Education is hard! Teaching is hard! That’s got to be the center of my reflection for this week. It’s hard, it’s tiring and it’s not for the weak.
I started back to school with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and passion for what I do. I mentioned that in my last post. I felt like I could do anything for our kids. Every Kid. Every Day. No Matter What It Takes. That may sound like a lot but I think that’s what kids deserve. Quickly the people around me tried to sap that enthusiasm. People who have a vision that is different than yours can sap that energy. People who have that ‘we’ll-see-how-long-this-lasts’ attitude can eat away at your positivity. People who don’t understand the changes that need to happen in education can be a drain on your enthusiasm.
What I found this week is that keeping your head up and your vision in tact takes work. Hard, tiring work. Every day this week I went home exhausted and every day I thought of things that I wish I would have done or things that I did that could have waited. I tried to smile when people were negative and I tried to walk away when I could feel the energy meter running low. By nature I avoid confrontation. Reflecting at the end of the day there were many instances where I should have confronted the situation.
I feel like I have great relationships with our teachers. Relationships are everything in this business. Sometimes, though, I think I avoid the hard conversations because I don’t want to damage the relationships. I don’t mean addressing things that are obviously bad for kids. What I’m talking about are the small things that don’t ruin kids but also don’t bring out the best in them. One example from this week: We have a class of students who are notoriously low achievers and behavior issues. These students were stereotyped from the outset of the year. Not one teacher gave them a clean slate. They expected that they would be behavior problems and they were. Well, yes, self-fulfilling prophecy.
I had a chance this week to chat with a former colleague. Great guy and excellent teacher but also a person who has always challenged me to think. He said that there is always one person wherever he has gone who reminds him of the superintendent that we had when we worked together. The kind of person who is an authoritarian leader and runs people out of an organization due to the destruction of the culture. I tried to identify the people in our building who played that role. What I discovered is that they are not at the top but they are in the trenches. There are people who damage the culture on a daily basis by the way they run their classrooms, by the way they do there jobs and by the way they interact with people. And, I guess it goes further than actual actions. The way some people talk about kids, parents, colleagues and probably me damages the culture at the basic level.
Luckily for us there are only a small number of those people in our school so the strong keep the culture afloat. Also, even though there are some negatives, all in all we have an excellent group of ‘teachers.’ We teach well, some of us just need some work on our relationship building.
So, my reflection for this week is that it’s got to get harder for me. I have to start being more assertive and addressing each of these little items. Our culture depends on it and I don’t think there is much more important to our students than a culture that is uplifting. I’m going to continue to be tired and my wife is going to wonder why I am spending so much time in my office. I get it and I know she will understand but I refuse to be weak and I refuse to be weakened.
The National Principals Conference in Philly came at the perfect time for me. I recently completed my certification as a superintendent and had been trying to find a central office job. Unsuccesfully. I felt like I wasn’t good enough as I was passed over for two positions and not even considered for several others. Maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
At the last minute I decided to attend NPC 17. Mainly because it was close to home and also because I felt like I needed a break from the office. I was beyond surprised by how inspirational the three days were. Over the passed few years I had focused on technology conferences – PETE and C and ISTE. Turns out what I needed was a kick in the pants from my tribe. Most everyone in every room was a principal. WE all had some semblance of what was going on in each others’ lives. Many connections were instantaneous. No one had to warm up to other people because we were all in the same boat.
In my professional life I have moved around a good bit. First between teaching jobs and then pushing up the administrative ladder. I always felt as though I had made the decision to move on because I had given all that I had. NPC17 in many ways proved my thoughts to be incorrect. Upon reflection it seems that I was leaving those positions because I was scared. Not fearful necessarily but scared to push the envelope a little bit more. There are great leaders out there doing amazing things. I wasn’t and still am not being truly amazing for my people.
When I was reflecting on my admin career while in Philly I remembered all the great ideas that I had when I started as an assistant principal. I made some pretty amazing connections with parents, students and staff. Even when I became a principal I was full of passion. I wanted to do this right and impact my community. Recently I have allowed myself to be content. To be lazy. To stop pushing the envelope.
That ends this year. People are probably going to think I went around the bend. It’s going to be tough to make a pretty big change after being the same guy for eight years but it must be done. I need to bring the passion back for myself but more importantly I owe it to my students, my teachers and my community.
Thank you to everyone who attended NPC 17. I was inspired greatly by so many that I won’t even try to list.
There is a key point that I always keep in mind when hiring new teachers: We do not want the teacher we hire to become more like us; we want our school to become more like them. The gist of that statement comes form Todd Whitaker in his book What Great Principals Do Differently or maybe it was from a presentation I heard him do but either way I’ve always attributed the thought to him.
By this tenet I want to be an organization that continually grows. I never want to become stagnant in the way we think or the way we interact. New blood allows us all to become better; challenges us to change for the betterment of our kids. While I’m a proponent of allowing autonomy among the teachers, I also understand that everyone has an impact on everyone else. Ask not for whom the bell tolls…and all that! Which leads me to the status quo and this blog post by Greg Miller: You Weren’t Hired to Maintain the Status Quo.
The post came at a very important time for me. Having just completed interviews for a teaching position I was left with the undesirable decision of whether to hire a new graduate or an applicant who had extensive substituting experience in the district. I chose the candidate that best fit my tenet from above: Which candidate do we want our school to be more like? While I will hang my hat on the fact that the best applicant for our students was chosen, it was still one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make. The easy decision would have been to hire from the substitute pool but the interview team felt that this applicant made our school better and I couldn’t disagree. In Dr. Miller’s blog he quotes Dr. Justin Tarte, “You weren’t hired to maintain the status quo; you were hired to make a difference and make an impact.”
Dr. Tarte and Dr. Miller were using that statement to talk about hiring teachers. It is also important to remember as administrators. Whoever hired us didn’t do so because we were exactly like the last person. We were hired to make our schools and districts better. We were hired because someone thought we could make an impact. We were hired because we are risk takers and capacity builders. We were hired because we love kids and someone believed that these kids deserved us. We should never lose sight of that. Sometimes that means making the tough choices. It means upsetting someone as well as the status quo. It means always making the students the focus of your decision making. And it means that sometimes people aren’t going to like us.
Another motivational guy on Twitter, Salome Thomas-El put it this way:
That sounds tough but it’s true. Our jobs aren’t easy and we shouldn’t need to be told that. We chose to be the people who have to make tough decisions and as long as we are making the right decisions for the right reasons we should be able to sleep at night. All of us know people who have chosen not to take that step into administration. This is a big reason why. Does it make me feel good that every year I have fewer friends? Not really. Is it easy for me to see my wife’s disappointment when community members avoid her? Not at all. Does it make me feel good that I am making decisions that positively impact students? You bet.
Besides that, I like dogs.