Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Be a Fathead!

A couple of weeks ago we installed "fatheads" of students in a prominent hallway, and let me tell you it caused quite a stir. The fat head project was the brainchild of Associate Principal Steve Guzzetta, who wanted our students to have something cool and inspirational to look at. The idea was to pick some 11th grade leaders performing in their natural habitat, and paste them on the walls for students aspiration and inspiration.

Who are the Fatheads?

We picked student leaders from five organizations - just to start. The first five are a test group, and we will add fatheads if all goes well. Each year we'll put up a new batch of 11th grade leaders from a variety of organizations. The organizations will probably change from year to year. So as you're passing by these lifesize vinyl facsimiles, here are some things to consider:

Fatheads are Just Representations.
While the fatheads are a way to honor the hard work and leadership of students, they're really intended to be something to which younger students aspire. The fat heads are representations of what we want our students to be.

Fatheads are Two Dimensional. 
The fatheads aren't real people. They're just very pretty pictures of real people. These real people aren't perfect. They make mistakes, but they persevere after making those mistakes. Students who get fatheads shouldn't feel pressure to be perfect. (This would be a giant fail.) Real people are imperfect - the best we can expect from them is to work hard and get better.

We Can't All Be Fatheads.
There's just no way to make a fathead for every student. In fact, it will be difficult to even have a fathead for every organization. There's simply too many students and too many organizations. So we have to be happy for those who get one. These are our friends and classmates. Remember, they represent what all of us have to offer!

Wait - We CAN All Be Fatheads!

While we can't be two dimensional static cling fatheads that reside on the wall, we can be living breathing, walking, talking fatheads. We can live our lives as representatives of the very best that Taylor High School has to offer. We can work hard, do our best, be honest, make a difference in the lives of others, have a growth mindset, think about the consequences of our actions, and always think about how we represent ourselves, our families and community, and our school. We can all be fatheads knowing that even though we aren't getting public recognition, people do pay attention to us. Our hard work will pay off and we will make the world a better place. The satisfaction of a job well done is the ultimate reward for hard work!

So next time you see the fathead on the wall, remember that we're all fatheads who represent the Taylor Mustang brand!

Photographs by 12th grade secretary Anetrius Wallace.

FATHEAD is a registered trademark of Fathead, LLC.

Friday, January 20, 2017

You Provide the Power!

Taylor students may recognize the above picture simply as the floor of their cafeteria. However, the Taylor compass rose is actually quite symbolic. When the school was built in 1979 architects included the compass rose in honor of Mr. James E. Taylor's service in the Navy. The purpose of the emblem is described below:
"In the days of the sailing ships cartographers used to place directional arrows on their maps embellished with various nautical themes, both practical and decorative. The compass rose served as a point of reference offering orientation and direction to the sailors. It did not actually get them anywhere, this they had to do by their own efforts. Your compass rose still symbolizes Direction to a goal, any sort of goal you wish...but you must get there under your own power, by your own efforts." 

Never has this last line been more meaningful than right now. Often we look to others, instead of in the mirror, when we assign blame.

To carry the metaphor a little further:
Whether you want to go to College Station, Austin, Cambridge, or Ft. Hood, Taylor High School is going to provide the details of the map. Your teachers are the expert cartographers that will ensure that your map is true to scale, correctly labeled, and is user friendly. We will ensure that you know how to read the legend, interpret terrain features, and can plot the distance. We can help you decide where to go and what to pack. It is our job to do these things and to help you find as many optional routes as possible to reach your destination. We just can't actually get you there.

It is your efforts that will deliver you to your destination.

Yes, YOU do the studying, YOU do the research, YOU ask about make up work when you're absent, YOU ask questions in class, YOU go to tutorials, YOU fill out the applications, YOU take the initiative because this is YOUR journey. And the journey has already started! Power it up before you find yourself lost without a map!

In fact, you provide the power for many things in your life. Here are just a few important goals that you can reach just by applying your own power:
  • Make our school friendlier - talk to someone you don't know.
  • Make our school clean - pick up after yourself and others.
  • Making our school safe - shut down the trash talking and work it out.
  • Have a better relationship - take the first step and throw pride out the window.
  • Have more money - get a job, or get better at the one you have.
  • Fix your reputation - hang out with different people.
  • Get smarter - work harder at school and never give up.
  • Make Taylor the best high school in Texas - set goals and apply your own power to reach them!
Every day when you walk into the main campus commons, take a look on the floor and remind yourself that you provide the power, then power up and make it happen!

Read the story of the Taylor compass rose here.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Announcing the 2016 Hall of Honor Inductees

In May 2015 our graduating senior class officers decided that their class funds would go to the creation of a Hall of Honor which would recognize prominent alumni of Taylor High School. So that summer we launched the James E. Taylor Hall of Honor which is located in a prominent hallway in the school. Our inaugural class of inductees included some really amazing people. (See the blog post from November '15 for the list.) We invited this inaugural class of inductees to a ceremony which included a pep rally, school tour, and luncheon in their honor, and on-field recognition at a home football game. What transpired was incredible! 

The honorees came with spouses, old friends, parents, and even former teachers. In the reunion-in-motion that ensued, we got a glimpse of these prominent individuals as they were in high school - just good, fun-loving normal kids, having a laugh and sharing stories. It reminds us that we cannot predict the arc of a person's life. We cannot look at a high school student and say, "that person will be _______" (Fill in the adjective.) 

So our Hall of Honor reminds us not only of the hard work and commitment that leads to success, but also that this success can come to anyone who wants to work for it. Not one single student who roams the halls of Taylor High School has been eliminated from the running for future greatness. The Hall of Honor is a beacon of hope for all who pass before it.

Last month a committee consisting of school administrators, alumni, former teachers, and current teachers met to select this year's inductees. The nominations were incredible! We discussed and argued and persuaded. In the end we settled on this remarkable class of inductees to the James E. Taylor Hall of Honor: 

Nathan Dagley (’91) Prominent local businessman and community leader. Owner of Dagley Insurance and Encompass Lending Group. He started a youth sports league in Katy to enrich the lives of Katy youth through exercise. He is always giving back to the community that has given so much to him.

Russell Faldyn (’82) Longtime educator, active community member, and Ambassador for Taylor High School. Russell is a member of the first graduating class from Taylor. He has worked in education for 30 years, 10 of those as an administrator at Taylor. He is currently the Director of Community Education and Elections at Katy ISD.

Dr. Brandon Gunn (‘92) Prominent physician at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Associate Medical Director of Proton Therapy and Associate Professor, Dept. of Radiation Oncology. He was named Chief Resident, Radiation Oncology, UTMB Galveston in 2008; Most Outstanding Resident, UTMB Galveston 2009. 

Dr. Lawrence “Lance” Hindt (’83) Superintendent of Schools, Katy ISD. Former Superintendent, Allen ISD and Stafford ISD. Dr. Hindt served as Head Football Coach at Dulles High School, Principal of Dulles High School, and Assistant Superintendent in Fort Bend ISD.

Dr. Richard Knabb (’86) Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. He received his Bachelors' in Atmospheric Science from Purdue, and a Masters and Doctorate in Meteorology from Florida State University. 

Dr. Azra Ligon (83’) Associate Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School. Director, BWH Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory. In her work she has conducted critically important research and published dozens of articles and studies on cytogenetics and the treatment of cancer. 

Kim Newton (’83) Los Angeles-based television writer and producer. In her 20 year career, Kim worked on, or wrote for many TV shows such as The X-Files, Las Vegas, and The Blacklist. She was featured in a 2006 New York Times article titled, "My Mother the TV Writer."

Serving as the principal for Taylor High School fills me with pride every day. The experience of working with our students, staff, and community; upholding the traditions that have stood the test of time; working to find ways to keep improving and stay up to date, is always rewarding. But nothing has inspired me like discovering the amazing life trajectories of our former students. It is humbling and reminds me of the awesome responsibility that comes with being an educator, for as talented as the above recipients are, none of them got to their level of prominence without a nudge, push, or shove from a school person. So to you school people: when we honor our alumni we also honor you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thank You, from the Kid Who Never Told You

I am thankful for you because...

You held me to a higher standard because you believed in me.
You give us more than you give your family and we don't even notice.
You work hard every single day and may not realize you're making a difference.
You are tired, and no one understands except other teachers.
You gave me a fist bump in the hallway and I'm not even in your class.
You shook my hand at the door and it was the only positive contact I had that day.
You gave me a smile and I didn't have one to give back to you.
You're patient with me even though I demand instant attention from you.
You keep doing this even though you don't know how long you can keep it up.
You let me eat in your room even though you could get in trouble.
You keep little snacks because you know I can't make it through the day.
You graded my project really hard, but you told me exactly why.
You called my parent and gave them good news.
You were here for me when I needed help early.
You were here for me when I need help late.
You were here for me and I didn't show up.
You helped me love learning.
You were so excited about your lesson and we just asked if it was on the test.
You call me by my nickname.
You came to my game even though you live far away.
You gave me a safe place to confront my friend.
You helped me believe that I'm important to someone.
You helped me realize that I'm smarter than I thought.
You helped me realize that I have a lot to learn.
You treated me with respect.
You saved my life and didn't know it.

I am thankful for you although I may never tell you. I may not even know it myself until I grow up.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Pound the Rock!

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, The Future of Us, and What Light. (If you don't know this work, Thirteen Reasons Why is a huge YA bestseller that is about to be a 13-part miniseries on Netflix.) While the content of his novels is remarkable and so relevant to teens, it's Jay's story that is the kickoff for this week's blog.

Thirteen Reasons... was Mr. Asher's first novel and it shot off the charts. However, what you don't know is that this international best seller was rejected 12 times before finally getting picked up by a publisher. That's 12 times sending in a manuscript and being told no - 12 times getting his hopes up and then having them dashed - 12 times being given a great opportunity to quit. What's more, all of that happened after putting in the months and months of writing and revising and rewriting until he got it just right.

What else you probably don't know is that Mr. Asher wrote and submitted work to publishers for 12 years before having a novel published. That's 12 years of the difficult work described above - 12 years of submitting what you think is the best you have to offer - and 12 years of heartbreak.

And the last thing you probably don't know is that Mr. Asher very nearly quit writing after publishing Thirteen Reasons... You see, he became a literary hero for so many people that he couldn't bear to let them down with a 2nd novel. He didn't write again for three years! Lucky for us that he picked it back up. Lucky for us he pounded the rock!

Pounding the Rock is a phrase made popular by numerous football coaches and programs (Jon Gruden, Marvin Harrison, the entire Nebraska football program, etc.) and while it often refers to running the football, it originally refers to repeating an action until you break through. It's about working hard, never quitting, having discipline, and getting stronger despite the difficulty. If you hammer the block of granite enough times it will eventually crack.

The end of October is a great time for students, teachers, and parents to think about pounding the rock. School is getting hard. Every day there is new content, every night there is homework. There are extracurricular obligations, work obligations, family obligations, and none of it is easy. None of it is soft. In fact, it's as hard and rough as granite. Keep pounding that rock!

One can apply this philosophy to almost any situation:
School is too hard - PTR (pound the rock) by sticking with it.
School is too easy - PTR because you aren't pounding it hard enough.
I'm having relationship problems - PTR and don't give up - love is worth fighting for.
I keep getting into trouble - PTR by doing what you know is right, and don't let yourself quit.
I don't understand math - PTR and go to tutorials.
My kid is surly and I don't understand him - PTR and tell him you love him every day.

Pounding the rock doesn't mean being stubborn or obstinate. It doesn't mean we only do things the old way. It doesn't mean we aren't reflective. It DOES mean that we are disciplined, we build strong habits of mind. That we seek to improve and then we work doggedly to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

If you pound the rock the rock will break. It may take 100 blows or it may take 10,000, but pound that rock until it breaks --- then find a new rock!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You Have No Idea!

I was out of the office for professional learning five of the last ten days. When I returned I had two messages waiting for me which basically said, "You haven't been on the announcements. The kids want to hear 'Think, work, and grow." (Think, work, and grow is not only the name of this blog, it's the tag line I use whenever I sign off of the morning announcements.)

I was blown away.

The phrase "Think, work, and grow" was something I came up with to help me remember key talking points when I interviewed to become principal of Taylor High School. It was an easy way for me to state my core beliefs about what kind of students we want to help build. Then it became key talking points with staff, then with parents at open house, and finally with students on the morning announcements. We made signs, I used it for the title of this blog, and we even made it part of the official Statement of Beliefs for our school. But mostly I say it in the morning announcements. Now when I walk around, some student I don't know will call out to me, "Hey Mr. Stocks, think, work, grow!" This happens all the time. The phrase, as they say, grew legs.

"Think, work, and grow" isn't popular because of the meaning of the specific words, it's popular because it tells students they're valued, that their work has a purpose, and because it's positive. The point of the story, however, is not about the phrase. The point of the story is that we just never know what we're saying that resonates with another person. I believe people, particularly teenagers, seek belonging. They seek out people and institutions that give them, as individuals, meaning. They seek out peers, teachers, and other adults who believe in them.

Even though not everyone is lucky enough to be on the morning announcements each day, we all have the power to say just the right thing that will resonate with another person. The human heart is welcoming and fertile ground for positive words. So each of us should find that key phrase that aligns with our core beliefs; a phrase that is positive, uplifting, and meaningful to others, then make that key phrase part of our daily interactions.

Funny thing about legacies, the legacy creators rarely know what they started. You may never see how your kind words grow in the heart of another human, but rest assured that those words will yield a rich and self-perpetuating bounty of beautiful fruit.

Yeah, you did that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

American High School Ninja Warrior

Matt: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to American High School Ninja Warrior! I'm Matt Iseman, and this is my partner Akbar Gbaja-Biamila. This is crazy, Akbar! What are we looking at here?

Akbar: Oh Matt! This is the most difficult course we've seen yet! Each contestant has to go through four stages, each lasting a year long!

Matt: Brutal!

Akbar: Each stage has six obstacles that must be completed before moving to the next stage.

Matt: But after four years, these pumped-up contestants get to claim the title "American High School Ninja Warrior!"

Akbar: Right you are, Matt! Let's talk about the obstacles.

Obstacle One - So Many Doors!

Akbar: This is the first obstacle of every stage, Matt, and it has contestants scrambling to find classrooms. They have a limited time, and if they don't find their rooms on time, they have to sit still after school!

Matt: Don't they have maps?

Akbar: This is 2016, Matt, kids don't use maps! This obstacle can be confusing. It involves learning new teachers, new classmates, and new workloads. My advice to these elite athletes is to keep a planner or calendar of each class and assignment. But hang in there! This is a tough obstacle at the beginning, but it gets better.

Obstacle Two - This is Harder than it Looks!

Matt: In this obstacle, our contestants realize that progress is harder than it looks, Akbar!

Akbar: So true, Matt! Students have to know how to prioritize to find their path to success. They have to really keep their focus on the task at hand and take one step at a time. If they look too far in advance, Matt, they usually get wet.

Obstacle Three - I Can't Get Off, but I Can't Stay On!

Akbar: This one always has heads spinning, Matt, as these contestants are in danger of spinning out of control.

Matt: I can see why so many high schoolers go to the clinic, Akbar!

Akbar: This is the obstacle before they get their mid-stage breather in December. They literally can't get off this obstacle, Matt, because they'll be disqualified. But staying on requires intense effort and perspective.

Obstacle Four - Hang on Tight!

Matt: Akbar, This one is not only tricky, it requires strategy, stamina, and goal setting because our contestants sometimes get bored or sick and lose their focus, but two even tougher obstacles are staring them in the face.

Obstacle Five - When Will it Ever End?

Akbar: Our contestants are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Matt, but their bodies are so tired they can barely walk.

Matt: Except the seniors, Akbar, some of them are just barely trying.

Akbar: Ouch!
Obstacle Six - The Final Climb!

Matt: By the time our contestants reach obstacle six, there's no stopping them, Akbar!

Akbar: But the designers of the course do their best to stop them, Matt. This obstacle is filled with testing - state testing, AP testing, final exam testing. The momentum almost comes to a screeching halt! All that testing gives them noodle arms, Matt, and that makes the final climb brutal!

Matt: Well, there is prom and graduation to keep them going. But the grand prize for each finishing contestant is the pride that comes with persevering through years of hard work. It's a satisfaction that can't be matched by money!

Click to watch Jessie Graff's for-real historic and inspiring finals performance!