Each Sunday I sit down to write my weekly staff memo in a newsletter format, titled (unoriginally) my Monday Message. I have always loved the process of writing in any form, and this communication-as-reflection approach has really helped me to focus on my priorities as a new principal. I am able to share my hopes and dreams, innovative instructional approaches that I steal from others, my continued vision for our school, and my many mistakes (this part is hard but arguably the most important).
Every week I tell myself that this is going to be the one that I spend more time out of my office in classrooms than I do sitting at my desk. Sometimes I write out the commitment in the Monday Message in hopes that building staff will hold me accountable. And every Friday I sit down and realize that I failed to meet my goal. It turns out I am the only one who can hold myself accountable.
I’m not afraid to admit that the biggest part of my problem as a second-year building leader is time management. Everything feels like the MOST important thing! Especially when it comes to reading and answering emails. Knowing that I have an email in my inbox is like a little parasitic e-worm that wriggles itself into my brain’s worry-center and stays there until I am able to address it. What happens if I don’t get back to them quickly? What happens if I am caught unaware of a brewing issue because I didn’t check my email? What happens if I don’t send that bit of information out as soon as I think about it? I know that I need to set aside specific times of the day to deal with email, but I have yet to train myself to do it.
Then I sat in a team meeting with a group of teachers, something I did last week with every grade level in order to FORCE myself up-and-out. At this particular meeting while talking about a difficult student, one of my veteran teachers used a phrase I had never heard before: Eat your frog. I laughed and immediately asked her to explain what she meant. She told me it is something that they say to each other a lot in her family. Basically, it means to attack the thing you want to do the least, first. I LOVED IT! In that moment it spoke to me in so many ways. Later she sent me a link to this article by Brian Tracy, and it made even more sense.
The more I read and re-read the article, the more I realized that I have MANY frogs that need to be eaten, and I definitely ignore them until absolutely necessary! Desk-work should rarely, if ever, take priority over people-work, and yet I let that happen a great deal. I need to re-prioritize what is most important for me as a middle school principal. The first frog I will eat? Understanding that to be the best instructional leader I can be I have to ACTUALLY be in the middle of instruction. In other words: Walk away from my desk when it feels like I absolutely can’t. The second frog? Making a list of those tasks that are the biggest and/or most difficult, and tackling them ASAP.
I miss so much learning, disguised as getting work done, by holding myself prisoner at my desk. I miss learning from my students experiences and from the institutional knowledge of building staff. Getting out of the main office was the best thing I did last week. Of course I understand that part of being a principal means that there is desk-work, but I also know that there are other times in the day when it can get done. My work day might start a bit or earlier, but the benefits far outweigh the morning-bleariness. I’m very sorry frogs of the world, but I’m coming for you. I can only hope that you actually do taste like chicken….