Insur-mount-able

At the end of June, I decided that I needed to shake myself up. I’d been feeling complacent and bogged down by routine, and I wanted to shoot for something I’ve never considered in the past. So I let the world know on Facebook (it is 2017, after all) that I wanted to become an Adirondack 46er, someone who can claim to have hiked all 46 of the High Peaks in the Adirondack Mountains. Then, I promptly spent all summer STRESSING over not having moved one step forward. What if I can’t do it? I’ve never hiked a day in my life, and these mountains are almost all over 4000 feet! What if I embarrass myself in front of friends and acquaintances? What if I get halfway up my first mountain and have to turn around? My point is, I scared myself into procrastination and let the entire summer slip by without stepping one foot on a mountain. Just the IDEA of hiking a high peak had stopped me in my tracks.

Luckily I have friends who are 46ers, and they cleared the way for me to get over myself. So on this past Sunday, at approximately 11:00 AM, I stood with them at the top of Phelps Mountain, the 32nd highest peak in the Adirondacks. Was it sunny? Nope. Was it warm? Nooooope. Was it raining for most of the way up? Yup. Once I got up there none of that mattered because I had just done something that I couldn’t even have imagined myself doing even a week ago. Of course, as it goes, the hike down was beautiful. The skies cleared, the rain stopped, and temperatures rose. I was completely dry by the time we reached the car at 3:00 PM. And, in that moment, I felt like I could do anything.

 

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Phelps Mountain Summit, 10.8.17

 

This sounds hokey (I can hear the eye rolls through the screen), but at the top of that mountain, I really did think about our students. I thought about how some feel the same way about coming to school each day as I felt when I saw the “Phelps Mt. – 1.0 miles” sign at the bottom of the trail. How am I going to do this? Or even how I felt as I was driving the two hours in the dark up to the High Peaks Region at 5:00 AM – It’s attainable for other people, but not for me. Fortunately, I have two great mentors who had been through it all before. They helped me set goals prior to the hike and even as we were on our trek up. They reminded me that it is always about the next step and the next step and the next step. They checked in with me, and they let me set the pace. Now, knowing I can do it, I’m excited to plan my next adventure. Success leads to future success. Please remember that this is the kind of impact you have each day as educators. Do not discount the power of walking side-by-side with a struggling student. The goals you set with them do not have to be huge. Just knowing you are there, keeping them on track, will be enough for many. And then the journey, despite the rain and fog, will be worth it because they did something they didn’t think they could.

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Cold, wet, tired, happy, and on top of a mountain

 

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 Panorama: Surrounded by High Peaks at Marcy Dam

 

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Be in the Building

Last Friday I came home from work after a particularly difficult few days, and I felt somewhat defeated. A lot had gone on, which isn’t so unusual, but for some reason I had been feeling a disconnect. Sitting here and writing this I can come up with twenty different reasons (excuses) why I was feeling this way, but the truth of the matter is I had very few meaningful interactions with either adults or students in my building, and I had definitely not taken the time to observe students engaged in learning, too busy trying to figure out how to de-anchor myself from my desk. And let’s be honest, nobody but me was forcing me to sit at my desk, like so much dead weight, answering emails or fretting over exam schedules. As I reflected on the week and all that had happened, I found myself using Twitter as a way to shout my reflections into the ether on Friday evening, hoping someone in my PLN would offer some sage advice that could be implemented immediately. I actually find that this is one of the things that makes Twitter a very useful tool. Tweets are, at the same time, an act of reaching out to peers and one of therapeutic release. Both roles are equally important. In this case, I tweeted the following:

I have been turning this thought over and over again like so many pancakes waiting to be flipped and cooked on the other side. Each time I’d think I had the best answer, I’d throw some more batter in the pan and start the process all over again. My good friend and fellow newbie assistant principal, Pete Mody, had this simple yet poignant piece of advice to offer up:

“…be in the building. Not in our offices.” The answer has been staring me in the face since I took on this new assistant principal role 18 months ago, of course, yet it seems so far out of reach. It’s so easy for me, and I’ll go ahead and assume many other building leaders, to plant myself at my desk and not move until everything is done. The problem is that everything is never done. And while I sit staring at my computer screen rating another APPR rubric, assigning consequences to students for poor choices (my least favorite part of the AP job, by the way), or analyzing data that will inform the master schedule, for examples, a whole world of activity is passing by right outside my door. There are truly amazing things happening in multiple classrooms, and there are plenty of opportunities for me to get out there and see this learning in action. There are relationships to be built and strengthened, and there are more students to know. However, more often than not, as sad as I am to admit it, these things elude me.

At 18 months in, there are things that I have gotten good at. There are tasks that were difficult when I first started that come a bit easier now. The big task, though, which in my opinion is ensuring that essential learning and growth are happening throughout the building (yes – even assistant principals are responsible for this in a building), has remained a challenge. There’s a lot to manage, yet management can be learned. It’s the leadership piece that is not quite as black and white, and therefore the one that gets relegated to back burner status because it’s not as concrete. In the end, though, I did not get called to manage. I got called to lead, and in order to do that I must recommit myself to the act of leading.

Each new day brings opportunities to interact within a school building. The job of the assistant principal, I am learning, is one of constantly seeking out a balance between office work that needs to get done (discipline referrals, paperwork, schedules, meetings, etc.) and the work that defines who we are as educators, the kind of contact with people in the building that contributes to learning. I need to be better about not defining who I am as a professional by how quickly I get the January mid-term schedule finished or how many discipline referrals I am able to handle in one day. Reflection is key, and as I reflect on this issue I realize that the simple acts of standing up at my desk, walking out of my office door, and wandering through the building will lead to exactly what I am looking for – interaction. And I will be a better assistant principal for it.

How do you find that balance between managing tasks and building relationships at work?