imperfect. There is a natural ebb and flow that requires a person to keep themselves in check and make adjustments. I am not a person who raises my voice or yells. But I yelled at someone once. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t change the situation. It did cause a relationship to become damaged. 

This is the result of being imperfect; being real is part of the repair process. I know the person still doesn’t forgive me. But I would apologize. Being real is knowing when you’re right and knowing when you’re wrong. It is recognizing the difference. It is standing firm for what you believe but being flexible when you make a mistake.

So that’s it. This is the start of my rebranding. I am looking forward to sharing more with you in these areas over the coming weeks. I have a story and many experiences that are built on faith, hope, determination, and grit. It is time I work on sharing these with others. We should never feel as if we are going about something alone. You’re not. I’m with you on your journey.