I’ve been married now (2017) for 46 years. Thank you. The secret? Wrong question, but I’ll answer it anyway. Marriage takes hard work borne of love and mutual respect. In my case, Rochelle is the person I am not. She is expressive, direct, and principled. I become these traits myself, but only in small doses. Otherwise, I am alone with my thoughts, an observer more than a joiner. Yet, I enjoy collaboration, with the right people, as part of my professional life. For a world traveler, it is Rochelle who gets me out of the house.
For example, when my daughter, Sara traveled to Ecuador on her high school Spring Break to be with a classmate, I was tasked (by Rochelle) to bring her home safely. Really. No problem. My first instinct – always – is to look to do some educational work. I went to my then department chair, John Pisapia (see Old School blog), for suggestions. He reminded me that one of our doctoral students owned a private international school in Quito, among other places around the world. Enseguida, I arranged an expense-paid professional development trip to do a series of bilingual educational leadership workshops. My ESL teaching background and having lived in Central America and Puerto Rico gave me the skills to do this.
Upon arriving, I was met by the school’s principal, John (Guillermo) Hardman – a rather distinguished looking gentleman with prematurely gray hair. He spoke with a clipped British accent, the result of attending British schools in Buenos Ares, his hometown in Argentina. I had arrived during end-of-school year activities, so teachers were free half the day to voluntarily attend my leadership workshops. Half the faculty were bilingual, fluent in Spanish and English; the other half struggled with English – a serious issue for a school advertising itself as a bilingual institution.
In addition to conducting my workshops, I attended many of the end-of-year celebrations. And, as all of us who have been school leaders know, the end of the year is also a time when teachers are told whether they will be offered new contracts to return the next year. Making my informal rounds of the different classrooms, I remember one conversation almost verbatim. A young man said to me quite unexpectedly:
“My teaching evaluations were not satisfactory; I won’t be returning next year. But I learned so much from Mr. Hardman and I am so grateful for this experience.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Here was a teacher who had just been let go and was praising his principal and the opportunities he had been given to learn. This teacher had been attending my workshops and his language skills in English were not very good. I started to thank him for coming when he stopped me and said, he would be present at the next day’s session.
“Of course. I am learning so much. I need to practice my English and I want to be a better teacher and someday a school leader like Mr. Hardman.”
Ensesguida, I went directly to John Hardman’s office to relate this conversation, but really more to find out how he had fired this teacher (along with a few others) and why they – not just this one teacher – were still engaged in the end-of-year activities. Having been a private school principal myself, my experiences of firing a teacher or two were not all like what I was witnessing. I NEVER had a teacher thank me for being fired! I asked John, “What did you say to these teachers? Why aren’t they bitter and angry and storming off the campus?” John went to his desk and pulled out the evaluation forms that he designed and used in rating the teachers. All the time he spoke calmly about the process, but not dispassionately. He knew the disappointment and hurt the teachers were feeling. He separated their performance from personal considerations, and for some still ineffable reason or reasons, his methods worked.
After the workshops and meeting up with Sara for dinner (at TGIF in Quito), I told John to contact me if he ever considered going for his doctorate in educational leadership and I would try to help. How many times do we as professors make these offers (sincerely meaning them), but know that the chances of someone abroad following through is very small? Entonces, we said our goodbyes in English and Spanish.
A couple of years later, I received an email from John stating that he wanted to apply to FAU for his doctoral degree and, if successful, would be bringing his wife (a clinical psychologist) and college-age daughter. Fortunately, my department had had a good experience having recruited Daniel Reyes-Guerra (see Hyphenated blog) straight from his position as an international school principal in Paraguay. So we knew what to do; nevertheless, the student immigration visa process, even with lawyers involved, never goes smoothly or quickly or cheaply. John persisted and finally arrived and settled in Boca Raton. A semester later, his daughter started as a college freshman at FAU as well.
John would serve as a GA assisting in teaching the principal internship while going full-time to classes. He embraced the transition from head teacher to head learner. His performance in and out of class was outstanding. When it came time to pick his dissertation chair, I was his obvious choice. We began to meet and think aloud together. But it was clear to me that we had some ontological differences that, were we to wrestle over, could slow down his progress – and my goal [and his] was to make sure that he graduated in a timely manner and take advantage of the many opportunities he would have with a Ph.D. Could I be like John Hardman, the principal whose teachers revered him even after their non-renewal of contracts? I had no choice but to try. Again, my diverse department faculty provided the answer: we put together the strongest committee possible at the time, Pat Maslin-Ostrowski (see turning the tables blog), Tony Townsend (see generosity blog), myself and John Pisapia. The latter would chair. Predictably, Mr. Hardman cum Dr. Hardman wrote a dissertation that became the College of Education Outstanding Dissertation of the year in 2010, soon followed by the 2012 Routledge book titled, Leading for Regeneration: Going beyond sustainability in business, education, and community.
But to our (i.e., meaning the FAU faculty) surprise, John did not want to become a tenure track professor. He had his own entrepreneurial plans along the lines of sustainability, ecological, economic and environmental justice – issues far broader than the directions being taken within the field of school leadership. To supplement his family income, however, he stayed with the department as a clinical faculty member so that he would have time to pursue his wide range of interests. Today, John has become an invaluable member of our faculty assisting in issues of accreditation, diversity, technology, instructional leadership, community relationships, qualitative research, etc. etc. etc.
A journey that began in 2004 at FAU has led John to receiving awards and invitations from around the world to speak, teach, and lead. The paths not taken by him – what, he doesn’t want to be like us and become a tenured professor! – and me – what, I would give up chairing one of the best students I would ever have the honor of working with! – still intersect. As co-editor (with Duncan Waite) for an upcoming International Handbook in Educational Leadership (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), I needed someone to step in with a chapter when a prominent scholar in eco-justice fell ill unexpectedly. I knew that John was the right person. Within a month and a half, he crafted an outstanding chapter on sustainability that, hopefully, will be cited for decades to come.
Today, both John and his wife Patricia are US citizens. I was so proud to attend the ceremony. His daughter is completing a Ph.D. in English Literature from UMass-Amherst. John and I can smile, a knowing smile, regarding what it takes to sustain a regenerative relationship – hard work borne of love and mutual respect … and paths (not) taken.