Think you have arrived? Think again.

cc flickr photo: dizzy-eyed

This past week was a challenging one.  I left campus on Friday feeling beaten-up, stressed-out and discouraged.  Don’t worry too much about me…I’ll get over it, but it has led me to spend a significant amount of time reflecting on what I am doing, and if, in fact, I need to do some things differently.

It is not an epiphany to recognize that prioritization, and timing, are critical aspects of effective leadership — not only in the classroom, but in our day-to-day activities.  As I reflect on my first year as principal, I have come to realize that there are many days when I arrive home exhausted, but with little conviction that my day was productive.  Time eaten away by disconnected tasks, random “fire” extinguishing, and a plethora of e-mail.  Busy, but not necessarily productive.

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cc flickr photo by oskay

Effective teaching requires the careful identification and elaboration of specific learning goals, followed by the design of activities that allow students to process information and frequent formative assessment to monitor student progress toward goals and guide instruction.  Likewise, to be effective as a school leader, one must carefully consider “the big picture,”  identify desired outcomes and prioritize activities accordingly – choosing to complete tasks that move the organization toward the achievement of identified goals.  I am finding that this is much easier said, than done.  There are many days that I feel like I am playing a frantic game of asteroids – trying to knock out hurtling objects and avoid catastrophic collisions, with little thought to the impact to our campus as a whole.

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to visit the School of One in New York City’s Chinatown.  This specialized program, focusing on mathematics, provides an exciting glimpse of the degree of individualization that technology offers for the future of education.  When students arrive in class, they check large flat screen televisions to determine their assigned learning modality for the day.  The modality is determined with input from a complex algorithm developed by Wireless Generation and is based on specific student needs.  While the technology itself is not a panacea for classroom instruction (teachers still drive the process and provide significant input), it does serve to improve efficiency and speed the formative assessment process.  The algorithm helps teachers ensure that they are providing the right instruction, for each student, at the right time.

I often joke, with my wife (an electrical engineer), that I need an algorithm.  Something that will tell me what I am supposed to be doing, and when — a means of assuring that my actions are purposeful and productive.  If only it were that easy, but life doesn’t work that way.  As enticing as the School of One’s algorithm is, there is still a pressing need to account for the human element in education, and as helpful as the algorithm might be, success still hinges upon how we (teachers, students, and administrators) handle our failures.  Do we learn and adjust, or just keeping making the same mistakes over and over again?

I think we sometimes make the mistake that at some point we will “arrive” and that this job of educating kids will become easy…natural…an after-thought.  Truth is, if we ever feel like we have arrived, we would be well advised to think again.  This week, during a discussion about a new teacher evaluation instrument our district is adopting, a staff member drew the analogy of a teacher (or administrator) as a hitter in baseball.  Even the best hitters strike out, fly out and get thrown out at first.  No one hits a home run every time at bat.  As educators, we should not expect to be home run hitters with every activity, lesson, or strategy.  The key is in the averages…sticking with it…trying new approaches…not being afraid to fail…getting back up…expecting to get better.

In spite of a rough week at school, I am determined to get better.  I will refocus on what matters.  I will work diligently to do the right things at the right times.  This week, I will be a .300 hitter.

Swing away.

6 Comments

  1. Bill said:

    As an AP in charge of about everything I hardly get time to use the potty. Yes, my main duties are Butts & Buses but I handle a plethora of every detail that goes into running a HS. I often times feel like I am in a jungle fighting just to survive each day therefore never or rarely getting a chance to reflect on the big picture. With that said, glimpses of it are sewn into my mind and are awating to be implemented once I am fortunate enough to land my own school. I get everything you are saying. Thank you, and yours in the fight…

    February 27, 2012
  2. Hello my name is Jasmine Stevens. I am at student at the University of South Alabama. I am currently taking an EDM 310 class which requires us to comment on different blogs. I actually enjoyed reading this blog post. I am planning to become a teacher in the future. This blog was an eye-opener pretaining to that. Times do seem to be getting harder, but everything does not come easy. You made me realize being a teacher will be something that I will have to work at. I now see that it will not come simple and easy to me. Assignments and lesson plans for students may need changes every year.Your post has encouraged me to work harder and stay focused. This is our class blog if you would like to look at it- http://www.edm310.blogspot.com/
    Thanks!

    February 27, 2012
  3. Scott said:

    Patrick,
    Your post is relevant from my perspective as a high school AP. I typically have that feeling many after many weeks during the course of a year. I particularly like the statement about being busy but not necessarily productive. It seems many of my tasks put me in the realm of being busy.

    I found relevancy in the PLN, though. I found that my PLN, developed through Twitter and my recent entry into the blogging world, has given me ideas for innovation and collaboration. Looking for ways to innovate in my position or streamline processes has given me direction and a sense of accomplishment.

    I think we have to constantly reinvent ourselves or at the very least our perspective. I am constantly looking for ways to grow professionally. As a former ball player (cool analogy, by the way), you have to all streaks in stride.

    Water always finds it’s level.

    February 27, 2012
  4. David said:

    “Truth is, if we ever feel like we have arrived, we would be well advised to think again.”

    I’m reminded of a Zen quote I got from my father-in-law: “If you’re going to stop, then stop. If you are looking for a time when you will be finished, there will never be a time when you will be finished.”

    February 27, 2012
  5. James Naranjo said:

    Things could be worse. I had to retire years ago due to my health and no day goes by that I don’t miss the chaos and the accomplishment. Enjoy it, as stressful as it is, you are the heart of your school. I envy you.

    February 28, 2012

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