PMP:044 How Challenges Help You Grow

I remember my first year of teaching when I walked into a boy’s bathroom that was reeking of smoke.

Photo by Paul Keller – Creative Commons Attribution License

A couple of boys were standing at the urinals when one of them dropped a lit cigarette at his feet.
I didn’t know his name, but I told him to grab his bag and follow me to the office. All the way there, he was talking.
“I don’t know why you are taking me to the office,” he complained. “It wasn’t me. I don’t know whose it was, but that cigarette wasn’t mine.”
“I saw it drop right at your feet,” I said.
“But, I swear, it wasn’t me. Those guys smoke in there all the time…”
On and on he went. By the time we made it to the office and the assistant principal had called him in, I was trying to picture what had happened. His protests, however, had begun to make my memory fuzzy, and now I was doubting myself.
When we stood in front of the assistant principal’s desk, he quizzed the boy who was adamant he had been falsely accused.
The principal asked me, “Mr. Parker, could you swear on a Bible that it was this young man who was smoking in the bathroom?”
I hesitated. “No, sir,” I said, “I can’t swear on the Bible. I thought it was him, but if I had to swear, I couldn’t do it now.”
I had been played, but I didn’t have enough experience in being lied to or in observation to know any other way to proceed.
The principal dismissed the boy and told me not to feel bad. He believed the boy was most likely guilty, but he couldn’t discipline a student without the unequivocal word of a trustworthy supervising adult.
When I stepped out into the hallway, the boy was at his locker trading out books before heading to class.
“Listen,” I said.
I tried to shoot straight without sounding spiteful.
“If I falsely accused you, that was wrong of me. But if you were smoking and just lied your way out of it, then I will never know. But you know. And God knows. So I hope you’re honest because that’s a lot more important than whether or not you were smoking.”
He just looked at me, grabbed his books, and we both walked our separate ways.

Lessons Learned

Teaching is so much more than imparting subject-area knowledge. And school leadership is so much more than organizational management. The lessons like the one I learned from the boy in the bathroom are ones I have repeated over and over again for more than twenty years. But it is through the tough lessons that we grow so that we learn for the next challenge.
Even in my twenty-third year as an educator, I am still learning.
Many of the lessons I have learned were not ones taught in my college education theory classes or in courses on differentiated learning styles.
This year, for instance, as we’ve increased our goals for collaboration, we keep running into challenges with a schedule that doesn’t always match those priorities. These require re-grouping, tough conversations, and revisiting the why behind targeting student growth.
Because we’re willing to take new risks, we inevitably encounter new challenges. The choice then is to give up or grow through the struggle.
What ways are you being stretched as you work with your students or team?
If you’re not facing any struggles it is likely you are not growing. But if you are an educational leader you know struggle is inevitable. It comes with the territory.

The Rest of The Story

One week after I had the incident with the boy and the office referral, I stepped into the same bathroom, smelled the familiar hint of tobacco, and saw the same student dropping a cigarette at his feet in front of the same urinal.
This time my mind took a snap shot: blonde hair, white shirt with blue stripe, right hand drops cigarette, and white tennis shoes. Blue eyes with look of guilt.
He didn’t even argue or complain. He just grabbed his bag and followed me to the office.


Sometimes the most uncomfortable scenarios push you into the next level of learning–lessons like learning to pay attention to detail, remaining true to what you believe, treating others like you’d want to be treated.
And somedays we even triumph over little evils like kids smoking in the boys’ room.
But most importantly, the lessons we learn on a daily basis help us to learn how to help students and our schools become more successful.

Now It’s Your Turn

What are some of the areas where you are being stretched this year? Is there a lesson you are learning through the process that you could share with others?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker