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Administration, Leadership, Teaching

Making Lemonade

lemonade stand!

cc flickr photo by pink.polka

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


About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


4 thoughts on “Making Lemonade

  1. Sounds like we have the same beliefs, situation, and challenges in our roles. I can see myself and my school in many of your thoughts. My current challenge is what structures to change in my elementary school to better meet the needs of kids. I’m exploring the idea of multi-grade classes combined with team teaching in our intermediate grades. What changes are you exploring right now?

    Posted by Kyle Timms | November 25, 2011, 9:48 pm
  2. The better the lesson, the better student behavior will be. If a student can’t stop disrupting, I wanted teachers to call me so I could escort the child to my office, which was dark, with no windows, and nothing on the wall. The plan was to let them sit and let boredom do its work. After a time I would ask “where would you rather be?” They usual said back in class. I would then say “I will check to see if your teacher wants you back.” I would not send the child back unless the teacher agreed. When I had more than one at a time, which didn’t happen a lot, I had a few other small spaces. Many schools have rooms for kids who get kicked out of class where they get to learn bad habits from each other. Such penal colonies are bad for kids and school culture.
    As for gaps in skills, there will always be gaps. The only way to get rid of gaps is to slow down the fast learners. Take each student where they are at and help them learn as fast as possible. This will cause gaps to increase, which is ok.
    Try giving students input on homework. If they design it, they just might do it.
    Desks as islands do make collaboration more difficult. Also, teachers are hesitant to give group projects because they are problematic when it comes to grading. Ideally you could get rid of grades as they are extrinsic motivators that don’t work. See my summary of “Drive” by Dan Pink at DrDougGreen.Com if you need detail on this.
    Good luck and keep up the good work.

    Posted by Douglas Green (@drdouggreen) | November 26, 2011, 6:10 am
  3. I share with you a term you might like to use: “Proble-tunity.” Within every problem lies an opportunity! I introduced that term to the school board who hired me as superintendent…that was 13 years ago and I am still in the district and still trying to approach every problem as an opportunity to learn, to improve, to educate, to apply, to create, and to find solutions to frustrations and “problems” that arise. I enjoy your reflections and insights…they sound familiar and inspiring!

    Posted by Cathy Molumby | November 26, 2011, 6:38 am
  4. Thanks for sharing this, Jeff.
    I agree with Kyle…your vision for your school closely relates to my vision for my classroom. I’m still facing a lot of resistance from the kids, but it may be because I did too much too quickly, or because I’m asking them to change their perception of what school COULD be rather than focusing on what school IS.
    I’ve faces a lot of setbacks this year and I’m learning to take them in stride and now alter my goals for a better system. It is encouraging to see leaders trying to do the same in their own spheres.

    Posted by Brian E. Bennett (@bennettscience) | December 2, 2011, 5:02 am

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Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
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