Seeing as it's the middle of the summer and I have my first year in an administrative role behind me, I've had some time to reflect on some of the reasons why I do what I do. Here are four simple words I landed on:
Serve with your whole heart.
I love to help people. I haven't always been like this but if I can find a way to jump in and serve in any capacity, I love to. It just plain feels good to help others see that they matter. There is so much value in serving others and demonstrating that we truly care about them. I know that it happens but I don't want anyone to feel like they're only getting a portion of what I have to offer. Whether it be fellow administrators, teachers, students, parents (or any other stakeholder), they should feel as though they're getting red-carpet service every time they interact with us.
Learn from your failures.
Let's be real here...no one enjoys failure. It's not fun. It can be embarrassing. Sometimes, it hurts. However, if we are not failing on occasion I would contend that we are spending too much time focusing on our own comfort. I'm not saying that we should live in a constant state of failure or that comfort is a bad thing, but if we never step out on that rickety little limb and try something that's innovative or (Heaven forbid) disrupts the status quo, we might be too comfy. May I challenge you (and hopefully you'll extend the same challenge to me) to try something new this year? Maybe even something scary. And when you fail, get up, dust off your knees and grab the hand of someone who's further along the path of failure than you are and do it again and again and again until you get it right.
Grow because you want to.
We live and work in an age that has made connecting with, learning from and growing with others easier than it has ever been. With the simple click of a button, we can "follow" other educators in other districts, cities, states, and even countries. We can gather information, new ideas, or pedagogical tips from brilliant people around the globe from the comfort (see, I told you I didn't think comfort is always bad) of our own home. Yet, some of us still choose not to grow. We are fine with where we are. Our test scores are good enough. What we've done for 30 years is still working (news flash...no, it's not!). When we choose not to connect and grow, we are doing a disservice to our students as well as our colleagues. We are selling our students short because we have chosen to not learn from literally tens of thousands of brilliant educators out there in the Twittersphere. We are selling our colleagues short because we (and by this I mean "you") have brilliance to share that we (you) aren't sharing. You have something awesome to offer someone who needs to hear it. If we are going to expect that our students want to grow, should we not expect the same of ourselves?
Lead others to do the same.
If we want others around us to love to serve, learn from their failures and grow because they want to, we must be the example. We must set the bar high in the service that we offer, in the manner that we connect with others and borrow their brilliance, and with the growth that we are experiencing because we want to. Teachers, how are you setting the bar high for your students in these areas? Fellow admins, what are we doing to model continuous learning? If we, as educators, feel that we have arrived and do not need to learn or grow anymore, it may be time to consider a new profession. In reality, if we are not showing a passion for any of these, how can we expect anyone around us to either?
As a disclaimer, I don't mean for this post to come across as though I've got it all figured out. Please don't read it that way. These are simply some thoughts that are bouncing around in my head lately and areas in which I am learning and growing. I hope you (and anyone that you may share this with) are encouraged to serve, learn, grow, and lead in a bold way.
Thanks for taking time to read. You are appreciated.
"Southwest Airlines is now boarding passengers B31-60 from Chicago Midway to Houston Hobby" crackled over the speakers in the terminal. I walked down the tunnel behind the ninety people before me, suitcase behind me, stepped into the plane and made the right turn. The realization then hit me that my choices were going to be very limited. I moved down the long walkway looking (and possibly praying) for a not-middle-seat. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t pass up those middle seats. We know this isn’t what you want to hear but that’s all that’s left.” Wonderful.
On to plan B: find a middle seat between two (preferably smaller) people. Totally doable. So, I find my seat, stow my suitcase into the overhead bin and shove my backpack into the storage under the seat. You know, the one that's not really big enough to store anything? In my seat, I strap my seat belt around my waste. As we move slowly towards the runway, the pilot announces that we have been cleared for take-off. The force of the engines smashing me back into my seat and my stomach swaps places with my small intestines as we begin to ascend. Within a few minutes, the pilot announces, barely loud enough to hear over the roar of the engines, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached 10,000 feet. You may now use your..." and the horror begins. “Waaaaaaaaaahhhh!” I think to myself sarcastically, “Great! I love crying babies. Especially when they’re sitting close to me on planes.” As she continued to cry, and people around her became more and more visibly annoyed (possibly including me) I had to remind myself, “Brent, you’re a daddy too and you’ve been there. You know, with the eyes glaring at you. Every eye within earshot of your baby.” That would be umm, all of the eyes on the plane because well, you’re on a plane. And YOUR baby is screaming.
I began to think about what I could do to take her focus off of whatever it was that had her worked up. What could I do to help her calm down? As I sat across the aisle from her, those big, tear-filled brown eyes made contact with mine. So, what did I do? I waved. Lame. She continued to cry and the tears continued to flow. Strike one.
She looked to her daddy and back to me, continuing to wail. This time I waved and added a big smile. Still lame. Tears like a waterfall. Strike two.
I went back to eating my delectable pre-made airport sandwich and Fritos searching for option three. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her looking back at me again so what did I do? I looked over and put both hands over my eyes. When I slowly opened them up, I saw a big, toothy grin. Grand slam! She giggled and looked at her daddy, back to me and back at her daddy. He glanced over and saw what had made her big alligator tears stop flowing and a smile flash across her face. In an instant, the panic drained and a grin of relief came across his face. Without even opening his mouth, he said "thank you."
Why do I tell you this story? Because it reminds me of our classrooms. And, no, not because we have crying babies. Ok, maybe some of us do at times, but that's not my point. Could I have quit when my first and second attempt didn’t work to help calm her? Sure, but why? Because people nearby might think I look like an idiot playing peek-a-boo with a baby I don’t even know? Because of the frustration of failure? Seeing her sitting in daddy’s lap, giggling and playing with his hat was worth looking like a fool and the failed attempts. Sometimes, as educators, we get frustrated or feel foolish when the attempts we make fail to meet the individual needs of our students. Do we quit? No. We make adjustments and try again. And again. And again…until we find the right fit. Because every failure we experience is worth it for that light bulb moment.
I refuse to quit trying when it gets difficult. Hopefully you will too. Keep pressing on and find your “peek-a-boo" because #KidsDeserveIt.
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.
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.