About the Author
I grew up in Philadelphia, PA. After graduating from Rosemont College, I began my teaching career in 1970, teaching English and reading. In 1976, with two young sons in tow, the Plunkett family moved to Boston where I worked as a homebound tutor while raising Kevin and Jeffrey and welcoming our third son, Matthew. In 1980, we moved again, and I returned to the classroom as a full time English teacher in Connecticut.
1985 saw the Plunketts migrating to Missouri. This was a difficult year. The boys entered 3rd, 5th, and 7th grades in the Parkway system, Matthew and Jeffrey at Green Trails, and Kevin at Central Junior (before Parkway shifted to middle schools). The kids were miserable, having left very close friends and familiar school settings in Connecticut. So that I could support them emotionally, I worked from home as a writer for the Suburban Journals that first year. The teachers and counselors (AND the administrators!!) in Parkway were amazing; they nurtured my kids and helped them claim Parkway as their home.
In the fall of 1986, I accepted a position with Parkway to help open the Alternative Discipline Center as an option for high school students who had been suspended from their own schools. For the next six years, I had the great good fortune of exploring the potential and the necessity of alternative education for Parkway students. We expanded the Alternative Discipline Center to accept suspended middle school students, and created SECOND LOOK, a prevention program to help middle school kids transition more successfully from their elementary experience. During that same time period, I completed my Masters in Educational Administration.
In the fall of 1992, we opened Fern Ridge High School, Parkway’s fully accredited alternative option for students to earn their high school diplomas. I served as Principal at Fern Ridge until 1995 and then moved to Parkway West High School as the Longhorns’ Principal. After 15 years at West, I made a very difficult and emotional decision to retire in June of 2010.
I am passionate about public education, and I found the challenges of leadership within the system, while at times frustrating and indecipherable, to ultimately be a source of unexpected influence and personal growth. I am eager to share what I have learned in Lessons That Endure.
Suggested Discussion Questions
- The author uses real-life narratives to tell her story and share her message. Is this an effective technique for you as reader?
- In her introduction (p.2), the author speaks of the influences on her early life that informed her leadership style. What were the strong influences in your early years that shaped you as an adult?
Chapter 1: The Demon of Discretionary Authority
- The author quotes an adage (p.9) to help explore the impact of discretionary authority:
“Veterinarian or taxidermist: either way, you get your dog back.” Discuss your experience with leaders whose style leaned towards veterinarian medicine vs. towards taxidermy.
- How can a leader use discretionary authority to influence a school’s culture? Could this influence be positive as well as negative?
Chapter 2: The Chicken Run: Building A Cohesive School
- The author defines a cohesive school as one whose exhibited behaviors resonate with professed beliefs (p. 50). Have you experienced an institution, be it a family, a school, or a workplace that was highly cohesive? Have you been connected with one that was decidedly incohesive or incoherent?
Chapter 3: It’s All in the Approach
- In this chapter, the author quotes Margaret Wheatley (p.58): “Why is being heard so healing? I don’t know the full answer to that question, but I do know that it has something to do with the fact that listening creates relationship.” Do you agree with that? Can you share a time when you felt truly listened to by another?
Chapter 4: Greasing the Skids
- In Chapter 4, the author describes the many ways she sought to build community – and thus resiliency – within her constituencies. Do you agree with her that emotional safety is the best predictor of physical safety?
Chapter 5: Butcher Paper on the Kiosk
- On page 93, the author makes this claim: “On any given school day, and certainly in times of crisis, our children will be as safe as the bonds among the adults are strong.” Do you agree?
Chapter 6: Seeking Balance
- The author writes of her “feel-good file” (p.117) where she kept notes and other artifacts of affirmation given to her by her community. If you kept such a file, whose feedback or messages of support would you expect to find inside it?
Chapter 7: Recalibrating
- The author writes about the exhaustive process of grieving the death of a student or other loved one. Plunkett writes, “Yet everyone’s pace in dealing with sadness was different. Many just wanted to get on with life immediately; others couldn’t bear the thought of “normal” when nothing seemed normal. There’s not one route back to emotional equilibrium” (p.134). Have you ever felt “rushed” through the grieving process?
Chapter 8: When All is Said and Done
- The author quotes Fordham professor Elizabeth Stone (p. 147) when discussing the essential and complex relationships between parents and teachers. Stone wrote, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” How could awareness of this observation help with home-school communication?
- In her last chapter (p.157), the author alleges that when COVID-19 upended our world in 2020, the impact on schools was more dramatic than any other event in the history of education. No matter what changes for education in the years ahead, what must never get lost from the teaching process? From the author’s point of view, what are the lessons that must endure?
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