Monthly Archives: December 2012

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

… Or so it seemed this week as I encountered dire predictions around every corner. December 21, 2012 maybe didn’t bring the Mayan Apocalypse that so many had hyped, but it did bring a much needed break in the school calendar for a nation weary of tragedy. We all surely stumbled with heavy hearts into the holiday season this year.

Has there ever been a week more trying to work in education than this one? I began the very first week of my teaching career with 9/11, yet going in to school this past Monday seemed more difficult than even that in many ways. After the events of December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut, it was little surprise to find that the most important part of my week as an administrator was to be visible and present at the carline in the morning. More than ever, parents dropping off their children to school needed to see a reassuring presence outside welcoming everyone into the building. A simple smile and wave without a doubt accomplished more than any paper I pushed this week.

121217073604-01-newtown-reax-1217-horizontal-galleryLike so many in the field of education, for me it has been a week of sober reflection juxtaposed with the need to maintain routine. Holiday traditions seemed more important than ever; so many times this week I found people anxiously looking my way – hoping to find permission to celebrate the season in a smile from me. The struggle to express grief in a season of joy is very real and truly heart-rending.

Looking for Answers

Perhaps it’s due to the winter solstice and the switch from shortened days to lengthening amount of light, but so much of the symbolism of the season is fraught with visual imagery. And I was struck this week at how important it was just to see and be seen when you are an instructional leader. Teachers and students needed to see me walking the halls just as parents needed to see me outside waving my hand. I have never been so manifestly conscious of the effect of my mere presence than I have during the course of this week.

As I finally tried to relax on Friday afternoon, I happened to come across the hype of the Mayan calendar on television. That’s when it struck me. The narrator touched on the actual definition of the word “apocalypse.”

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Translated from Ancient Greek ἀποκάλυψις (apocálypsis) the term literally means “uncovering or lifting of the veil” – referring to a revelation or disclosure of knowledge. It doesn’t mean a thing about the end of the world!

Rather than Armageddon, an “apocalyptic vision” means being able to see through the present to the transition that is on the horizon. Seeing a future hidden by the minutiae of the present is not an easy task, yet it is the one expected of those who would lead our schools. This is especially true in an age dominated by sensationalism portrayed as fact. (Believe me, I got a lot of free advice this week!)

Every time we encounter another of these tragedies, it seems we lose another piece of our national innocence. Hope seems to become a commodity that we can no longer afford when we are confronted with the starkness of such senseless violence. But schools are no place for cynics – rather, they must be temples of hope that have faith in the future. The very act of teaching is one of hope that stems from a belief that we can affect change in the minds of the next generation.

Can that possibly be the lesson of this Christmas season? Even in a society of many faiths, might we dare to pull together as we pivot from the tragedy of death to the time of the year celebrating new birth and new light? Can we make our children the central focus of our culture? Can we learn from what Charles Dickens expressed in my favorite Christmas quote of all time?

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But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that–as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

As communities like Newtown provide support for one another in the aftermath of violence, educators everywhere need to step up and provide continued voice to the true spirit of the season – that we are ultimately all in this together. If we can do this, and I believe we can and must, then we will truly mark a turning point – not only in our educational system, but in our entire society.

Perhaps the Mayans were right after all – if as Winston Churchill said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

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God bless us, every one!

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5 Lessons for New Leaders

Finding a new routine following a job change can be extremely unsettling. Despite my best intentions, I found little time for posting online during my first four months in administration.

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However, the holidays approaching always seems to prompt self-reflection for me. Something about the close of the calendar year triggers part of our human character to look back and consider the ups and downs of the last year.

In that spirit of self-reflection, here are 5 things I’ve learned about administration since becoming an Assistant Principal:

1. Play chess instead of checkers.

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Chess is a game for thinkers, while checkers is a game for opportunists. Just because an avenue for movement opens up doesn’t always mean that it’s the best option. Slow down. Breathe. Take time to consider all of the angles.

Good administration doesn’t need to be reactionary in order to be effective. That does not in any way suggest that there is not a time and place for swift, decisive action. However, it does mean that you have to constantly keep in mind the long game. Pacing yourself and learning to see the whole board is crucial. Not everything needs to be a crisis, nor is “King Me!” the appropriate objective. Planning for achievement requires time and patience.

2. It’s all about the relationships.

One of the reasons change takes the patience of a chess player is because relationships are at the core of school culture. Nothing is going to rankle everyone more than a new leader who barges in trying to change everything all at once. Transitional periods in educational leadership need to be about learning how the pieces move on the board and building the relationships needed to move those pieces. Very few important administrative accomplishments will be achieved in the front of the room at a faculty meeting. The groundwork needs to be laid in a thousand small conversations and built up until it acquires critical mass.images

Of course, this means developing a lot of skill in time management so you can get out of the office! Getting out there helps you build the relationships and develop a better sense of how the community operates. If you move the needle on public opinion first, then actions you take will be perceived as an appropriate response rather than hasty and disconnected from the school culture.

3. Find a mentor.

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When you first arrive to a new leadership role, you are effectively walking into an active minefield with no ideas where the mines are located. Without some guidance and support, you are virtually guaranteed to accidentally step into trouble and lack a proper response when you do. Having a mentor is probably one of the most mature and responsible things you can do as a new leader. We all need someone to talk to about the issues we face. Someone who can provide objective input can help light the way for your to navigate difficult situations.

A word of caution. Please note the word “objective” relative to input. It is hard and nearly impossible for co-workers, bosses, or spouses/significant others, or family members to be objective. Some of my best mentors are former bosses from past jobs. They know me well enough to point out my areas of growth and challenge without feeling the pressure to evaluate my performance relative to the good of the school. Most of them have been where I’ve am today and run into the exact situations I am encountering now.

4. Leave it at the office.

Having a mentor frees up your family and friends to actually be the support network they ought to be for you. Spouses and children don’t need to be witnesses to the effect job stress has on you. Finding an outlet for that stress (hobbies, exercise, spirituality, chores, etc.) should be considered a required part of the job for administrators. Poor stress management can be a real killer for your personal relationships.

I also make some rules for myself about doing work from home. There will always be occasions where a need might arise to do work from home, but I try to avoid it. Likewise, not every email is an emergency demanding an instant response. Some people work well writing late-night or weekend emails, but if that isn’t you then you need to set some limitations for yourself! When you receive a weekend or evening email that doesn’t require an immediate response, consider leaving it for your next morning at the office computer.

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If you are seen to be constantly available, then you start to set an expectation in the mind of those with whom you communicate that a response from you will always come on-demand 24-7-365.

It’s not about ignoring the job, it’s about balance. Making time for your home life is critical to long-term happiness and success.

5. Make time for reflection.

Once more – slow down. Breathe. Even a few minutes a day reflecting and reviewing immediate past action is a tremendously beneficial practice for leaders at all levels. Find a regular time that is best for you and stick to it.

For me, I have found getting to the office early (when it is quiet) is good for catching up on emails, but I also take a few minutes to just close the door and enjoy the silence. It doesn’t last too long, but it does help center me for the day ahead. Morning workouts and spiritual exercises can also fill this need. I highly suggest that you also fit in some collaborative social media when you can so you can take advantage of your PLN!

rear-view-mirrorThe last has definitely been an area of challenge for me these past few months and I have started reorganizing my new routine to bring this back into my life. It is a major goal in the year ahead to routinely take a step back just reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. Whenever I do, I always return to my work refreshed and more focused on our ongoing mission of boosting student achievement!

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