The Practice of Reflection
If asked to name a movie that accurately describes educational leadership, I think the answer would be “Fast and Furious”. My movie selection isn’t based on the storyline, rather the title of the film. Educational leadership, whether on the campus or at the district level, happens at lightening speed. There is so much to be done, that you pull up your sleeves to get it done and then look up and realize that months have passed you by. This blog is about how to make sure you stop each week to reflect on your work.
Most of us are great about reflecting at the end of the school year. We look back on the year and determine whether things worked well. The end of year reflection is to plan for a better school year for the upcoming school year. For the sake of this post, I challenge you on whether an end of year reflection is all that’s need for educational improvement.
I believe reflection must take place on a weekly basis. Our months are made up of weeks. If we don’t make small reflections, we will continue to do things that are not effective for months, and heaven forbid, even an entire school year... and then realize that it didn’t work.
Questions to guide your weekly reflection:
Some of your answers can lead to immediate tweaks and immediate improvement. Some of your answers may take a long-range plan that will take time to bring about improvement. Small tweaks and long-range changes are both important. The key is identifying in a timely matter what changes need to be made and then get work improving them.
What changes have you made recently based on genuine reflection?
Leaders Building Leaders
I was in a meeting this past week and this question was asked… Professionally, who was the most influential person in your life? I listened as each person answered and wondered how I would answer this question. I also reflected on the fact that most people have at least one person in their professional life who has made a difference as it relates to their career. My blog this week will be in honor of the person who has been the most influential person in my professional career… Danette Tilley.
Danette Tilley extended to me my first opportunity to enter educational leadership. It was my first (and became my only) interview as a teacher trying to become an assistant principal. She offered me the job… Assistant Principal at a new elementary school in La Porte ISD.
She was wise in choosing me to be her assistant principal because she was looking for someone who would complement her. I made up for your “weaknesses” and whether she knew it or not, her strengths were my weaknesses. I was able to grow in my weak areas by watching her operate in her strengths.
I could not have begun my career with a better principal. Danette taught me how to create a campus culture of positive educators with one goal in mind… to do what was best for every student on our campus. She taught me how to use student data to determine the effectiveness of classroom instruction. Overall, she taught me how to lead a campus.
I think the most important thing Danette could have done for me was believe in me. She respected my gifts and talents. As we began working together, she included me on decisions. Although I was nowhere near proficient in the role of assistant principal, she saw that I came with skills. In areas where I needed to grow, she grew me. She told me that after I learned to be an assistant principal, she was going to teach me how to be a principal. She kept that promise. I can truly say that when I became a principal, I was more than prepared for the job… because of her.
Professionally, who was most influential in my career? Danette Tilley. I challenge you to think about who was most influential in your career and reach out to them and let them know. Sometimes, those mentors need to see how they have influenced those who have come behind them. We are part of their legacy.
The excitement, glitter, and glam of the beginning of the school year has disappeared. It is September, you’ve probably been in school for at least one month and “normal” is trying to set in. This is the time that we tend to fall back into what we’ve always done. This blog is to alert you to what you may be feeling and to make sure you don’t fall prey to it.
We start the school year with big goals and big plans. This year, we are going to be the best educator and/or leader we could possibly be. We are going to be organized. We are going to show up each day with a great attitude, ready for whatever may come our way. We started great… and then a month later, we might find ourselves right back where we were last year.
A few things to remember to keep you moving in the right direction.
Each day, your focus must be on CONSISTENCY. For instance, if you set a schedule for yourself to complete tasks in a timely manner, no matter how tired you may be, no matter how much time it looks like you don’t have… discipline yourself to keep to the schedule you created. If your goal was to improve campus culture, no matter how much a few people may try to influence negativity, continue with the plan to infuse positivity on the campus.
Stick to Your Plan
Administrators, if you created a plan this year to help improve student achievement, it’s only been a month… stick to the plan. One thing we tend to do in education that is a detriment to us, is that we try things for a little while and then throw it away and go back to what we’ve always done, or try something else new. Remember, change can be painful. Just because you and your staff may be feeling growing pains doesn’t mean you need to abandon the new plan. Give your plan time to work. Stick to the plan.
Continue to See the Positive
As the school year progresses, sometimes it gets harder and harder to see the positive. Make a conscious effort to see the positive in every situation. The harder it is to see the positive, the more you should work to turn the situation into a positive. There could be a tragedy that you are dealing with on your campus where no positive can be found… instead of looking for a positive, make one… turn the time that you are dealing with the tragedy into a time that could bring your family of staff members closer. Learn as much as you can from the situation and create something positive out of it.
Education is a tough business. Educational leadership is even tougher. It is truly a work of the “heart” and many times that heart is broken over and over. Remember, anytime you commit to be better and to better the lives of our children, you will be challenged. Also remember, that only the strong survive… and many times, we are so much stronger than we realize.
Go forth and make this month of September an AWESOME one!
When Leadership Fails...
Leadership can look like the pinnacle of success, but to whom much is given, much is required. One of the major things to remember when in leadership is who is affected by your decisions. If you are in educational leadership, may you never forget that children are affected by each and every decision you make. I am reminded of a tale of what happens when leadership fails. There is a situation going on at a district where the superintendent resigned and it was quickly realized that the district is in trouble financially. This district has gone from thinking they were in great shape, financially, academically, and in extra-curricular areas to the realization that what they thought was not true at all.
This situation has caused me to reflect on leadership. This situation is a direct result of failed leadership. This is not an attempt to point fingers, but as a leader, it is an opportunity to learn from others’ actions. The single most important lesson I have learned from this is to never forget who is most effected by decisions I make… students. When we lose sight of who we are serving, our priorities change from what is best for students and our decision-making becomes cloudy. This situation is a product of failed leadership on many levels. The school board, the superintendent, and the chief financial officer must take responsibility for the situation the district has found itself. I don’t believe any of them intentionally placed the district in this position; however, I do believe they should have been more cognizant of every decision made.
For those in educational leadership, every decision you make directly effects children. This is important to remember the further you get from the classroom. May we never forget that we are here to serve children and that every decision made will affect them negatively or positively… we decide which one. It is a heavy weight to carry, but we placed that load on ourselves when we decided to serve through leadership. When leadership fails, students lose.
Paula Patterson is a Superintendent of Schools who shares practical points on leadership.