Friday, October 21, 2011

Kick the Tires

Incarnation Catholic School (and probably many schools across the Diocese of St. Petersburg and even the United States) just finished the first quarter of its 2011 - 12 school year. The ending of one quarter and the pending beginning of the next is a good time to reevaluate a teacher's or school's policies, procedures, expectations, and even philosophy. It is a good time to tighten anything that grew loose over the past 9 weeks. It is a good time to "kick the tires".

A month ago, I wouldn't have been able to use this phrase. For anyone unsure of its meaning, it will be revealed in a few moments. For now, let me relate how I came upon this expression.

At a recent in-service a vendor who was pitching a product (and sponsoring lunch!) said that since his company's product boasts customer service, in Spanish, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, he makes a point to wake up on Christmas morning, call the help line, and utter "Feliz Navidad" to the unwitting operator answering his call. He said it's his way to "kick the tires", as a way to ensure that his company is living up to the ideals it professes.

His presentation and the lunch his company sponsored were equally impressive. He was a good salesman; but not that good. Despite not purchasing his company's product, this phrase stuck with me. First, I love the imagery. I picture a beat up car on a dusty road and I can almost feel my foot bouncing off the front driver's side tire. Not that I know anything about cars, but I imagine this being a final step (after filling the tank, checking the oil and doing other such car maintenance tasks) before climbing back into the vehicle to continue on my travels.

Second, much like the first time my Uncle Dave asked me if I was "feeling froggy" and if so told me to "go ahead and leap", I was amused by this expression and intrigued by the fact that I had never heard this figurative expression used before. Contextually, I understood the way he included it in his presentation. But to be sure, I googled it: Doing research before making an investment and To make a quick, superficial inspection of something, were two of the definitions upon which I stumbled. Then, I found the etymology: since tires on early automobiles were often made with cheap and/or thin rubber, "kicking the tires" was an easy way to test not only the thickness but also the tire's ability to hold and retain air. "Kicking the tires" would quickly reveal an inferior product.

Third, I respected this gentleman for putting his own product to the test. We could fill volumes with the number of companies that promised one thing and then produced something very contradictory. Few business or organizations or even people behave in such a way that they consistently do what they say they'll do.

Of course, no company or person is perfect. But rare are those who follow through with what they say they'll do with some regularity. No organization entirely lives its mission, no person holds onto his/her convictions without stumbling. Unfortunately, though, few even try or care that they fall short.

Jesus called such people Pharisees. Today we label them hypocrites. We are all of us guilty of being less than perfect. We can, though, continually improve.

We can "kick the tires" and discover chinks in our armor. Doing so exposes our weaknesses and challenges us to make changes. Neither of these is pleasant. Both are essential as both people and Catholic Schools.

Kick your tires. Ask someone else to kick them for you and with you. Don't kick somebody else's unless you've been asked in turn. Worry about the plank in your own tire and not the splinter in another's.

Ask the questions, "Why do we do that?" or, "Why do we do that in that way?" Put behaviors, policies, procedures, actions in terms of your mission and scrutinize whether or not they help you to fulfill it. Analyze areas where you are saying one thing but doing something that sends an entirely different message (educators know this as the null curriculum).

Never accept "we've always done it that way" or "I've always done it that way" as sufficient enough reason to continue to do something.

Take the biggest obstacle keeping you from being the person or institution God has created you to be and throw it out the window. Then ask yourself, "Now what?" Maybe that obstacle wasn't the thing keeping you from being your best self. Maybe you and your reluctance to change are.

Check your ego at the door and start allowing God's spirit to mold you and shape you into what He wills. Invite God to give you and/or your school a tune-up. Allow Him to fill you with air if you're flat, patch you if you've been punctured or make a change if you need a new part. Let Him do it now so that when He calls at a time like Christmas morning to kick His tires (us!), we can answer, say "Feliz Navidad", and pass Inspection.