Get out of the way!

I am a father to four amazing kids and if I am being honest, most of the time I think I am a pretty good dad. I take each of my kids out for one on one time. I smile and laugh. I play tickle tag, baseball, and Barbies, but I have my struggles, and like most of our strengths, have turned one of my gifts into a weakness at times.

I hate seeing my kids get upset. I hate seeing them struggle. I want each of them to feel victorious and confident. As a speaker and writer, I often tell educators elsewhere how important it is to allow students to fail so they can receive feedback, become innovators, and grow, yet in my own home, I often struggle to practice what I preach. I often hold my kids back from amazing learning moments by focusing on quick smiles more than enduring triumphs.

My oldest child is now 13. He is amazing. He is a typical boy who spends hours playing Fortnite with friends. He loves soccer. He is sweet, kind, and forgiving, but I also know I held him back for a long time from seeing even more success. When Cameron, my son, was younger I did EVERYTHING for him, and it shows today.


When Cameron was born, I was a classroom teacher and coach. He was able to come watch many of the games in which I was standing on the sidelines and often came to visit my classroom. As he grew I made the decision to quit coaching the kids in my school so that I could begin coaching his teams. I coached him in t-ball, basketball, and soccer. Cam is a great athlete, but when I was on the sidelines, it often didn’t show. I coached him for seven years until my schedule just got too intense a couple of years ago and I could no longer commit to being at every game and practice and had to let my coaching responsibilities go to someone else, and it was then that Cam began to flourish. As a soccer player, Cam scored his first goal three years ago, at the first game I didn’t coach, and as a matter of fact, I didn’t even attend. He went on to score six goals that year. I don’t believe this was because he received better coaching that year, although that may be the case, but instead, as Cam told me, he didn’t have to look over his shoulder while playing to see if Dad approved. He was free to just play.

Cameron is now thirteen, but has only been a tennis shoe wearing kid for five years…at least to school. He was lucky enough to attend school in Florida for a few years where he could wear flip flops, because he was nervous about his shoes coming untied when I wasn’t around to help. You see, I tied Cam’s shoes for him until he was 8. This wasn’t because he didn’t have the ability to do it himself, it was just that when he was really young, I hated to see him struggle and would do it for him and that just became the way things were done. It’s the same reason I would help him with his homework every night, help make his bed in the mornings, cut up his food, etc… Because I wanted him to feel successful and happy all the time, I often actually cost him the chance to learn and figure things out on his own.

As a leader in a public school system, I see everyday, others who struggle just like I do. Adults working in schools, love kids and want to see them shine and smile, and often, as a result, hold back their opportunity to really grow and develop. We answer every question they have. We run to their assistance when they struggle with opening their lockers. We switch their schedules when they have a teacher they don’t like. We kneel down at their desks and give them the answers to complex math problems, and then state, “Does that make sense?” as an attempt to validate to ourselves that the child now understands the work we have done for them.


As a leader I know I have fallen victim to this with the adults that work with me too. I have heard about the value of Servant Leadership and have used this as a defense for doing everything for some. I call parents. I substitute in classrooms. I discipline students. I analyze data. I have found myself at times doing so much to help that I actually may hurt. Instead of teaching adults how to fish I often bring the fish directly to them. I want to feel needed. I want to feel important and as such find myself doing instead of guiding.

As I look back on my last twenty years in education, and last thirteen years as a dad, I have many moments I am extremely proud of. I have had some epic successes, but I know this has been one of my biggest failures. I know that as I look into the future at my next twenty years, if I want to have even more successes I have to allow others to have even more failures. This is where innovation comes from. This is where growth comes from. This is where lasting learning comes from.

If you want to learn even more about this, I encourage you to check out one of the best books I have ever had the privilege to read, by one of the most amazing people I have ever met: The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey. You can even find some of her talks available on YouTube for free. Her words are game changers. I guarantee it.



Want to read more of Dave’s thoughts? Visit

Be sure to grab a copy of Dave’s popular book: “It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime”


…and be on the lookout for his next book: “Bold Humility: A leadership guide by a man with a lot left to learn” which will be available in August of 2019.




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