Making Lemonade


cc flickr photo by pink.polka

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.  ~ Albert Einstein

I am new to this “principal thing”, but I think I am slowly getting better — learning daily.  I began the year with grand ambitions and a broad vision about how we could improve our school.  It is a good school, but one that suffers from public misperception — something I am determined to alter, not through smoke and mirrors, but through thoughtful reflection, meaningful change and genuine focus on what will benefit our community of learners.  I truly believe we are capable of building something great, but as the old adage goes — change is rarely easy.

I started the school year by sharing the following Prezi with my staff – Willis Junior High School: Learning and Leading with PRIDE.  Typical of a newbie, it was probably too much, too quickly, but I wanted to share my enthusiasm and passion for educating kids…and I wanted to develop a sense of what “could be” at Willis.

As one might predict, there have been a few more challenges to implementing my vision than anticipated.  That’s what happens when you work in a “people centered” profession.  Daily life is unpredictable.  There are unanticipated roadblocks, negativity and frustrations — from students, from parents, from staff members and sometimes, from within.  But, increasingly, I find these obstacles to change less frustrating, and more invigorating.  Each one presents an opportunity, and in fact, validation for the change process.  Dysfunction, unrest, and frustration are indications that something isn’t working and that it is time to try something different.  Suddenly the very things that cause us to throw our hands in the air, present an invaluable opportunity to affect meaningful change, and hopefully improvement.

  • Student behavior still not what we want to see?  Maybe it is time for us to re-examine our practice of consequences and rewards.  Is there a better way?
  • Tired of addressing gaps in basic skills?  Lets look at how we are delivering remediation and consider alternative options.
  • Frustrated with class sizes and student grouping?  Perhaps we should rethink our current scheduling practices.  Is the schedule driven by what is best for students, or is the schedule built for the convenience of adults?
  • Kids not completing their homework assignments?  Maybe we need to carefully consider what it is that we are assigning and develop a different approach to homework.
  • Not enough collaboration in the classroom?  Perhaps we should reconsider the arrangement and design of the physical environment.

Obstacles…or opportunities?  Too often, I believe we feel trapped by the constraints of the current educational system — unable, or unwilling, to try something different.  But instead of feeling overwhelmed and upset by these “obstacles”, we should seize them as opportunities to make meaningful change to a profession that looks eerily similar to what it did 100 years ago.  Of course there are going to be challenges in what we do.  We work in a dynamic profession.  Not only do we have to keep up with changes in teaching pedagogy, testing requirements, standards and every additional policy that comes down the educational pipe–we have to keep up with changes in our students and the world in which we live.  That is no small feat.

When we started the school year, I asked our staff to take a deliberate and reflective approach to their daily activities at school.  I encouraged them to ponder the following questions:

I still like the questions, but I believe I left out a critical piece: does what you are doing work for students?  If the answer to that question is anything but a resounding yes, it is time to head back to the drawing board.  In education, we are frequently guilty of forging ahead with current practices, even when there is substantial evidence to suggest that what we are doing isn’t working.  That must change.

To be honest, that is what I love about this profession.  It isn’t predictable–teaching is perpetual trouble-shooting.  No day is ever the same.  I may be tired, stretched to my limits and, at times, frustrated, but I am never bored.  I am still learning, but I have re-committed myself to staying positive in spite of the obstacles thrown in my way, and remaining determined to use these as a platform for change.  As a wise man once said,

When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.  ~ Dale Carnegie

Cross posted at Molehills out of Mountains

5 comments for “Making Lemonade

  1. December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    I like your approach and understand completely your dilemma. I think at the core of the change needing to take place comes from, and dealing individually with each student and teacher one at a time. I have come to this conclusion, yet I am intimidated and frustrated as you are, in not being able to find the time or resources to make the change , or better yet reform/transformation, come as quickly as possible. Yours in the fight…

  2. Grant Lichtman
    December 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Jeff,

    I like the approach you are taking, and particularly the idea of turning those obstacles into opportunities. A number of years ago I started thinking deeply about why some people can do this with seeming ease while others seem to really struggle at it, and I came to the conclusion that we just never both to teach the skills of finding and sorting out problems, and lacking the teaching of those skills there is no wonder that we struggle in this regard.

    So I developed a class for high school students that turned into a book and now some are using it in elementary school and middle school classes (as well as a great seminar I have been honored to develop for cadets at West Point) to really overtly teach how to find and manage problems, to think and manage systematically, and to develop our creational thinking skills. Others have told me it is a quick and interesting read so feel free to check it out or I can send you a copy: title is The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. I am not a famous author or anything like that; just someone who saw that we can all be a lot more successful at asking questions, overcoming obstacles, and taking advantage of opportunities with a little framework to help.

    I have been using these tools to work on school transformation in many of the areas and ways you are thinking about as well. Our educational structures are way over-ripe for major shifts in order to maintain relevancy, and I applaud your efforts.

    Happy to discuss more on or off line if you wish and good luck with your work.

  3. December 7, 2011 at 1:57 am

    The temptation to do to much to fast is a reality for most school administrators. I have been trying to lay off doing too much to fast and try to grow from the inside out. Teachers at our school have been enbracing change and I am making sure that the resources are there for them to guide them.

  4. David Montemayor
    December 14, 2011 at 4:01 am

    jeff,

    Your article sends a message that we as educators must remain positive and be problem solvers even when faced with the most challenging obstacles. Accepting excuses will not solve problems or create change that will lead to improvement.

  5. March 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Ignoring the content, (which was wonderful), I had to tell you that I really liked the zooming effect on the letters in your Prezi where there was a thought and then you zoomed into another point or thought on the letter of the original (usually a D)… VERY effective. :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *