Ripples Reflect Reality
As month #2 of my Pandemic Principalship ends, I am currently sitting on the patio looking at Lake Hamilton while enjoying the peaceful breeze. I am also enjoying the unusual feeling of not having a list of deadlines to meet, and continuously thinking to myself there is nothing more important today than rest and relaxation. Watching the sunlight reflect off the water, I am reminded of the small ripples that come together to make up this beautiful view. In comparison to the principalship, I delight in the notion that I am so fortunate to be able to live at this point in my life. There will always be ripples—obstacles in any endeavor. Your mindset, or mental attitude, towards these ripples, will influence your ability to either float along, keeping your head above water, or determine if you will spend the bulk of your time constantly fighting against the currents with every passing moment. Each day, I hold on to the first six lessons I learned during month #1, while reminding myself to look at each moment as a way to learn, grow, and improve myself as a leader. Let’s talk about my “aha” moments, what I have learned, and suggestions for turning the tide within schools.
Lesson #7: This job is not for the faint of heart
All I can say is it feels like I have been doing this job for way more than a couple of months. The principalship is a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week job. Even when you are not at work, your “principal brain” is continuously switched on—contemplating and anticipating obstacles, weighing options, and envisioning new avenues which will move your school, staff, and scholars forward. At first, it will be so overwhelming that you won’t be able to fully concentrate on anything. You will have to work like never before to shut it off, or at least quiet it down enough to remember to do even the most mundane of personal tasks—pay the rent, purchase groceries, and eating dinner just to name a few.
If you haven’t been attempting to master or muffle the constant wheels of your brain from turning, consider this strategy: Pencil in points on your calendar to check in with family and friends, to prioritize your own personal self-care, and implementing a hard-stop time so that you can leave work and/or stop working for at least one day out of the weekend. It’s important for you just to have time to sit and breathe. This will be vital to you making it through this month. Believe it or not, people were taking it easy on you during month one because you were new. Now, the real work is beginning. Take care of yourself! You will need your strength for what is ahead.
Lesson #8: Visions must be intentional
As you grow more and more comfortable with your new job, there will be a persistent struggle to keep yourself and everyone around you focused. A carefully crafted vision will be your most beneficial asset during this time. Think long and hard. These will be the words you use all year long to bring everyone back to the purpose, the end result, the ultimate achievement your school is working towards this year. After meticulously constructing your vision, I urge you to attach a hashtag, slogan, or motto to it. Think of just a few words which will activate everyone’s memory, flip the switch, and help everyone focus with intentionality on making the vision become reality.
It wasn’t easy but my hashtag, slogan, motto for Year #1 can be summed up in just three words---#BuildingBrilliantBobcats. Every child is brilliant in their own way. I believe that it is up to educators like us to bring out, help scholars figure out, and increase students’ belief that they are smart. These three words signify what the educators in our building are working towards; reminding students that everything we do each day is to help increase their intelligence, and noting for parents and community stakeholders what we are aiming to achieve. If asked, would your teachers, parents, students, and community stakeholders be able to sum up your vision in just a few short words? If not, stop and jot down a few words which you can begin using to positively move the needle towards achieving your school-wide goals.
Positioning your vision using the P4 Methodology
Everything you do each day should be positioning your vision to take shape and increase the likelihood of success. Last month, we discussed the four T-approach. This month’s lessons are aligned to the four P methodology:
- Planning and Preparation
- Perception, Perspective, and Proclamations
- Precision, Pivoting, and Positive Talk
- Partnerships: Alliances that speak for you when you are not in the room
Lesson #9: Planning and Preparation
Planning and preparation are essential. To achieve any goal, you must have a clear strategy, action steps, and a method to follow up on your progress. Whenever I get to a new school, one of my first professional development activities is one that I call, “WHAT IF.” WHAT IF is a simplistic activity that involves the staff collaboratively revisiting the school motto in combination with analyzing school-wide data. The number of groups will be determined by the different types of data you would like the staff to consider. For instance, if you are analyzing attendance, discipline, and academic data from three content areas then your staff should be split off into five groups. Once split into groups, your staff will be given a large piece of chart paper divided into two parts. The groups should be tasked with writing down the ultimate goals for the school on one half of a chart, and strategies to fulfill the goals on the other. Never forget that your teachers are the experts. Enlisting them in the process of creating a plan of action, and suggesting strategies for implementation, will help everyone feel valued, ensure all voices are heard and empower transparency and open discussions regarding the current state of your school. All staff should be involved in the planning and preparation of new initiatives. You cannot do it all alone. Collaboration and teamwork are the keys to the success of both you and your school.
Lesson #10: Perception, Perspectives, and Proclamations.
Perception is a double-edged sword. Everyone has their own perspective and way of looking at the world. It is always good to check in to ensure that what you say and what people hear are aligned. Be careful not to take offense when staff members voice concerns, push back, or simply ask questions. Each person in your building brings their own experiences and perspective to any given situation. Refrain from making proclamations, decrees, or declarations unless absolutely necessary. “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” (Alda, 1980, p.4). Remembering to not take everything personally and transparency were my first two lessons in leadership. You can’t just accept or expect transparency when things are going well. To truly build a sense of transparency you should expect concerns, questions, and opposition every time you implement something new. In fact, you should encourage staff voice whenever possible. Educators want to do what is best for children. Oftentimes, what appears to be opposition is simply a lack of understanding. Instead of taking offense, use each suggestion and concern to help you build clarity, and strengthen school-wide initiatives.
Lesson #11: Precision, Pivoting, and Positive Talk
By this time in the year, you must work with precision. It will not be easy. You should watch out for time-drainers. You know, those operational tasks—surveys, questionnaires, the constant stream of visitors, discipline issues, and so many more things which prevent you from doing things that matter the most—such as visiting classrooms and observing instruction. When you are drowning in paperwork, I urge you to pivot. Pivoting could be something as simple as stopping to take a walk. I find that visiting classrooms, watching instruction, and interacting with my students always helps to clear my head and brings my focus back to what matters most, educating students. When choosing where my priorities should be, I do not mind giving up a little of my personal time if it means I can spend more time making sure teaching and learning is taking place in my building.
All those operational things have to get done, too. Consider devoting one day a week to prioritizing operational tasks—meetings, checking in with other departments, following up on maintenance issues, and so many more things. Many of us have been used to being perfect in our other roles. This job is not like those roles. There will be many moments in your day where self-doubt will creep in. It is at these times when you must surround yourself with positive mantras and repeat them often. If you are not currently using positive mantras, Millennium Systems International offers 10 affirmations to help you get started. No matter what you choose (operational or instructional priorities), perfection should be a goal, but it should be looked at as a means to get better and better with each passing day.
Lesson #12: Partnerships: Alliances speak for you when you are not in the room
Face it! You cannot be everywhere all of the time. You need to build alliances—partnerships that will allow your voice, your vision, and your purpose to continue even when you are not around. Relationships are key in any setting. They are critical when building a vision in a school. Partnerships are formed when we enlist all stakeholders to help construct a plan for moving your school forward. Every interaction that you have throughout the day should be keenly fashioned to provide your school with positive allies. Sit down, create a list of stakeholders who truly believe in the work you are doing at your school. What are they saying when they speak about your school?
Riding the Ripples
There have been many ripples over the past month. Prioritizing time to take care of myself has helped me remain focused and form partnerships that aid in planning and preparing for the academic well-being of my students. As the pressure increases, perception and perspective are more important than proclamations on any given day. By moving with precision, learning to pivot, and surrounding myself with positive affirmations, I will resist the urge to fight against the current, and instead, ride the ripples and use them to learn, grow, and lead.
Alda, Alan, "62nd Commencement Address" (1980). Commencement Addresses. 7
Fowler-White, J. (2020). When You Are At a Crossroad, Mindset Matters
Fowler-White, J. (2021). The Pandemic Principal: Lessons in Leadership, Part #1
Millennium Systems International (2018). 10 Leadership Mantras for Self-Improvement
Photo Credit:Jami Fowler-White, 2021