The Cardinal Way

Sharing and Learning at Southport Middle School

Student Success is a Team Effort!

IN THE MIDDLE OF IT - What's the Purpose

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about making commitments. Since that post I have been asked quite a few times, “How did you decide what to put on your commitment list?” I struggled with this at first, as I had thought a great deal about the commitments but I was initially was not able to articulate why they were on the list. The more I thought about it the clearer the answer became to me. I want to begin my explanation with a couple of stories that I believe will help to make the answer a little more clear.

I heard this short but powerful story recently about three stonemasons. During the medieval era, these three stonemasons were starting work on a cathedral. A man approached them and asked what each man was working on. The first man replied, “I am cutting this stone to shape.” The second man says, “I am building a grand cathedral.” The third humbly states, “I am working for the glory of my Lord.”

As we think about this story, are any of the stonemason’s responses incorrect? Are any of the responses not important parts of completing the final project? The first man is describing the mason’s basic actions, which are vital to completing the task at hand. The second man discusses the group’s goal. They are building a cathedral and they do need to understand the outcome they are trying to achieve to keep a focus in their basic actions. The last man brings their purpose to light. While all three are important, the last man shared a high level objective. It wasn’t about the daily work, albeit important work. It wasn’t about building the cathedral, although that was essentially their goal. The ultimate treasure was serving the Lord. The three masons were working hard each day to build a cathedral so they could serve the Lord. And, serving their Lord was the real mission.

Let me give another practical example from my life. One of my commitments in my prior post is “exercise each day,” and I mentioned I am currently training for a mini marathon. If I apply the same logic above to my training, it fits perfect. This past Saturday, I went on an 11 mile run as part of my training. This run was my action. This action is vital to help me reach my goal of completing the mini marathon and running my target pace. Great, I have actions and a goal and my actions are aligned to my goal. This is exactly what needs to happen to reach the desired outcome. But, there is something missing. What happens on May 3rd when my race is over. This idea reminds me of a Goodwill commercial.
Goodwill Guy - Treadmill

The problem in this commercial, and my goals described above, is a lack of purpose. Why am I training? Why am I running a mini marathon? My training is just another way to keep me focused on my overall fitness. The reason I run was not for the 11 miles I recorded on Saturday. To be honest it wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but I did it because it is needed to prepare me for the mini marathon. Likewise, if my only focus is on the mini marathon, if that is the only thing that drives me, what will keep me going when I have met that goal? The purpose is what drives me. Staying in great physical condition and improving my overall health is the reason I have a goal and it is the reason I put in the work to meet that goal.

So back to my commitments. The items on my list ultimately represent the type of principal and person I want to be. I want to be there for my family, even though my job is very demanding of my time. There is nothing more important to me than my wife and kids. The personal commitments I made, hopefully reflect this desire to spend quality time with my family and support them daily. As a principal, I have a great desire to make others around me better; to serve those in my school community. I know as a principal, I do not get as much daily contact with students I would like, making a personal impact on the students in my building. Nevertheless, I know with the right purpose I have the ability to greatly impact the community on the whole. I can help teachers become the best teachers possible. I can value the effort given in our classrooms so teachers are comfortable taking risks. I can support a culture of caring, so students want to come to school daily. My commitments are my daily actions, much like the stonemason cutting stone to shape. These daily actions will lead to the achievement of our goals for student success that we strive so hard to achieve. These daily actions will help me be the kind of father and husband I hope to be for my family. Ultimately, to reach these goals, I must know my purpose. I must understand that I am here to serve my family and school community. Without this purpose the rest is meaningless outcomes.

Before I end this post, I want to make one more connection to our schools. I was speaking to a teacher this week in a conference and she stated “I just remind myself it is about the kids everyday.” I told her I agreed with this statement 100%. We want our students to be successful. But, I am not always sure if we really understand what that means. So, I did what most do in the modern age, I googled success. I found an interesting definition that aligned with the stories and ideas in this post. Success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” How do we define success for our students? Grades? Standardized tests? Maybe, but if we do, all we are focusing on are actions. Much like the first stonemason - we are just cutting stone to shape. While grades and tests are an important part of the process they can only go so far to help our kids. Ok, let’s think boarder. I say often to our parents, “our goal at the middle school is to prepare students to meet the demands of high school so they can be ‘successful’ in reaching graduation.” In four years after leaving us, if they can accomplish this: Yes! We supported our students and pushed them so they can now enter the world with a high school diploma. But wait, what’s next? Much like the Goodwill commercial, if we only focus on goals like a marathon or graduation, then what’s next for our kids? The more I learn in my principalship, the more I realize that while grades, tests, and graduation are important, they are not the purpose of our profession. Our purpose is to help our students find their purpose. If students leave our buildings without ever considering their purpose, we are setting them up for failure in life. I found it interesting that the definition of success referred to purpose. Students with a purpose will be successful not only in school but beyond. Students with a purpose will contribute to our community once they leave our buildings. These students will then become adults with a purpose. Adults with a purpose will help to raise kids with a purpose. Purpose will change our community. Purpose will change our culture and perpetuate a cycle of success.

My challenge to each of you this week is to spend some time in quiet reflection to define, or refine, your purpose. Ask yourself: Why do I teach? Why do I get up each morning and come to school? Why do I want to work with kids? I also challenge you to think about your classroom this week. Have our classrooms become only about the needed content to help students get a grade or pass a test? Did I get into education to help students get an A, or to pass a standardized test? How many students have come back and told me thank you for helping them pass that standardized test? Ponder this question: What am I doing in my classroom to help students find their purpose?

Keep learning, keep growing, and keep sharing!

This is cross posted on my Principal's Blog


  • Congratulations to Stephanie King for receive the Tom Spring Making a Difference Award. It is well deserved.
  • Thank you to our math teacher for administering the ISTEP practice test.


Week 14 Grateful Friday Challenge

Over 60 of our top 8th grade students have qualified for the Presidential Award of Excellence this year. It is the largest number ever to qualify for this award. As these students are recognized, they have the opportunity to invite a teacher who impacted their educational career. Today, these students will write a letter of appreciation letting this teacher know the impact they have made on the student's life. As I reflected on this process during the week, I have written a couple of notes in the past few days to former teachers and mentors who impacted my life as an educator.

The grateful challenge this week is to write a similar letter or note to someone who has impacted your life. Let them know how much you appreciate what they have done for you and how the impact has effected your life. Send the letter to this person, we will cover the postage. I guarantee when the recipient reads the note it will make their day!


  • Interesting Blog Post: Technology: A Catalyst for Learning - Really appreciate the perspective in this post

  • Great Video: Leading with Lollipops - What a great perspective on leadership!

TEDxToronto - Drew Dudley "Leading with Lollipops"


Each day we share a story of learning taking place at Southport Middle on our 180 Days of Learning Blog. Below are this week's stories of learning.

Danielle Bentley

Mrs. Bentley 8th graders are working on the research process. Over the past week, students have been researching a self-selected topic to compile information for a research paper. On Monday, students visited the IMC to use resources that helped them generate subtopics to research and to find information. Students are also working on citing all sources, book or internet, properly during their research.

Book Fair

It's Book Fair time again! Students always enjoy the book fair and getting new books to read. This week our amazing PTA is running a buy one, get one free book fair for the students of SMS. This is a great time of year to purchase books for some quality summer reading time!

Casey Pennington

Ms. Pennington's 7th grade Language Arts students are reading R.J. Palacio's book Wonder. Today students were analyzing decisions made by one of the main characters Jack and the way he treated and then befriended August. Students read portions of the book and then discussed, as Ms. Pennington put it, 'woulda', 'coulda', or 'shoulda' done in each situation. Students compiled this information and used it at the end of class to support their answer to an essay question.

Angie Johnson

Mrs. Johnson’s 7th grade Language Arts class focuses on reading skills on a daily basis. Students are working on Close Reading activities while citing specific textual evidence to support their answers. Students also complete rotations of computer software to build vocabulary and are given silent sustained reading time each day. Mrs. Johnson’s class provides amazing growth opportunities for students in reading ability each day.

Jessica Pilarski

Ms. Pilarski has recently received a grant to purchase a large library of books for her classroom. To take advantage of these new books, her 8th grade Language Arts students are selecting a book to read for the remainder of the school year during their literature circle time. Today, small groups of students selected their reading and planned daily reading goals to ensure they would complete the book by the end of the year. As the groups finish these books, they will create a presentation about their reading to share with the class.


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