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.
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 Fullan, Zhao, 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.