Slowing Down

(1)” src=”×201.jpeg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”201″ /> Photo courtesy of Ian Britton: cc license.

I am by nature, a bit driven. I tend to move fast, talk fast and relaxing has never been a forte. When I begin a staff meeting, record podcasts, or present in front of an audience, I often place a piece of paper in front of me that says “slow-down”. I have a hand-made sign in my office that simply says “breathe” in the hopes that I heed that call.

This lifestyle has worked for the most part in my 51 years, but in full disclosure I must admit that two weeks ago I received my first speeding ticket in over 20 years and only my second ever. I am not by nature a fast driver given that I recognize the risk of speed, but in this case I simply did not slow down fast enough coming off a road where the speed limit was reduced by 10 mph. Bottom line, I was clocked going 45 in a 30 mph zone and much to my surprise, the very nice policewoman (honestly, she couldn’t have been more pleasant) shocked me by not giving me a warning. To top it off…I was simply driving to church on a Sunday. I got the real thing. Seventy-seven bucks.

If the goal of this small town cop was to force me to drive slower, it worked. I now notice every speed limit sign on the road and I never drive above 5 mph of the limit. I’ve had to endure angry drivers behind me as they come within feet of my bumper, many with desperate hands in the air and particular fingers raised in fury. I imagine this new habit of mine will last quite a while.

But this middle aged Principal is slowly learning a lesson. As I approach the first day of school tomorrow, I will be more effective if I slow down, concentrate, and breathe.

Moving slower conveys confidence.

My staff does not need to see a chaotic administrator. They must see a leader who is in control of his emotions and to-do list. We may fight the fiction of perception but we can’t fault perception’s power to affect emotion. I have been known to walk down the hallway deep in thought and later been asked if I was feeling OK. As Todd Whitaker says, “when the Principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold.”

Some decisions are better made with a slow hand.

While framed within a deadline, most great decisions in history were made with care and foresight. As I look at my to-do list, I see a host of actions that require very little thought and others that I have literally tagged “Think” so that I will find time in my day or night to simply contemplate. Driving fast through your day may facilitate the quick actions or decisions, but there are some calls to be made with care. Perhaps I should tag every “Think” action with a second tag entitled “Breathe”.

Slowing down does not necessarily eliminate one’s passion for action.

Much has been written about the athlete who is “in the zone”. The concept of “flow” has been posited by Mihaly Csikszentmihayi whose theory parallels well with the calm, focused, impassioned leader who hits the game winning walk-off home-run or leads his football team down the field for a score with less than two minutes on the clock. There’s a sense that the leader who experiences flow is able to realize the turmoil around him but not let it affect his decision making.

Dialing your internal speed back will likely result in greater accuracy.

There’s a maxim of musicianship that I have observed to be true. If you want to learn a piece of music and meld fine motor control, muscle memory, tone, and clarity, you have to slow down the piece as you practice. Speed and accuracy occurs when the musician masters each note and phrase at a slow speed. I have heard guitarists who regularly skip this step and their playing never reaches the clean playing of the masters.

Life’s lessons are rarely discovered by design and they often emerge from unexpected places. As I look over the decisions I need to make first thing tomorrow morning and those that will come out of left field I need to heed my own advice to slow down.

Bill Carozza can be found on Twitter @wcarozza and through his blog Principal Reflections.


  1. Doug Baker said:

    I imagine many share these same feelings and experiences as we go about our days in administration. I appreciate the strategies you use to remain calm and focused and will work them into my day beginning this morning. I still feel like a rookie administrator after 13 years …so much daily learning and so little time?!

    September 5, 2012
    • Bill Carozza said:

      HI Doug-I’m feeling like a rookie sometimes too. Maybe that’s good-we never get too comfortable!

      September 16, 2012
  2. brenda said:

    As I start my 9th year (5 as elementary principal and 4 as high school principal in Israel) I keep feeling that there must be a way to do it easier and slower. I too have a breathe sign on my phone and while Every day is new and exciting the pace is just too intense at times. Reading this is a great way to start my day….

    September 10, 2012
    • Bill Carozza said:

      If education ever adopts the support that most industries have…a much better supervisor to teacher ratio (mine is 1-50), we would find it much easier to breahte. I think of friends of mine that hold a 1 to 7 ratio. I hope you have a wonderful year!

      September 16, 2012

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