In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. ~ Albert Einstein
I am new to this “principal thing”, but I think I am slowly getting better — learning daily. I began the year with grand ambitions and a broad vision about how we could improve our school. It is a good school, but one that suffers from public misperception — something I am determined to alter, not through smoke and mirrors, but through thoughtful reflection, meaningful change and genuine focus on what will benefit our community of learners. I truly believe we are capable of building something great, but as the old adage goes — change is rarely easy.
I started the school year by sharing the following Prezi with my staff – Willis Junior High School: Learning and Leading with PRIDE. Typical of a newbie, it was probably too much, too quickly, but I wanted to share my enthusiasm and passion for educating kids…and I wanted to develop a sense of what “could be” at Willis.
As one might predict, there have been a few more challenges to implementing my vision than anticipated. That’s what happens when you work in a “people centered” profession. Daily life is unpredictable. There are unanticipated roadblocks, negativity and frustrations — from students, from parents, from staff members and sometimes, from within. But, increasingly, I find these obstacles to change less frustrating, and more invigorating. Each one presents an opportunity, and in fact, validation for the change process. Dysfunction, unrest, and frustration are indications that something isn’t working and that it is time to try something different. Suddenly the very things that cause us to throw our hands in the air, present an invaluable opportunity to affect meaningful change, and hopefully improvement.
- Student behavior still not what we want to see? Maybe it is time for us to re-examine our practice of consequences and rewards. Is there a better way?
- Tired of addressing gaps in basic skills? Lets look at how we are delivering remediation and consider alternative options.
- Frustrated with class sizes and student grouping? Perhaps we should rethink our current scheduling practices. Is the schedule driven by what is best for students, or is the schedule built for the convenience of adults?
- Kids not completing their homework assignments? Maybe we need to carefully consider what it is that we are assigning and develop a different approach to homework.
- Not enough collaboration in the classroom? Perhaps we should reconsider the arrangement and design of the physical environment.
Obstacles…or opportunities? Too often, I believe we feel trapped by the constraints of the current educational system — unable, or unwilling, to try something different. But instead of feeling overwhelmed and upset by these “obstacles”, we should seize them as opportunities to make meaningful change to a profession that looks eerily similar to what it did 100 years ago. Of course there are going to be challenges in what we do. We work in a dynamic profession. Not only do we have to keep up with changes in teaching pedagogy, testing requirements, standards and every additional policy that comes down the educational pipe–we have to keep up with changes in our students and the world in which we live. That is no small feat.
When we started the school year, I asked our staff to take a deliberate and reflective approach to their daily activities at school. I encouraged them to ponder the following questions:
I still like the questions, but I believe I left out a critical piece: does what you are doing work for students? If the answer to that question is anything but a resounding yes, it is time to head back to the drawing board. In education, we are frequently guilty of forging ahead with current practices, even when there is substantial evidence to suggest that what we are doing isn’t working. That must change.
To be honest, that is what I love about this profession. It isn’t predictable–teaching is perpetual trouble-shooting. No day is ever the same. I may be tired, stretched to my limits and, at times, frustrated, but I am never bored. I am still learning, but I have re-committed myself to staying positive in spite of the obstacles thrown in my way, and remaining determined to use these as a platform for change. As a wise man once said,
When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade. ~ Dale Carnegie