I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. ~ Helen Keller
As difficult as it is to admit, my efforts at reading are greatly improved if I use a pair of glasses. From a distance, my vision is pretty good, but lately I find myself struggling to see things that are too close. I hold books further away from my face, push away the cell phone when my wife shows me a text message, and strain my eyes to bring things into focus.
I think one of the most challenging things about being a school leader, in any capacity, is developing the ability to clearly see the big picture while retaining proficiency in the fine print. As I reflect on my experiences as a beginning teacher, I realize that my focus was primarily on my classroom. Planning and management occupied a significant part of my daily routine. Like looking through a lens with limited zoom, my focus was probably where it needed to be, but I had not developed the necessary “visual range” to be a good teacher. With experience, I became more effective at “zooming in” with my instruction — taking it to the level of the individual student. This is obviously a critical step for any developing educator. If we do not regularly focus on the performance, needs and interests of individual students it becomes too easy to lose sight of our purpose as educators.
As I stepped into leadership roles, both as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I became more adept at seeing how all of the educational pieces fit together. I was gradually developing the ability to “zoom out” on the educational process — seeing all of the people and programs that impact student learning, and realizing the importance of each and every one. As educators, we do not work in a vacuum. While one exceptional teacher can make a significant impact on the lives of her/his students, there are countless other people who support that teacher and who are impacted by daily decisions made by school leaders. Effective school leaders have the ability to see the “macro”, giving careful consideration to the decisions they make and how they will impact the entire campus.
One week ago, I was given a tremendous opportunity — I was selected to be the next principal of my current school. I am certainly honored and excited about the opportunity, but less than one week into the job, I am already realizing the importance of “educational lenses.” While I thought I was seeing the big picture before, I am quickly realizing that the picture is growing. Zoom out. However, I am also reminded of the importance of routinely refocusing on what is truly important in our profession – individual students. Zoom in. Kids are our purpose. As school leaders (I use this term in the broadest sense) we must be mindful of how our decisions impact our school community, but ultimately, we are here to serve kids. Their best interest must be at the root of every decision.
Effective leaders develop “leadership lenses” that allow them to quickly analyze situations from a variety of perspectives. This is an essential aspect of effective leadership, but I will argue that it is the fine print that is absolutely critical — the ability to focus on individual students. The big picture is an awesome thing, but the beauty (and our purpose) is in the details.