Balance

I have found that being a new administrator comes with some growing pains. I have not handled every situation perfectly, in most cases the errors have been ones that experience was called for, and my lack of it led to my mistake. I have had hiccups from poor strategy, bumps from poor planning and miscues from lack of organization. I have also made the odd assumption that led to me… well… you know what they say about assuming. All of the problems I have had have been fairly minor, and I continue to make changes to alleviate them and ensure they don’t happen again. But with mistakes come frustration.

This frustration I deal with is compounded by a lack of usable time and personal time, poor decisions made by our students, and other situations that I have to deal with where the cause has been outside of my control. These issues pile up, and if I had to quantify it, I would say I have been averaging 10-15 difficulties every school day. These drain me of energy, sap my enthusiasm and cause me stress.

So how do we cope with these tough moments and interactions to ensure that we continue to see the value in our work and the importance of what we do? For me it all comes back to another talk I had with my mentor from my time in Behavior Education (I am going to have to write a blog post about him, once I get his permission). He opened my eyes to this idea and gave me the tools to continue working in a difficult school with challenging kids and where I learned so much that changed my life. He taught me about Balance.

Now this isn’t the kind of balance where the math makes any sense. 2 + 2 does not equal 4 in this scenario. With my new position many of my days, the difficulties have outweighed the successes by a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio. This old boss of mine opened my eyes to creating a balance for myself when it comes to what I spend my time focusing and reflecting on. He told me that I needed to focus on the little successes, no matter how small, because to focus on the struggles only does us harm, and takes away that spirit and vitality our students are looking for every day they walk into our rooms. We were in a situation where there was a good chance less students would succeed in our program than would fail. He told me that besides being reasonable with my own expectations for myself and my students, I also had to try and celebrate the little victories that came from each day. I listened, and then I tried, and soon I found myself taking pleasure in a simple act of kindness from one of my kids. I was filled with hope by a smile or laugh, energized by brief but productive class discussions, and inspired by any moment that I was lucky enough to really connect with one of these interesting young people. After that first year, I started to develop that balance, and often found my days were far better than I would have thought before. I didn’t focus on the wrong things that would have blinded me to the great moments. Some days were harder than others to not dwell on the challenges. Some days were tough and we witnessed great turmoil and horrible moments that young people were forced to endure, but we were strengthened by our resolve built by focusing on all the good work that we had done.

So now as I start this new job, it is this balance that keeps me coming back for more. I have connected with some students who really need a connection. I have worked to support teachers, so that they are able to do those amazing things they do (also a blog post that needs to be written). And I have learned. Learned so much I have been overwhelmed at times, but I have been provided with a challenge and opportunity to learn more than I have since I was a student myself. While these moments of success may be outnumbered by the difficult ones right now, I don’t let that deter me from seeing the brief but powerful moments where I feel like I am doing a good job.

So my advice, for those who find themselves soured by a tough day, is to try and find your balance. Your job carries great power, but is not an easy one. If you had some difficult moments, be sure to leave them at the door and only put in your pack those moments of connection, of growth and of joy. Share them with your colleagues, your partner or your friends, let them grow through reflection and collaboration. Let those moments be the celebration of a job well done, and a life well lived.

Looking at it in a different way

In a conversation with a colleague, the concept of cognitive reframing came up, defined on About.com as “A technique by which a person learns to stop his or her negative thought process and replace the negative thoughts with more positive self-talk.” We were talking about how some of our students could employ this strategy to get past some of the walls they have set up for themselves, or for the roadblocks life has put in their way.  That got me thinking…

Another colleague, or more of a mentor, in his attempts to prepare me for my upcoming administration position, told me his leadership style revolved around trying to “clear the path” for his staff and to do everything he could to “let them be free to work with students”. Something that stuck with me, but that I never fully grasped until today…

This morning I got to talking with a friend who is finishing up his education degree and preparing for his career. We talked about starting out with teaching, the fear and anticipation that comes from the unknown, the desire to be relevant, to connect and to have an impact. I remembered what that felt like…

Well today in the midst of a hectic day with a few frustrating interactions, my mind kept wandering back to moments from my teaching. I thought about all those wonderful days when I was able to connect with students and I took away just as much if not more than my students received from me. It is easy when we are frustrated to play the “grass is greener” game, and I will admit my pity party had me wishing I was back in the classroom. 

Sometimes we need our own cognitive reframing. Sometimes we will deal with a complicated student or a difficult parent and we will have our vision and creativity hampered by frustration. Sometimes the demands of our job as educators will seem too much, and we think about how we could be working in another field, one where the stress of work doesn’t leave the building and come home with us for the evening. I had to look at my situation in a different way…

So I sat in my quiet office and thought about my job. I thought about how good it felt to talk with an educator who was only months away from starting his career. I thought about how exciting, and how difficult, that first year of teaching can be, and how helping a young teacher starting out will one day be a component of my job. I thought about the words that mentor passed on to me, “clear the path”, and how part of what I do was to help my colleagues have the freedom to do their jobs. I started to feel a little better about my day. I realized that all the difficult interactions, the long hours over the past few weeks, the meetings and the phone calls may not be the exciting parts of education, but they might help. If I do my job, and assist our amazing staff, I help allow the process to happen. These tasks I have been doing might help free up one of our great teachers to connect with their students and have that amazing day they remember for a lifetime. When you look at it that way, in a different way, it’s a pretty great job and I am a pretty lucky guy.

21 days

I once worked for an amazing Principal during my years in behavior education who taught me a number of things that changed my career and my life. While this post isn’t about him, or my time working with him, it is about something he told me. He said “It takes 21 days to form a habit”. I am not sure if that is absolutely correct, but most of the things he told me were right on the money, so I am sure he is close. In the last 21 days I have formed a new habit and it will be a habit that will change my life.

21 days ago I met with another administrator, to learn about technology and what it could do for my school, my colleagues and more importantly the students in our building. He introduced me to Twitter, hooked me up on Google Reader with subscriptions to many amazing blogs, and talked to me about the power of PLN’s. At the moment it all seemed unreal, something beyond my ability, my understanding and my schedule. I was wrong. I am able, I understand (enough of it, I’ll learn the rest as I go) and I seem to be finding the time because of how exciting it all is.

So for the last 21 days I have made social media and web 2.0 tools part of my daily routine. I have created a professional blog, a classroom blog and a school twitter account. I have shared Google Reader and the power of Education Blogs with my colleagues, I have helped two members of our staff connect through Twitter with other educators, and I introducd Web 2.0 and blogging to a class of 28 students. I have formed a habit that will make me a better educator and better administrator, and all it took was 21 days. I am still very new to this and have a lot to learn, but I know it will be worth my time. I firmly believe that anyone can do this, or more, if they just take three weeks and commit to it, so give it a try if you haven’t already, and if you have, share this thought with a colleague and get them involved.  In the words of Robert Noyce “Knowledge is power. Knowledge shared is power multiplied.”

The Journey Has Begun

My first blog post published, but not my first blog post written. I have written and deleted at least 4 parts or complete posts. I have been indifferent, afraid, and generally lacking confidence in myself when it came to publishing a post. This has also been an apt description of my first couple weeks as an assistant principal. What has changed? A realization this is just not going to work.

I started off my first couple weeks as assistant principal hesitant, doubting my abilities and self deprecating in conversation with staff, all the time feeling uneasy and out of place. This translated into stress-filled decisions and worry-filled nights as I reflected each day on what had transpired. I found I was beating myself up over what should have been clear paths to take, and missed opportunities for successful interactions with students, parents and colleagues. I knew the right answer when I reflected, why didn’t I see it in the moment? I was discovering the power of doubt.

In the last week I realized I needed to make a change. I needed to believe in my abilities and do what I was capable of. I needed to remember that if I made decisions based on a principle I believed in, “What was best for our students?” (Covey of course) I would most likely be making the right call. That decision, along with all the inspirational stories and articles I have heard/read thanks to my developing PLN, and some very effective mentoring from administrators in my division (yes I get to work with George Couros, I know I am lucky), have helped me turn the first corner in my administrative career. It feels great!

So the journey has begun, and I feel better with each passing day. I have found the time to get into classrooms and interact with students, I have done my best to support my colleagues and I have had great conversations with parents.

I have also made my first blog post… That wasn’t so hard.