Live, From New York…

As I reflect on my own personal writing habits, I realized that even though this space has been very quiet, I really am writing blogs every week. It’s just that my audience is smaller in that I only share with my building staff. So, in an effort to return to reflection in this space, I’m diving back in. This is a longer version of a reflection I shared last week in my weekly Monday Message:

Last night I had a dream, and it’s stuck with all day. It was one of those dreams that was normal enough to potentially be real but just odd enough to make me wonder what in my subconscious had triggered it. Somehow I had secured a spot as the host of a quickly approaching episode of Saturday Night Live, yet nobody had told me that was the case. I found out through a television commercial. Now, I’m certainly not one to shy away from a microphone (a statement that shouldn’t shock anyone, so I’m told), but this was too much for me. I don’t even watch SNL! In line with many of my dreams, however, I was left searching for very essential details that would allow me to prepare for this situation that I was completely unprepared for. What pop-cultural itch did I scratch for the populace that would put me front and center like this? I encountered people over and over again who couldn’t understand why I was so anxious, and they offered no help. They were more excited by the after-party that I would be entitled to attend as host.

Unfortunately my world television premier was rudely interrupted by a rogue early morning real-life text message, so we’ll never know how badly I bombed. Here is yet another reason to buy a real alarm clock and turn my phone OFF.tumblr_mwuwy77akc1rvkvumo1_1280It’s rare that a dream stays with me so clearly after I wake up, so my mind has wandered back to it several times today. I thought about the emotions that felt so real: the anxiety, the excitement, the confusion, and the anticipation. Then I realized how closely this dream and these feelings can be linked to what we do each day that we step through the front door of school. Although we surely have a general idea, based on experience, what our days will be like, we can never be truly prepared for the unpredictable nature of our work. Some days we may even wake up feeling completely unprepared for what lies ahead. But isn’t that also what makes this so satisfying? Each day is an opportunity to approach a situation from a different perspective because we deal in the world of people, not things. That unpredictability, a breeding ground for fresh perspectives and new ideas, is exactly what allows us to learn and grow from past stumbles.

Only special people can do this difficult but rewarding job! And, unlike in my dream, we are able to lean on each other for support because we’re all in this together. None of us works in isolation. Sadly, there’s also no after-party, just the quiet moments where we’re left to reflect on the difference, small or large, that we may have made in a student’s life that day. I’ll take what I can get!

As we head full-on into the school year, I’m honored to be with you, fighting the good fight for kids, once again. And while I suppose I could wish you all a “predictable week”, I’d hate to jinx it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work on my opening monologue for this year’s talent show. It’s only eight months away, and I want to be prepared!

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Eating My Frog

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.

Brian-Tracy-Quote

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….