“But aren’t you the principal?”

It’s my first 6th grade orientation as a brand new principal, and it feels like it’s about 9000 degrees on this late August evening in the gym as I sweat through my suit. I’m approached by a mother of an incoming student who has a question. She wants to know how to find out what team her daughter is on since the new schedules we just switched to this summer don’t list team names. For a moment I freeze. I definitely do not know the answer to this question. I should know, right? I’m the principal! As I smile outwardly, inside I’m trying to come up with an answer to what is seemingly a very simple question. Except I’m brand new, and I have absolutely no idea. I decide to be honest and tell this mother that, in fact, we’re going to have to find someone together that can answer her question. She is stunned. “But aren’t you the principal?” she asks me. “Yes. I’m Tim Dawkins. Nice to meet you.” I say. “And…you don’t know the answer to this?” she responds to my introduction, a bit startled. “No, I’m new like the students,” I tell her “but I’m really good at finding out who does!” WIth that we locate, together, one of the school counselors who did know the answer, and all was right again. Everything but that nagging feeling that I SHOULD have known the answer…..

Throughout my life I have struggled to maintain a growth mindset. There. I said it. Anyone who knows me well would likely agree. I was always that kid who wanted to be able to understand something new immediately, and when I wasn’t able to, it was easier for me to throw my hands up in the air and walk away rather than practice until I got it right. Throughout childhood and well into my teen years I often heard from my parents “Stop saying ‘I can’t! You can, you just don’t want to try!” I am convinced that this is the reason why I’m so dismissive of my math skills to this day

As I’ve grown into adulthood I’ve become more rational when I’m faced with something I don’t quite understand, although not without varied amounts of pep talks from mentors and very understanding PLN members. Reminding myself that everybody has their own learning curve has been very important. Reading Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, was a huge eye opener for me, too. Of course I still get frustrated, and people have to remind me that I will get it eventually, but I have been much more willing to be open to the idea that not everything is meant to come easy. This has never been more true than during the summer of 2014.

I’ve written ad nauseum about all of the self-induced, very positive but also challenging changes in my life this summer. What I’ve discovered as I wrap up the “Summer of Upheaval” is that connecting with other professionals is a must. Of course I knew this prior to this summer, but my transition into a middle school principalship has really pushed me to find multiple ways to connect with thought-leaders, practitioners, and mentors in the field of middle level leadership. Luckily for me, there’s Voxer.

Voxer has allowed me to connect with multiple individuals within the field of middle level education, and as I’ve connected with them I’ve been able to connect them with each other. Now, I have this burgeoning group of middle level leaders from across the country that are constantly sharing new and innovative ideas, asking questions, and showing me that it’s OK for the principal to not have all the answers, all in an active and ongoing Voxer chat! Plus, actually being able to talk to one another and then listen when it’s convenient is the best of both worlds! Voxer is the technological embodiment of the Growth Mindset. It allows me to embrace the “Power of Yet”, turn to my middle level colleagues, ask how they approach something, and move forward with their help. With Voxer, I never have to feel like I am going it alone. If I can’t find the answer, I have collective knowledge than can help me over any hurdle. Plus, they make me laugh. What could be better?! Voxer has truly changed my professional life for the better, and I encourage you to explore the possibilities for yourself ASAP!

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Ready to Ignite!

It’s well-known throughout the world of social media that since WiFi has been made available on airplanes, one of the first things many people do once they’ve been cleared to access it is to tell everyone that they are “Tweeting from and airplane” or “Facebook-chatting from an airplane” or “Taking pictures of the beautiful sunset/sunrise from 30,000 feet and sharing it with you all from an airplane” before they do anything else. Well guess what, I’m writing a blog post from an airplane, and I’m very excited! No, it’s not because I can connect with my PLN from the air, although that is pretty cool, and it’s not because I have an exit row seat (at 6’5″ tall this is as close to first class as I’ll ever get). It’s because I’m on my way, after making a flight switch thanks to winter weather in the Northeast, to the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) national conference, Ignite ’14 , in Dallas, Texas.

I decided back in October that I had to attend this conference. Afterall, it’s really a gathering of some of the best minds in educational leadership, and the geek fanboy in me was intrigued (read: more excited than I should be) at the idea of possibly meeting individuals that I have come to respect for their professionalism, innovation, and general prolific presence and stamina after following them on Twitter. People like Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Jimmy Casas (casas_jimmy), Daisy Dyer-Duer (@daisydyerduerr), Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker), and Brad Currie (@bcurrie5), among others, are people that I am regularly inspired by online, and having an opportunity to learn along side them was just too good to pass up.

Something I am equally excited about is having the opportunity to participate in the opening thought leader session this evening featuring the insightful Dr. Carol Dweck, author of one of the hot non-fiction books in educational circles right now,
Mindset
. This book is extraordinarily applicable to my life both personally and professionally. It’s rare that I find myself so engrossed with a work of nonfiction, often stopping suddenly to say things out loud like “Yes!” and “This is me. I need to adjust my thinking!” I regularly refer back to Dr. Dweck’s research when talking with teachers and students in my building. It’s easy to connect with her work, and her approach to creating a growth rather than a fixed mindset is something that everyone can begin to implement immediately upon engaging with the book. Stay tuned for a longer post about how I’m shifting my own thought process toward growth, an approach that has really helped me to readjust my outlook and focus on moving forward in my second year of being an assistant principal.

Most importantly, though, I am looking forward to walking in to my school on Monday morning with a renewed energy to lead alongside our dedicated faculty and staff. I am lucky to work in a forward-thinking school district, one that embraces technology, teacher leadership, student-directed learning, and supporting all members of the community. I am excited to be able to come home to this environment ready to contribute new ideas, programs, and approaches to student learning. I’ve got a busy schedule over the next several days, and I think I might find it difficult to fit everything in. But that’s not going to stop me from trying. Attending Ignite ’14 is in line with the idea that I am not a boss or a manager. I am one of the lead learners in my building, and I am ready to jump in with all the other lead learners in Dallas who are looking for ways to better serve our students and families.

My tweets this weekend will be (mostly) dedicated to sharing the sessions I attend with my PLN. Hopefully some of you reading this post are in Dallas. If so, I’d love to connect. Find me @Tim_Dawks. Also, don’t forget to connect with NASSP (@NASSP), and follow along with the conversation at #nassp14.

As my principal would say, let’s light this candle!