Very soon I turn a half century old and while I could not be more thankful for the blessings in my life, my thinking shifts to what’s next and what’s left. In the midst of recent pondering on this subject I attended the 2011 ASCD Conference in San Francisco and listened to keynote speaker Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a Harvard professor and sociologist. Her recent book is entitled The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 years after 50. The irony wasn’t lost on me and as I listened closely to her optimistic tone, my thoughts turned to my life as a Principal.
I have always believed that the position in education with the greatest potential for making change is the Principalship. As I continue my career as a building Principal in this Third Chapter what difference can I make in giving forward, in being generative?
Erik Erikson first coined the term generativity to refer to individuals who are motivated to guide the next generation. The evil twin to generativity is stagnation and negativity which is often a reaction to growing older. While wisdom is touted as the main advantage to older age, the Third Chapter perspective is why not use your experience to influence the next generation?
- I must build leadership capacity within my school. I’m not looking just for teacher leaders, but those who are willing to consider building leadership. Research is clearly mixed on whether promoting from within or hiring from outside is more effective for an organization. But we do know that consistency within a school is paramount. A school that shifts a Principal too often suffers from bouncing initiatives and a lack of long term focus.
- I have been the Principal in my school 11 years. I have to start thinking about when it’s time to move on and if and when I do, what is the plan for transition? Can I influence our Superintendent and School Board to continue the successful plans and initiatives that are in place?
- How can I be generative for my profession as a whole? I was fortunate to have “grown up” as a teacher in a school that valued the development of leaders and so early on I became active in professional organizations. The influence that one Principal can make in state and national organizations such as NASSP, NAESP, or ASCD is significant.
- A problem with influence is not ever knowing exactly how one has influenced others. Our data driven mindset doesn’t take into account our need to simply trust that our message may impact unseen educators positively or sway someone in a worthwhile direction. We may need enough evidence to motivate us to continue our generative efforts knowing that for every success story we have been part of, there may be hundreds more that we will never hear about. That takes an element of faith.
- We cannot build the structure without strengthening the architect. That is, the generative professional needs to stay healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Our professional attitude has to remain infectious and hopeful.
With the advent of healthier living and medical breakthroughs, the third chapter of life has enormous potential to wed experience, wisdom, and energy in a blend the world has not seen in previous generations. It is our responsibility to give testimony to the hope that is within us as leaders.