As an avid cyclist, I have spent countless hours sitting on my bicycle experiencing what I term the “zone-out”. I become so focused (or lack of focus – depending on how you view this) on the ride that my movements become automatic. I often give myself completely to the bicycle, shifting gears as I need on a type of autopilot. This concentration breaks as I spin out – my pedals spin too fast and the chain skips a bit – I then shift appropriately and begin again.
Moving to a new school can be seen as analagous to shifting gears on the bike. For the purpose of this blog, I will introduce some cycling terms that will allow me to explore the metaphor fully.
* The Draft – creating a slipstream behind you that others can exist in allowing them to exert less power
* Spinning – the process of the crank movement
* Cadence – the revolutions per minute of the crank
* Domestique – that rider that works for the team. Often, the domestique will sacrifice their body for the success of others
* The Lead Out – in a sprint situation, there are a number of riders that will create a drafting situation for a sprinter. They will pour all of their energy into this to allow the sprinter to conserve power until the very last moment
I currently live in a very flat part of the Lower Mainland in BC. There are few hills within my current area so my cycling often achieves a Zen-like state . I just park myself in an easy (low) gear and spin away. When I do experience hills, my senses become razor sharp. I have to shift constantly to achieve momentum and often move off my seat as I lug my bike up the mountain (or small hill, in my case).
As I have recently moved to a new school, I have also had to shift my style. My old school could be termed as a middle class, middle of the road school. Using the analogy of cycling, I had the ability to be on autopilot for a while. I could maintain a certain set of expectations for most students, knowing that my toolbox was good to go for most situations.
This new school is an “inner city” school containing a wide range of issues for the school and community. Within minutes of entering the school, it was clear that my relaxed spinning and lack of needing to shift was about to change. The students under my caseload represented a very wide range of behaviours. Suddenly, I found myself having to explore the full range of my toolbox. I no longer had the ability to place all students in the same round hole – there were some square pegs, hexagons and even rectangles. My old school could be viewed as an easier stage in a bike race. There were definitely challenging sections but overall, I felt very comfortable with the journey. This new environment gives me peaks and valleys followed by sprints. No matter how much readiness I have, you can never really be ready for the challenge until you get experience it firsthand.
Running a school requires a great deal of varied skills. In the beginning of my career, I viewed myself as a domestique. I was there for the principal and the school. I worked to ensure that the trains “ran on time”. I was working for the success of others. I also worked as the Lead Out man – I shifted my skills for the support of others.
The cycling analogy works as a pace line. There is a line of riders. The front one does 100% of the work with each successive rider having to work a little less.
As a lead out administrator, I can act like a buffer for other people in the building. I keep my cadence high so that others do not need to go as fast. When they are ready to move to the lead the pack, I move aside and let them through. The pace line works best, however, when all members take a turn at the front – we can then all share the weight for a common goal.
The biggest thing that I learned from this new experience is that the shift from school to school involves a great deal of thought. As with cycling, you can mentally prepare for the race but circumstances will inevitably force you to shift on the fly. Shifting well involves more than the preparation, it involves the ability to adapt to anything that the job throws at you.