Greetings to anyone still reading (or at least waiting for new content).
I wanted to share with that, as you read this, today is my last day in my current role as a middle school principal. It’s bittersweet, but I am very excited to have accepted a position with a well-known technology company that is named after a fruit and was started by two guys with the same first names.
This decision was one that was both surprisingly easy and surprisingly difficult. It’s difficult to walk away from something you like doing and that you might be pretty good at. On the other side, working for this company has been a dream of mine for as long as I can recall.
I will continue to be involved in education in my new role, though moving forward it will be as a vendor and not a practitioner. I’m happy to share the details with those interested in knowing more, but for now I’d like to share some reflections on three years as the principal of a fantastic middle school.
A friend and colleague challenged me to identify top 5 characteristics of an effective principal and, while I’m not sure I’m the best qualified to do that, I think it’s a fitting way to close out this chapter of my professional career.
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
— Warren G. Bennis
One of the things I learned pretty early on is that it’s not enough to simply have a vision. You have to do a lot of legwork to communicate and get people on board and engaged with the the vision so that it can become a shared vision.
Without a vision, you’re just a manager keeping the status quo in place. With a vision you have an eye on where you’re headed and a “hook” on which to hang all of your other actions. If it doesn’t align with the vision and move the organization forward, it doesn’t belong.
Make an open call and invite those who are leaders in the organization to the table to talk about the vision. I did my best to engage not just “titled” leaders, but also anyone who had an interest and I was surprised to see some folks who had been marginalized take a chance and come to the table. These people have become some of my very best teacher leaders, titled or not.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
— Steve Jobs
Moving forward can be challenging. You will naturally have many folks who are on board with and have invested in the vision; these are the easy ones to lead. The challenge is to have the strength to push forward when you encounter the Nay Sayers and Sabateurs. Sadly, they’re out there and no matter how clearly you paint the picture or tell the story of where the organization is headed, you will never get everyone on board.
I think the “a-ha” for me was when one of my mentors in the District told me, “It’s OK not to have everyone on board. If everyone is on board, you’re probably not pushing hard enough.”
I also remember a college professor sharing a (NSFW) scene from the otherwise B-quality Roadhouse. In the scene, Patrick Swayze is telling the would-be bouncers of the shady bar at the center of the film that, no matter how rude or aggressive a customer becomes, they need to “be nice.” I’m reminded of this when I face a difficult situation with a beligerent parent, and I certainly think about it when confronted with a Sabateur.
“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
— Saint Augustine
This one speaks for itself. I don’t know much, but I am confident I can surround myself with people who know what they’re doing and trust them to do it well. The gestalt power of the group to move the organization forward far exceeds what the leader alone can offer.
It’s easy to get trapped into thinking you need all the answers, but showing your weakness and your willingness to reach out and ask for help sets an important example. It communicates that it’s not only OK not to know everything, but that it’s expected.
One of the things that I recall early on in my first year was turning to the blogs of folks whom I follow online. In many ways, this was helpful, but it was also incredibly humbling. Their schools always sound so perfect and so forward-thinking you can find yourself in a kind of blog-induced funk thinking you’re a horrible leader and your school is the only one with problems. The thing I realized is that every school has its good and bad qualities and that no school is perfect. It’s just our tendency to blog about all the things going well instead of about the angry parent calls or disgruntled faculty members.
Remember to be humble. You can’t do it alone and you probably wouldn’t want to.
“A coward is much more exposed to quarrels than a man of spirit.”
— Thomas Jefferson
The biggest compliment I have received over the three years in my current position has come up quite a bit when people visit our campus. Many have said, “There’s just a really great energy about this school.” It’s hard to place exactly what that means, but it always makes me proud.
Educating kids in the current political and economic climate, and with all the concerns fresh in our minds about student safety, is a unique challenge. A core belief of mine that I’ve shared before is, “We take our work very seriously, but never ourselves.”
Have fun. Joke. Laugh a lot, especially at yourself.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”
— Lao Tzu
Finally, give yourself a break. There are no quick fixes and no canned solutions that will miraculously “fix” any of the problems we face in our schools. I found it important to try striking a balance between “dragging my feet” and “pushing too hard.” You won’t always get it right, but be willing to reflect frequently and adjust as needed.
Though I will leave this blog online for the foreseeable future, I will not be posting any new content here and, to reduce management overhead, I’ll be turning off comments in the coming weeks.
Thank you to all who have read, contributed, and otherwise been a part of my personal and professional growth on this blog. It’s been a fun ride! Stay hungry, stay foolish.
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