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Sept. 7, 2021

Schools Need to Focus Less on Creating Honor Students and More on Developing HONORABLE Students

Schools Need to Focus Less on Creating Honor Students and More on Developing HONORABLE Students

"We must cease to aspire that our children be honor students and instead forward expectation that kids become honorable students." This quote from a former superintendent of Community High District 155 in response to the Columbine tragedy is at the foundation of Neil Lesinski's principalship at Cary-Grove High School in IL.  

Lesinski believes that character is more important than academics, and if character is developed then success in all other areas will follow; therefore, C-G emphasizes building productive citizens who positively impact the world around them. 

In this episode, he details The Be C-G Pillars of Success, which were established by a committee of staff, students, and parents during the 2017-2018 school year and represent the core values of Cary-Grove High School and the attributes they hope to develop in all students throughout their educational careers at Cary-Grove.

Lesinski discusses:

  • How they essentially branded their school values and made it "FOR EACH STUDENT"
  • Honoring kids individually for what they accomplish and linking awards to their Pillars
  • Involving the business in their two towns, Cary and Fox River Grove

The entire "We Be C-G" community is working together to develop their students as individuals, which brings unique talents and challenges.

Links:
Cary-Grove High School

Tim Elmore

Stephen Covey: The 8th Habit

My Contact Info:

LukeMertens44@gmail.com

Twitter: @LukeMertens

IG: LukeMertens44

LinkedIn Profile

Transcript

Neil:

I think we learned that, especially during the pandemic, when content was not the focus, the focus became the character and the people and the relationships.,

Luke:

Welcome to another episode of The "I" in Win. I'm your host, Luke Mertens. Today, I sit down with Neil Lesinski principal of Cary Grove high school in Illinois. Neil is passionate and always on the cutting edge of best practices in schools. He believes character is more important than academics, and if character is developed success in all other areas will follow. I could just sit and talk to Neil for hours. His commitment to impacting lives is second to none. You're going to love our conversation. And after listening, you'll agree with me that our schools need more of Neil's vision. Welcome our guests, Dr. Neil Lesinski. So let's start with the Dr. piece. Congratulations on that. First of all, and you know, I grew up in the era of the sitcom friends and I'm admittedly a huge fan and I'm watching them all again because my daughter who's a teenager suddenly became a fan as well. And I forgot about how much guff the crew gave the character Ross for being a doctor. And I just never really accepted the fact that he was a doctor and it was this ongoing jokes. I'm just curious. Do your friends call you doctor?

Neil:

It's in the same way as they do on friends. There's a, I think my buddies, especially those that I grew up with and know me well, um, know that, you know, behind the doctor is, is just a guy that's still enjoys having beers on the weekend and, uh, talking about sports and hanging out. And really that, that doctor piece is just my craving to constantly be learning and growing. And also as a, as a school principal, it was partially to set an example for students and staff that we're all about growth and we should all be continuing to get better. But, uh, my buddies never forget to remind me that, uh, that doctor doesn't quite matter to them. They still know that the true Neal is underneath.

Luke:

I think that's important. And I think it's a good segue for me to tell you, I'm going to just refer to as Neil and don't take it personally, huge respect for you, but I'm just going to call you Neil.

Neil:

No problem. All my students call me Mr. L so we're good.

Luke:

Perfect. Uh, let's start with the foundation of you being a principal and you sent a quote to me that I love. So can you talk about the quote who came from the history behind it and why it's had such an impact?

Neil:

yeah. So when I became principal five years ago, There was a really big emphasis on academics. Um, AP classes, getting kids to do as much as possible while they were in high school academically. And the value shift in academics was really geared towards how much, you know, accreditation could you accumulate in your four years in high school. And although that's great. And I think that we should be pushing our students academically. Um, I landed upon this quote by a former superintendent of our district here in crystal. His name's Joe Saban. And it actually was a quote that he ended his letter with, to the board of education in the wake of the Columbine massacre in 1999. And the letter essentially was outlining his reactions to the massacre his just the trauma of the events and how he was coping with that. And he ended it with this quote and that is that "We must cease to aspire that our children be honored. And instead forward the expectation that kids become honorable students". And it really spoke to me when I stumbled upon that letter, because it, it reached that point of, we were at a tipping point with pushing kids so far academically that we were seeing on the other side of things, socially and emotionally, they were strained, they were stressed and they weren't all really enjoying their high school experience. And so when I became principal, I really founded it on that idea. Building honorable students and furthering that to building honorable citizens and kids that we were really excited to have graduate and go out into the world and continue to make our country and our community better places.

Luke:

Well, I love what your former superintendent had to say. Couldn't agree more, but the fact is here we are 20 years later. And I think that that comprehension gap, I don't know if that's the right, right word between leadership and this new generation generation Z. It's probably bigger than it's ever been. There's such a lack of understanding there. And I know that you are a fan of Dr. Tim Elmore. And for those who are not aware, he's CEO and founder of growing leaders and author of a book called generation Z unfiltered. And in that he talks about generation Z is EPIC. Can you talk about what that means?

Neil:

Yeah, absolutely. And I want to hear more about the gap that you mentioned there too, but I inter talking about Dr. Elmore's work. Um, he's got a lot of great resources out there, not just for adults, but actually really small pamphlet size manuals that are awesome for, for students to high school kids, even middle school, he analyzed this generation Z and came up. The idea of EPIC. So "E" is experiential. These kids really want to not only be a part of the experience of life and learning, but they want to design those experiences too. They want to be a part of it. And that's where the "P" comes in. So P is participatory. They want to have voice. They want to have choice. They want to be a part of the decision making process. And then we also know. I mean, these kids are constantly encountering images and that's what the "I" is. It's image rich. They love pictures. They love videos. They connect with pictures and videos, unlike any other generation before us. And so that's a really key way to reach them. And then lastly, they "C" an EPIC is connected and they are connected. Number one, through social media, through their phones, everything else that we know about, but they also enjoy that level of connection. And so sometimes. Older generations, look at the young people and say, man, they're just always on. They're always wired. They're always engaged. And we have to realize is they enjoy that. That is not a chore for them. That is not something that stresses them out. It's actually a part of their enjoyable lifestyle. They like that. So when you think about that idea of epic and trying to produce leaders, we have to know what our future generations need from us as the older generation. And that is, they need that EPIC level experience so that they can engage in what's going on in their world and become a part of it and hopefully become leaders in bettering it. And so that's, that's what we've really tried to use it as in the school is, is learning about our kids and how we can better reach them..

Luke:

But you know, the other part is generation Z "IS ALSO" according to Dr. Elmore. Do you want to, talk about that.

Neil:

Yeah, absolutely. So there's, there are high levels of anxiety among this generation. Uh, they centered around a couple of different things. So we may have made many people, might be aware of the word FOMO, the fear of missing out.. And when we were in high school and I was in high school, I didn't have social media to look at and see that all my friends were enjoying a party that I wasn't invited to, but unfortunately this generation sees that every weekend. And so it creates a social anxiety of missing out on something. And then there's also, um, a term that has arisen out of the work of Dr. Elmore. And that is FOBO with a B, and that is the fear of a better options. And our students actually are this generation Z actually can demonstrate or, or, um, show a lot of anxiety around the fact that they have so many choices now of what to do and where to go and how to re get information that, um, there's, there's actually this fear of that. There's better options out there. And there's this anxiety that surrounds that. Um, we also know based on a lot of work by Dr. Elmore and others that they're sleep deprived. Um, and that they are, uh, very much overstressed and overworked in a lot of different ways. And so those are the challenges that we have to overcome in reaching this generation. And that EPIC portion of his work is how we overcome those challenges, how we connect with them and, and help them improve.

Luke:

Right. And you know, some other things that we know generation Z is struggling with is impulsiveness. Right? I, I see that in my own kids at home. Um, and just the lack to lock in. Right. Be here now, focus on what you're doing right now. I would tell my students all the time. we have a 40 minute class. I just need you here with me for 40 minutes and it's getting more and more difficult for them to persevere. I don't think it's perseverance. I would like to think I'm a better teacher than that, but to them it's persevering through that 40 minutes. They really struggle with that. So with this information from Dr. Elma, Um, those of us tasked with leading generation Z. How can we best use this information?

Neil:

well, I think it's really about making your school or your family or whatever your level of oversight is. Making it about the values that you want to see in your kids and your students, et cetera. Obviously, I speak from the lens of both a father of two, as well as the principal of a school of about 1,550 kids. And so in either of those places, it's about making the values of like, you know, just responsibility or citizenship, things that are key to the development of our, our young. Kids making those apparent in everyday life, making them part of our conversations, rewarding their behavior. When they demonstrate those values. I see a lot of schools or a lot of places that have slogans. They have, um, key phrases and things. But when the question is asked of what does that look like? Like what does that slogan mean? And day-to-day life at the school. There's not much behind it. And so it's about building. A network, if you will, of different connections to those values throughout your school and your community. So that kids know, Hey, this is what I'm striving for. This is what I'm going to get better at while I'm here at this school for four years. And this is what it means to be a, for example, at my school at Cary Grove Trojan. Um, and so making those values of parents and, and presence in their lives is something that I think is really important.

Luke:

Yeah, it's interesting. You touched upon the concept of slogans and I think we really see this in the realm of athletics, especially high school athletics. When you see the kids walk in the hallways. Each sport has their own slogan. And I think it's great, right? I mean, it, it absolutely is, but I think people mistake the slogan for culture and that's not true. And you just touched upon that. It's, it's just words and culture is action. Right. So to me, what does, what does it look like as you pose that question? To me, it's the action of the people walking around with that shirt. So if your slogan is, um, we is greater than me, I'm just taking one that everyone seems to use. Like, what does that really look like each and every day? And what actions are you doing that we as truly greater than me.

Neil:

Yeah. And man, when you said that culture is action, that is so key to understand. And the, what I always say is that the culture is a verb. And when we actually look at, and you and I are both a former English teachers and we, I don't know about you, but I like the history of words. And if you look at the word culture, it actually started as a Latin word. That means to care for. And so I always talked to my staff about that idea, that culture doesn't just exist. It has to be nurtured. It has to be developed and it has to constantly be monitored and maintained. And so if we're not all working together as an organization to continue to forward our culture in an active way, it's absolutely going to fall apart. And it has to have meaning it has to have action, like you said. So, you know, when you say that, that that's, that I always come back to that is that culture is a verb. And so in our school, You know, we had this slogan of "Be C-G", so be Cary Grove and it turned into we BCG. And when I came here, it was all over t-shirts on the walls. It was on our soccer field fences. We BCG, and I started just asking the simple question of like, what does that mean? And no one could really answer it. They're like, oh, it's being well-rounded or it's excelling. It's being, um, responsible. Everybody kind of had a different answer or they didn't have an answer. And so I think that's where it starts is when you are a part of an organization or you're a leader in an organization asking those questions of, well, what does it mean to be here at this school? What does it mean to be a student here? What are we looking for in our students or in our employees or on our team, if you're a member of this team. And so outlining those characteristics is I think vitally important..

Luke:

Let's talk more about the BCG and I love it. And I'd like your social media posts and it's clearly an initiative at your school. And, looking through your plan about BCG pillars of success and there's six of them. And I, I really like them. I read up on them and I just want to talk about those six pillars of success and how you came up with them and what it means. So let's start with what the pillars of success are.

Neil:

so the six of them are self-advocacy, perseverance, integrity, engagement, responsibility and kind of the culminating pillar is citizenship. So those six pillars, as you said, are our values. That is what as a community, not just a school, but as an entire community. We believe our students, if they are able to develop those six characteristics over the course of their four years at the high school, then they will be prepared not only for, um, Academic success, but also just success in life, socially and emotionally. Um, and as a whole person, we believe there'll be prepared for success in life after high school. And that is something that was developed with students, uh, with teachers, with community members and parents. And we actually were, this is, uh, a brand or the BCG brand. You will not only find it on the walls of our school and our classes. You'll find it in businesses across town, um, because they're all part of the initiative as well. So it's a community effort to build better people and continue to forward that vision of creating honorable students and not just honor students.

Luke:

So you explain what it means and I'm going to put you on your own hot seat. What does it look like every day?

Neil:

Yeah. So, um, at the beginning of the school year where we find ourselves now, each of our staff members. Each, uh, curriculum area is given a pillar and they talk about that with their students and they really just help the students understand what the pillar means. And so, you know, you take an example of integrity in our English department, talks about what integrity is, what does it look. Let's be honest, it's taking credit for your work. It's communicating in a trustworthy fashion and sharing your thoughts and ideas, but also respecting that other people have other thoughts and ideas and, and showing that level of integrity to say, this is my honest and thoughtful truth, and that's your honest and thoughtful truth. And we can agree to disagree and have those conversations. So English teachers talk about that at the beginning of the year, but beyond that, when students demonstrate integrity or one of the other pillars. The teachers are able to reward that behavior in a positive way and say, you know what? That, that conversation that we just had, that was, that was phenomenal. Thank you for being honest with me and, and forthcoming, and they give the student what we call a BCG ticket and they can take that down to me in the principal's office. I give them a high five or a handshake or an elbow bump these days and they get a candy bar, a laptop sticker, a pen, pencil, something with the BCG logo. And we congratulate them there and then they're thrown in a raffle to win a BCG t-shirt. Um, and so like five students a month will win a BCG t-shirt at each month of the school year. So in, in keep in mind, there's six pillars. So kids are demonstrating any of these six things. If they're caught doing something good by a staff member, then they're given that a ticket and then they're rewarded for that behavior in the hopes that it continues to cultivate using that word. Uh, more and more of that behavior across our school. And I said, we involved our community while our businesses can do the same. So for example, we got a local sandwich shop here, downtown. They have a stack of those tickets as well. And if a student goes there on their lunchtime and let's say they, um, do something, they show some responsibility. Maybe they clean up some trash after somebody leaves and throw it away that business can actually give the kid a ticket and they can bring it back to school and the same processes follow.

Luke:

Such a simple gesture that has a lasting impact and reinforces what we want the kids to ultimately learn. And it makes me think back to when I first started teaching the principal, she was phenomenal. She gave me so many tips that just made me such a better teacher. And one thing that always stuck out to me was the concept of discipline. And she would say it doesn't matter if it's a three minute detention or a three hour detention. It's the fact that you acknowledged the inappropriate behavior at the time it happened and present it to the kids. This is not going to be tolerated. And I bring up the flip side of that, which you're doing that with positive reinforcement. And I think people miss the boat on that. It doesn't have to be a big ceremony in front of the faculty and the kid gets a reward and his parents are there crying and taking pictures. It doesn't have to be that much. It could be as simple as you said, a handshake, a high five.

Neil:

Exactly. If you think about it, you think about your own kids. If you reward something really small, like picking up trash in the hallway, as they walk by it and you make it a bigger deal of, Hey, you get this reward, whatever. I bet ya. For the rest of their lives, nine times out of 10, they're going to pick up that piece of trash in the hallway that they pass by, because they're, they're going to remember that that was, that was a big deal.

Luke:

No question. And it's the fact that they're taking that second. To acknowledge the trash and pick it up. You're taking that second to acknowledge him or her for taking that second pick the trash up. And that's where everybody just gets a positive reinforcement. But, uh, let's segue to one of your, of your values. And I saw that you had learn from failure, stretch yourself to improve. I'm curious as to where does that come from? Is it, is that a Tim Elmore discussion or is there a deficiency that your community has identified in generation Z? The idea of not learning from failure or not stretching themselves?

Neil:

We absolutely see and have seen that students are adverse to failure. They don't, they don't want to experience failure. They have anxiety when it comes to failure. And that is something that you will see a lot of research about for generation Z is that these students, they, they really fear failure. And what we've tried to do in terms of that idea of perseverance is demonstrate for students that there is no success without failure. Um, you know, there's, there's so many different sayings about fail forward or fail is an acronym for the first attempt in learning. And you could say all those things. Yes. But what we've tried to do is actually illustrate that to them because, um, our students need to take on challenges as we know our world's going to need leaders, right. And leaders are the ones that are the ones that are going forward and leaning into those challenges. And so, uh, we, we actually adopted a little bit of a different style of instruction where, uh, like a problem-based learning approach where students have to go through multiple iterations to solve problems. They have to fail multiple times in order to succeed in the problem solving process. And we've actually embedded that into many of our classes across the school. And, and trying in an effort to try and get kids to experience. As we know with the idea of EPIC, they need to experience it in order to learn it. And so creating those opportunities for them to fail, learn from it and then producing even better results is something we've taken very seriously.

Luke:

Yeah. And I worry about this generation's ability to fail. One thing that's talked about in the round that I'm in athletics, the lack of numbers and kids are not playing sports as much as they, as much as they used to play. And I think the fear of failure is part of the reason. I think they're afraid to go out. Give their best and maybe that's just not good enough and they get cut or they get put on the B team, or maybe they lose the game. I think they're really, I think they're really afraid of that. I also think they're afraid to stretch themselves. My older brother went to in a very elite school. One that many kids in my neighborhood would not have even considered applying to. And I always received the question. How did he do that? He stressed himself. He applied and that's how he got there. And he was, he was okay with applying and maybe not getting it. So how do we keep reinforcing to these kids? Think big, think big don't think small. How do we get them to embrace that concept?

Neil:

that's a great question. And I kind of going back to your statement there, right? I'll ask you, you know, how many people, how many young people under the age of let's say 17 have truly experienced discomfort in their lives. If you think about that, it, it's probably not a ton. And I

Luke:

And why do you think that is? Because my opinion and I'm speaking from the lens of a parent, we're the problem. We don't want to see our children struggle. So we do everything that we can. To prevent them from struggling.

Neil:

Right. And that's, I think what it, what it comes down to is we also have a generation of parents that are different then our generation of parents. And so what we see is like, you talk about a lot of these, uh, I think they call them snowplow parents where they try to smooth out the trail before their, their kid walks on it. Um, you know, it kind of replaces the idea of a helicopter parent that just watches over their kid all day. And now they're, they're leading the charge they're ahead of them ensuring that the path isn't too rocky. And so we get a lot of students at the high school level that they haven't experienced discomfort. They don't know what it's like. You know, exercise to the point of collapse, if you will. And, and what it feels like to recover from that in the joy that comes with that challenge, they don't necessarily know what it feels like to fail multiple times when they try to attempt to solve a problem. And again, the fulfillment that comes from finally reaching that solution. And so to answer your question, a little bit of what we try to do is we try to present them opportunities to feel uncomfortable. Whether that's a social situation or an academic one or an athletic one, we try to get them to feel uncomfortable and then overcome that discomfort with our support. That's what we're here for in order to know what it feels like to meet that challenge. I'll give you a really simple example that you and I both know very well, and that is public speaking. We got kids that are so afraid of public speaking, and some of them have never actually had to do. Um, we see a lot in the middle schools now, they're, they're not doing as much public speaking. So they come to us at the high school with no experience. And they're definitely afraid of standing up in front of their peers and giving a speech or even giving a two minute pitch about a product they created or something. And so what we've done is broken that down into, instead of just giving a big 10 minute speech, we break it down into like little 32nd impromptu things, pull a subject out of a hat, talk about it for 30 seconds. Um, we present you. A conflict solution or conflict situation, and you have to work with a partner to resolve that and then present your solution in 25 seconds or less. And so giving those, those little micro experiences of putting themselves on a stage and feeling that level of anxiety and then overcoming it, it gets them to kind of release into the bigger experience of maybe a three or four minute speech, or maybe a five to 10 minute speech. And so that's kinda what we've, uh, we've done here is trying to get them unconscious. And then seeing what it feels like to, to meet that challenge and overcome it.

Luke:

Love it. There's a great slogan. I know we're back to slogan again, but the concept of be comfortable with being uncomfortable and that's kind of what I think you and I would both agree is important with generation Z. Let's segue to another pillar of responsibility. And I noticed words like "deadlines" and "be prompt" in there. How would you respond to those who argue these are not true metrics of learning and really therefore not a place for them in school.

Neil:

man. Good question. Um, how I respond to that is, is really thinking about our, every one of us is going to need these six skills in order to be successful in life. And I'd say the, my entire teaching staff. They're successful people. They've gotten to professional points in their lives because they've had responsibility and they they've been able to meet deadlines. And so when we look at what does it mean to be a, a high school and what are we supposed to be doing for our students? It's well beyond teaching them the academics and the curriculum. I think we learned that, especially during the pandemic, when content was not the focus, the focus became the character and the people and the relationships. And who better to teach a kid about responsibility than the people they look up to and the mentors they have in their lives, like their teachers and their coaches. And there are so many opportunities for them to learn about responsibility in school that I feel like we'd be doing an injustice to our entire society. If we didn't take advantage of those opportunities and help our kids learn from them. So, yeah, meeting deadlines, that's, that's part of life and that's part of it. And if you get better at responsibility, you're going to get better at school and you're going to get better at sports. You're going to show up when no one else does, and you're going to be a leader because as we know the greatest leaders, they take responsibility, they take initiative and they're going to do what it takes when no one else is willing to. And so if we don't do that at the school, then I feel like we're, we're doing a disservice to our kids.

Luke:

Well said, and to me, it's journey versus outcome. And. I don't know why in schools and athletic fields we've become so obsessed with outcomes because the test score, the ACT average, what the scoreboard reads does not tell the whole story and really it's about the journey to the outcome. And I worry that it's being lost in both those educational realms of school and in athletics and we need to get everyone focusing back on the journey. And part of that is the citizenship piece that you talked about. In my opinion, you mentioned that you were strategic in the order of the pillars and citizenship is the last one for a reason. Can you talk about why you decided to put that as the last pillar?

Neil:

sure. Yeah, it, it came down to, when we talked with the different groups that were contributing to these values. That pillar of citizenship was actually what we talked about first. We said, what does it look like? Like what's the ideal image of a graduate of Cary Grove high school? What do we really want to see in every single one of our 400 graduates every single year and what it came down to was we want to see like someone that's really willing to collaborate, work with other people, somebody that is empathetic. And can learn from others and without judgment, that is able to connect people and communities, um, and someone that is servant minded, they're willing to give it to sacrifice in order for others to succeed. And so it really came down to like, th that was what we talked about first is what's the end goal here. And after that, their discussion became, okay, well, what do they need in order to be really good at it? And I think the reason why we talk about citizenship is because as a school in a democracy, the whole idea is we're, we're tasked with the privilege of developing the next generation of citizens. That's going to carry forward our democracy and make decisions that impact all of us and hopefully improve the world around us. So it's kind of a big picture idea and a little bit of a pie in the sky. If you will. That's really what we're here for and what we're all about. So it was the first pillar and now it's become the last it's the culminating idea of what it means to BCG.

Luke:

Yeah. And that's the tie into the journey that I referenced, at least that's the way I interpret your pillars. And I'm not saying it's going to go from one to six. That's necessarily sequential like that, but it is the journey. And then there's the outcome you're going to, to leave this school a better person. And these are the skills that you're going to hopefully master. As you leave the school, love it. And you talked about character in there, and I know you are someone that believes that character is more important than academics to some degree. And if characters developed other areas in the school are going to be better overall anyway. So, you know, focusing on character. Is going to help improve academics anyway. And since this has been a focus of what you're doing over at Cary Grove, where's your evidence that since you have shifted to these values and we are going to develop the whole person that the entire school community from academics to behavior to athletics, have all benefited from the shift of focusing on character.

Neil:

That's a good question. It, and actually you touched on, you know, just the title of your podcast, that The "I" in Win, so, you know, citizenship is, is like, the idea is you develop each individual. Every student in our building individually needs to work on these six pillars in different ways. Some of them come to us very advanced in some and not in others. And so it's the idea of if we can develop every individual in our organization then our whole organization will become better. And that gets to the question, like you said, of how do you measure that? It is so difficult. Um, I don't know if I have, you know, a tangible way other than to say that we see in our students more and more of these kinds of behaviors. We get more and more tickets every month from teachers that honor the actions of our students and from our community members. And just the, I guess it's an intangible. The, the level of culture that you see at our school is palpable. We have people come to our school as visitors or people that are not a part of our organization. And they comment on the character of our students. We see our athletes go and compete at other schools, and oftentimes we'll get emails from parents or coaches from other schools complementing the behavior and the character of our kids. And so I don't, I don't know if I have data points. But I can tell you that as a culture, um, there's a, there's an energy in our school that centers around this idea of who we are, what our values are and, and how we instill those in kids. So I don't know if I have a great answer to that, but that's what I would say.

Luke:

And that piece of evidence is someone giving you feedback on your kids. That is one of the highlights I always had as a teacher and a coach. When someone outside my school community would email me or maybe just approach me and just say, Hey, Mr. Mertens, I just want to let you know that your kid. Top notch. They were respectful. They said, please, and thank you. They picked up their garbage. I don't know if there was a better compliment for me to receive as a leader of those groups of kids. So, uh, I do agree with that piece and, um, I need you now to really look into the future. For me know, I need you look, 15 years down the road. What role do you think schools athletics are going to play in character development? Because I do feel that there's a battle right now. Between do we focus on academics? Is that really what school's about? Or we focus on development of kids. So let's look 15 years down the road. What's your prediction.

Neil:

Yeah, so I think we got, we had a little bit of, of insight into the future during the pandemic, are the schools across the country went remote and what we saw was.

Luke:

Okay.

Neil:

A massive outcry from our students, as well as parents saying our kids need school and not just school online, they need to be in school. They need to be together with their teachers face to face. They need to be on the field with their teammates. They need to be in the choir room, singing together in harmony, because I think it's so important for people to be together and learning from each other with each other. Yeah. The presence of all of our school or all of our students back in our schools now is something that I think we're, we won't take for granted for some time now. So how does that, what does that tell us about the future? Well, I think it, it really reaffirms this idea that, you know, when we were remote, teachers could deliver content just fine. They could teach kids anything they wanted to know over zoom or Google or whatever it might be. But what was lacking was the relationship there, the personal connection and the character development that comes from that and the constant, the accountability of just being a part of a team or being part of a classroom and what it means to be a part of a small part of something bigger instead of a tile on a zoom screen. So I think we're going to see 15 years from now, schools taking an even bigger role. In the social and emotional development of students. Um, I think we're going to see a lot more work being done to help them live healthy lifestyles and balance their lives between, you know, work and nutrition and, exercise and just time for themselves. And so I think you're going to see schools really step up to the plate and meet that demand from our, our kids, from our, our families and, and everybody that is in, in the workplaces that need these kids to come and, and be productive.

Luke:

And in wrapping up this interview, and I want you to know, I can talk to you for another two hours. It's it's taken a lot of self-restraint to. To not, I know I don't want to bore people, but I really appreciate you being on. And, you know, I just really am excited to continue to follow your career. And I have no doubt that you're going to make an impact on the kids at Cary Grove, uh, from, from today until the next generation as well. So let's talk about that next generation of leaders. And this is my last one. What's your favorite book on leadership, character development, the things we're discussing right now that you would recommend listeners to go pick up today?

Neil:

man. There's a lot. I'm actually looking right at my bookshelf now because there's a few that I've read recently.

Luke:

Well, you can give us a couple. That's fine.

Neil:

sure, sure. You know, um, I really enjoy Stephen Covey's work. I always have, it is timeless. Um, it's grounded in research, but it's also something that I think is actionable. It's not just theory and his book, the eighth habit is something that I've always latched onto. There's just, it's a really, um, it's a really great read about what, what are the habits of great leaders? How do we develop those in people and although generations change and people change? Um, I think that Covey's work is, is very timeless in a lot of ways. So that would be the one that I kind of go back. Each time. Um, and it's it's front and center in my bookshelf all the time, and I've pulled it out a few different and a few different occasions for different reasons. So if I had to narrow it down to one that's, that's where I'd probably go.

Luke:

Awesome. Well, thanks for that recommendation. And thanks again for being on the show and providing some insights to all the great things that are happening at Cary Grove high school, which I know from being here locally is one of the preeminent high schools in the area. And I know it's going to continue to grow under your leadership. So with that, thanks for being on the show, Neil.

Neil:

thanks so much for having me.

Luke:

Neil's perspective of creating honorable students is both refreshing and needed. Although many schools make similar claims, the Kerry Grove high school community is about. So many takeaways, but in my opinion, at the core of Neil's message is this, there is absolutely a place for character development in schools, and those that are willing to truly commit the time to develop each student each eye into better citizens will likely have more success in all areas. Thanks for listening. I know your time is valuable. I have linked all the books referenced in this episode, as well as my email address in the show. Feel free to reach out at any time and please consider subscribing and sharing the eye and wind podcast.

Neil Lesinski Profile Photo

Neil Lesinski

Principal

Neil Lesinski began serving Community High School District 155 as director of curriculum and assessment in the summer of 2016, and became principal of Cary-Grove High School in July 2017. Previously, he served as the English department chairperson for Lakes Community High School District 117. He has also led the career technical education department and taught high school English for seven years. Neil holds a Type 75 certification from Concordia University Chicago, and a bachelor's degree in English from Western Illinois University. Neil is working on his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from Aurora University.