This piece was originally written for LeadUpNow.com and can also be found here.
As of the publish date of this post, I have been alive for 13,738 days. Of that time, 219 days have been spent as a junior high Assistant Principal. That's only 1.6% of my life. However, as I reflect back on that short amount of time, I think there are some small, yet precious gold nuggets that we can all mine out. Here are a few of them:
219 days of listening:
If you want to be a great leader, be a great listener.
I have struggled much of my adult life (and probably childhood too) with the skill of being an intentional, active listener. Over the past several years, as I became more acutely aware of this flaw in myself, I have worked hard to refine this skill. Being an adept listener is likely at the top of every strong leader’s list. If this is an area of struggle for you, like it has been for me, may I suggest a few tips that I have picked up along the way?
As my favorite leadership guru, John Maxwell, puts it, “There is no quicker way to earn respect as a leader than being slow to speak. It’s called listening…”
219 days of asking questions:
Ask questions. Even the ones you think may be dumb. It is ok to not know what to do. We simply can’t stay “not knowing what to do.” Find another admin on your campus and ask questions. If you are not comfortable asking anyone on your campus, use your professional PLN on Twitter (then find someone on your campus who you can be comfortable asking). We all need to surround ourselves with people who are smarter than we are (see: next point).
219 days of smarter people:
This one’s fairly easy. Spend time around people who are smarter than you and revisit my first point. If you’re not connected to a PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter, here are some awesome “eduleaders” whom I have a great deal of respect for:
219 days of daily GOOD convos with students:
Because of the nature of the Assistant Principal role, there can be a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to building positive, healthy relationships with students. I’ve worked diligently this year to have more encouraging convos than corrective convos with my students. No one likes to feel constantly beaten down by talk of what they could be doing better. The building up has to happen too and it MUST outweigh the not-so-fun stuff. Eat lunch with various groups of students. Visit them in their classrooms. Call them to your office and make a parent phone call...for a GOOD reason. If we want our corrective convos to hold any restorative weight at all, we must build a healthy bond through the positive ones first.
219 days of growing in empathy:
Get to know your students and staff. Ask questions about them that don’t pertain to school/work. Learn what makes them feel valued and act on what you are able to. Don’t be overbearing but dig into their world. Let them know you care. Celebrate the good. Jump in the trenches with them things get tough. Hurt with them when there’s sorrow.
A lifestyle of keeping my focus on something greater than myself:
I live my life as a husband, daddy, and educator for more than just mere satisfaction, pats on the back, and the huge paycheck (riiiiight). I view these three areas as callings placed on my life and will never be my best if I’m not leaning on someone greater than myself. MY strength, endurance, and willpower only take me so far. My eyes must remain on Jesus at all times and all costs. If I lose sight of this, everything I do becomes mechanical and unemotional with no real reason to keep going. So, I’ll keep my focus where it is, keep pressing on, continue growing, and give the glory to the One to whom it belongs.
In the hands of great artists, pencils can create amazing artwork but periodically they need to be sharpened. Can a dull pencil can still be used? Of course. But is it as effective as it could be for as long as it should be? No, it's not.
You see, when a pencil is sharpened, it is taken to a blade of some sort that shaves off the pieces that are no longer needed in order to make it a more effective tool. This simple analogy is why I've chosen my #OneWord2017 to be "sharpened." I need to be sharpened. I am in need of constant growth and improvement. I need God to remove from me the parts of me that are making me less effective in all aspects of life (inside and ourside of my home) and make me a more effective tool for His purposes as The Artist.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NASB
Did you know that there are kids who have zero access to books in their home? Zero. As in NO BOOKS. Check out the graphic below that I borrowed from this great piece from Scholastic on the topic of access to books.
Thanks to my good friend Todd Nesloney, I had an awesome opportunity recently to attend the Scholastic Reading Summit in San Antonio, TX. Information like what you see above is what prompted me to reflect on this topic.
As a science teacher attending a reading summit, I felt a bit out of place. However, as I begin to listen to people talk I realized that I was exactly where I need to be. I have done a mediocre job during my seven years of teaching of providing opportunities for students to read in my classroom. I have, in the past, had maybe fifteen to twenty books the students might be interested in picking up to read and occasionally, they would.
Hearing from "living legends" like Donalyn Miller, John Schu, and Matt de le Peña, forced me to come to the realization (embarrassingly enough, for the first time) that it is my responsibility as a teacher (of any subject) to give students opportunities to read. Yes, even in science class. And I don't mean to open up their 27-year-old science textbook and read it. I mean allowing them to read for fun. To read what they want to read.
Reading with choice.
Reading for fun.
Reading for growth.
Reading picture books.
Reading novels (yes, even graphic novels).
Part of my job is to provide them this opportunity to grow and to stretch themselves.
"But they're not learning science" some will scream. They're LEARNING!
Yes, I have to teach the standards. I am aware of that and I do this (I think I do it fairly well, in fact). However, I am also aware of my duty as an educator to develop a love and passion for reading in my students and give them a chance to do it.
So, I am throwing these reflections out there to all non-reading teachers with the hopes that we can join forces in fostering a love for reading books of all kinds in ALL of our students.
Yes, even in science class! :-)
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.