Searching for Answers

Today  is opening day for teachers! Exclamation mark! As a teacher as I was always curious about what messages our principal would be sharing with us on opening day. As a principal, I’m always curious about how my teachers will react to the messages I will be sharing with them on opening day. When developing schedules for the next two days, I was inspired to scale back on the amount of time I ask teachers to sit in meetings with me, and rather trust that they will use their classroom preparation time wisely in order to finalize everything for students’ arrival on Monday. I’m going to work hard at focusing on relationships this year, developing trust with our stakeholders, and, as always, keeping the needs of our students our top priority.

This year is my third in administration, and I have fallen into the intriguing position of “elementary principal with the most years of experience” in our school district. (Insert giggles, shock, awe, pity, etc.) By default, I’m the “expert” on how things work at the elementary level. I use the word expert loosely.Very loosely. I may know more than I probably realize I know, but when faced with a question from a new administrative colleague or teacher, I have resolved to be comfortable with the answer, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know” are three scary words. Speaking them admits a certain vulnerability that not all leaders are comfortable revealing.

What if you truly don’t know? What’s next?

Simple- you learn. You seek answers to your questions. Principals need to be skilled learners, and model the habit of lifelong learning to students, teachers, and their school community. Here are some ways I continue learning every single day of my life and seek the answers to my questions.

Surround yourself with smart people.

I work with some amazingly gifted educators. My support specialists have in-depth knowledge of reading, interventions, data, and curriculum that I will probably never have. Several of my classroom teachers are the most creative, kind, energetic souls I have ever met. My administrative team is small, but mighty, and when we’re in a roundtable discussion about any topic, I truly am thankful for the support that they provide. My students are smart. They teach me something new every day.

To echo a sentiment that has been expressed here many times over, I so appreciate the network of professionals I’ve “met” through Twitter and other social media. I try to impress upon my teachers the importance of stepping outside of their classroom walls, our school’s walls, and our district boundaries, and learning about the innovative experiences of other schools. Outside perspective is amazingly valuable.

These are just a handful of the people that inspire me every day, a list I created here. I’m not sure exactly how one obtains the title of Twitter BFF, but I’m pretty sure it means that you’re awesome, so thank you to all of my friends for contributing to my lifelong learning experiences and helping me better myself by finding the answers.

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Read.

Admittedly, there are 630 unread feeds in my Google Reader, but I will, by the end of the weekend, catch up. As a teacher I did not do a lot of professional reading. Three years ago on a plane I read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and it reignited my passion for learning about learning. In graduate courses this year I was inspired by FullanZhao, and Friedman. I listened to Gladwell’s The Outliers on audiobook religiously for a week as he fascinated me with tales of Canadian hockey-playing youth and Microsoft leaders and his theories on achievement gaps. I’m working through Curriculum 21 and will use it to guide my technology integration work with teachers. I can’t comprehend how a book published in 1969 contains so much relevant commentary on what’s right and what’s wrong with education. I read the best tools compiled by Richard Byrne, am inspired by Shelly and the #edchat crew, and love being challenged by the mind of Lisa Nielson. I learn how to be a better administrator when I read anything written by Chris or George or David and all contributors to the Connected Principals blog and elsewhere.

Ask for help. And listen.

The answers don’t come easy. Admitting you don’t know is step 1. Truly, actively listening to others is what will help you discover the answers. Administrators interact thousands of times every single day with their students, staff, and parents. This year I’m going to make a better effort to stop the one million thoughts running through my brain, if only temporarily, to focus on the person in front of me. I’m going to be present. I’m going to listen and find the answers.

Take a break.

Being an administrator can be isolating, frustrating, terrifying, aggravating, and downright exhausting. The good news? Its reward is unrivaled. But there will be days when you just have to step away from it all, and do something for you. The answers will come easier when you do. Go for a run, hug your dogs, visit the park with your family, watch reality television, or blast The Killers in your office at inappropriate decibels and just be.

Your staff and students don’t expect you to have all of the answers, but they do expect you to want to find them.

12 Comments

  1. Aron Campbell said:

    Dear Lyn…
    What an inspiring write up. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and if anything the simple reassurance that you provided for a new principal like myself is incredibly valuable.

    In the past couple of weeks while I have been sitting in my hot stuffy little office trying to prepare for something that I have never done (opening week)…. there have been times I have not known where to start.

    However a blog like this reminds me it’s ok to not know exactly; your passage about being a life long learner and to lead by example in this area in your day to day operations is so true when you step back and think about it.

    So thanks for this. I will hold it as a reminder when the answers are not there immediately.

    August 25, 2010
    Reply
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Aron,
      I wish you the best of luck during your opening week… stay confident! Obviously you were hired for your new position based upon the leadership qualities you already exhibit, so just take the time getting to know your students, staff, and school in these opening months. I definitely made building those relationships the focus of my first year. Please don’t hesitate to ask any of the educators on Connected Principals if you have any questions or just want to run ideas by someone. That’s what this network of learners is all about! Have a great year!

      August 26, 2010
      Reply
  2. Lara said:

    Your tips are useful for all of us – teachers and administrators alike. In any field I always have more respect for those who admit that they don’t know something than those who try to make it seem like they know but clearly do not. I do not currently have an official administrative role in my school but your post made me think about something that I believe makes my classrooms a safe place for students to take risks. I often say “I don’t know, how could we find out?” or “I don’t know, what do you think?” As an administrator, I think that by asking teachers for input or direction when you are uncertain about something goes a long way to building a sense of community, collegiality and respect. If the goal is to get students and teachers to take risks, then administrators need to model this behaviour. As I prepare to return to school next week I will complete my summer reading and take frequent breaks (as you suggested!)

    August 25, 2010
    Reply
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Hi, Lara,
      I really like how you approached the topic from a teacher’s standpoint and recognized the importance of modeling for the students how to take risks and learn new things. Enjoy the remainder of your summer, and I hope your reading selections are inspiring and you have a great year!

      August 26, 2010
      Reply
  3. Lyn,

    Great post! I too will be setting up more prep time and less meeting time for the opening week of school. It’s a tough task, but one that is needed! Also, I have found myself in a similar position in regards to colleagues who I am now calling to congratulate on their appointment to a principal position in our system. I look forward to the opportunity to help them, but at same time understand what I don’t understand!

    I wish you the best with this year and look forward to learning with you and from you!

    August 25, 2010
    Reply
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Bill! I hope you have a wonderful year. I know you will positively influence your new colleagues! Go Braves! 🙂

      August 26, 2010
      Reply
  4. Very inspiring. This year a lot of our in-service was also focused on being more hands on and having teachers more involved in the process and it seemed to be very well received. I think your point about “I don’t know” is so important it is a theme I have tried as a principal to instill in my faculty and in my students as a teacher. This year we have made a real effort to use more technology in the classroom, and I have told my teachers it is going to take trial and error in using a Smart Slate and using the Smart software if takes more time to prepare a lesson but it is worth it. However you have to willing to try and to fail. I shared the same with my students that the road to success if often filled with many small failures along the way. This is a difficult shift for teachers to make as a different post said this attitude that teachers know it all and for that matter that administrators know it all need to be UNLEARNED. So thank you for the inspiration and paving the way.

    This word of twitter is new, exciting and different to me and even though we have never met and probably come from very different backgrounds I have learned a lot from you and consider you as a Twitter BFF

    Akevy

    August 25, 2010
    Reply
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Akevy,
      I really appreciate your comments! I agree with your thoughts about having to take the time to work with the new technology in order to make its use meaningful in the classroom. We are embarking on the same journey this year, and our first Smartboard “training” will consist of some very brief words by me followed by my asking the teachers how they want to learn to be able to use the boards with students. Thanks for your participation!

      August 26, 2010
      Reply
  5. This is terrific, Lynn. (I also love blasting the Killers!)

    Your post aligns pretty closely with what I wrote recently on CP, about the growth mentality. I don’t know if you have read Carol Dweck and her book Mindset, but if you have not, I highly recommend it. I think she would say that your ability and willingness to say ‘I don’t know, but I am eager to learn more,’ is perfectly fitting to a growth mindset; she would also say that it is remarkably and disturbingly rare among adults and even educators!

    Blogging too, in front of our school audiences, exactly as you do, is another great way to say to the world that you love learning and are still, every day, learning; this is fabulous modeling of the growth mindset.

    Great to be your colleague on CP!

    August 26, 2010
    Reply
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Comments from a fan of The Killers always appreciated! 🙂
      Thank you so much for the book recommendation, I have not read it but will definitely check it out. I’ve enjoyed your posts and all that you do for and share with others. Thanks Jonathan!

      August 26, 2010
      Reply
  6. Jesse said:

    Lyn,

    I am about to start my journey in administration as an assistant principal and this post of yours couldn’t have come at a better time. In the midst of helping build timetables, supervision schedules and work on special education programming for our students I have felt overwhelmed and quite intimidated. Hearing someone with experience and know how say that it is ok to not always have the answers and to be sure to ask for help is very comforting. Being reminded to ask questions and stay connected is very motivating. Reading that it is ok to take a break and recharge the batteries is very freeing. This post got to me right when I needed it, thanks. I look forward to reading more from yourself and the rest of the brilliant minds at Connected Principals.

    August 26, 2010
    Reply
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Jesse,
      I am glad you were able to find comfort in my post. There are days when, even three years in this position, I am at a complete loss for words or unclear about which strategy to take to achieve our goals. That won’t ever change, but you will find that each day will bring new experiences and increased self-confidence in your actions. Keep kids first, and you can’t go wrong. 🙂 Have an incredible first year and remember that everyone is here to help in any way we can!

      August 26, 2010
      Reply

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