Turn the Page

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by andy.brandon50

Spring break. Two words that send a joyous surge through my body. Getting these ten days off feels like a glass of water after a journey across the desert. I really need the break and I am going to put the time to good use. I plan on recharging in the Mexican sun, playing a little golf, reading a few books and enjoying the time with my wife and a couple of great friends. It has been a long 7+ months in my new job and I hope to refuel before the 3 month homestretch.

Part of this week is going to be spent going through a very important process. I really need to “turn the page” on a few things. I need to move past some difficulties and allow myself to let them go. I have had a few situations that didn’t go as well as I wanted them to. I have also had a few situations or conversations where I found people either disagreeing with my decisions or alluding to my inability to deal with things as they thought I should. I have also had to listen to a few naysayers who don’t believe in the success of our building the way I do. In the spirit of professionalism I have no interest in even identifying which particular stakeholder groups this feedback has come from, let alone specific examples, and for the purpose of this post these specifics are unnecessary. The point is I have had to deal with some skepticism and even negativity pointed in my direction.

While I don’t believe I have handled everything perfectly, I do believe I have based my decisions on my principles and I have firmly believed in each instance that I was doing the right thing. I also know that people often form judgments based on limited information or a biased perspective, and that I can’t expect everyone to fully understand what has gone into each decision or even all the factors involved. To sum it up, I am ok with how I have handled most of the decisions I have had to make, regardless of the feedback.

So the question is how do I move forward and how do I allow myself to get past this. In George Couros‘s post yesterday he spoke about the “Hard Teaching“, and it reminded me of the hard lessons I had to learn during my time in Behavior Education. These hard lessons will be valuable to me in this process:

Leave My Work At Work

There were many days as a Behavior Education teacher in an alternate school that really tore me down. Whether it was difficult exchanges with students who had a lot of anger to deal with, or helping a student with a really tough home life, or even when we had students clearly battling an addiction, there were days I had difficulty eating or even sleeping. My principal saw quickly that I needed to learn to compartmentalize. I took my stress and worry home with me on a daily basis and it took its toll on my relationships and my mental and physical health. With his guidance, I learned to do my best to walk out the door of my school and leave as much as I could behind. I need to do this during my break as I have found myself taking more and more home and it is not healthy.

Its Not About Me

A lot of the time I would deal with students after they had made one or more poor decisions and I would need to deal with them in a discipline situation. As many of our students had difficulties with conflict resolution, anger management and emotional control, often these situations would break down and would end with the student verbally attacking me, our staff and our school. It was hard not to take the comments personally, especially from those bright kids who really knew how to cut deep with their words. I remember dragging myself into my principal’s office to review the day and him often amused by the stories. He tried hard to explain to me the importance of remembering where the anger was really coming from. Our students struggled with poor adult role models at home, broken and detrimental peer relationships, substance abuse, emotional issues and stress. He would often, and I mean OFTEN, remind me “It’s not about you”. He would remind me that if I let the situations get to me I wouldn’t do the job I was hired to do, I wouldn’t provide the modeling and stability that the rest of my students so desperately needed. I needed to show my students how to deal with adversity and how to move forward. In these situations I am currently dealing with, I need to remember that the negativity I have been receiving from people may be shaped or affected by far more than just me. I also need to remember that if I spend time focused on myself and having a pity party, I won’t be doing the job I was hired to do.

Don’t Lose Sight Of The Goal

In my role in the alternate school, I quickly learned about altering my expectations. In a traditional classroom I had found my success rate with students to be well over 90%. In a class of 30, I may have 1 or 2 students fail my class, but never more than that. In my role as a behavior educator, I realized I could not set the same goals for myself. I was lucky to have our amazing Assistant Superintendent visit me in my first few months and we had a great conversation about my goals for the class. I was struggling to find the time to teach all the core classes and work in time for all the other life lessons I wanted the kids to receive. He told me “We didn’t hire you to teach curriculum, we hired you to teach kids. If you spend a whole day on relationship building or limiting risk taking then so be it. You are here to help them learn to be good people.” After that conversation, I no longer measured myself based on student marks (I wish I learned that in University) but rather on helping my students grow as individuals. Now, my goal is to help run a school that provides quality learning opportunities for our students, that treats its students with respect and that challenges them everyday to be better, to learn and to grow. When I make decisions with these goals in mind, it will make it a little easier to allow myself to get past the difficulties.

As educators we are going to have situations that don’t go as we planned. A parent who rips into us, a student who tries their best to break us down, or even a colleague who doesn’t agree with what we do. Carrying the weight of those difficulties can’t possibly help us.  Yes, getting past those difficulties is hard, but it is necessary for us to be everything we can for our students and for ourselves. Turning the page is part of allowing yourself to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, to reflect and to continue on your journey. Turning the page in the next week will allow me to come back with the energy, positivity and dedication I need to continue. Mexico seems like as good a place as any to turn my page.

What My Job Isn’t

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Paul Keller

This year, as a first time assistant principal, has been a journey of discovery, as I slowly learn what my job entails, ways to be more effective, and the highs and lows of the position. It is a very steep learning curve and it hasn’t been easy, but I am starting to feel a little more comfortable. That does not mean there aren’t times I get frustrated. Some days I feel like people want me to be something I am not, and never will be. No matter what my position or what the circumstance, there are some principles I live by and won’t compromise.

I am not an Intimidator

I refuse to resort to “scaring kids straight” and looking for compliance through fear. No matter what the student has done, I believe I will limit the impact of my message, the chance the student will listen, and the opportunity to connect with the student if I resort to intimidation. Students make mistakes. They should. All kids should, and it is in the aftermath of those mistakes that young people have the opportunity to learn and change their behavior or how they make their choices. If I waste the opportunity by yelling and focusing on the discipline, I will miss the chance to do what I am paid to do: Educate.

I am not a Dictator

I have no interest in telling people what to do. I am interested in working with people, working with students, working with parents, but I am not interested in telling everyone how its going to be. When it comes to the teachers and support staff in my building, my job is to let them do the amazing work they do, they don’t need me to be getting in their way. When it comes to the parents of our students, they don’t need me telling them how to raise their children. My job is to support them in the process by helping their children while they are in our building. When it comes to students, they don’t need me to tell them what to do. Kids are smart, and they know what they should do. They only need guidance and support when it comes to their decision making, and they need my assistance in learning when they make a mistake.

I am not interested in stealing someone’s thunder

I love to talk with students and I love to help them when I can. What I am not interested in is taking away an opportunity for a colleague to build or rebuild a relationship with their student. Often I end up with a student in my office who has had a difficulty in a classroom. I try my best to help the student see the error in their choices, or the perspective of everyone involved, but when it comes to wrapping up the issue I try very hard not to be the one to finish the conversation. If I do that, I take away the opportunity for my colleague to rebuild their connection with the student. The relationship between the teacher and the student is FAR MORE important than the relationship between me and the student. I need to give the teachers the chance to reconnect, to listen and to be heard, and the opportunity to make sure the relationship has been mended. That should be a great moment for a teacher and it is not mine to steal.

I am not the man with the answers

I am a fairly confident person, and I believe I have a lot to offer any school, any classroom, any student. I don’t believe that I have all the answers. Actually I know I don’t. Most of the time if I bring something to a staff meeting, or a talk with a parent or student it has been something I learned from someone else. Sometimes colleagues I have worked with or currently work with, often from my PLN. Great discussions bring about great ideas, so if one person is always talking we miss the opportunity to grow. I want to be part of discussions, I don’t want my conversations with the people I work with to only go in one direction. If there is an issue, let’s discuss it, and bring in the people involved to offer something too. Together we are much smarter than any one of us alone.

That’s what my job isn’t. If the job ever turned into any of those things, it wouldn’t be a job for me. I am not a policeman, a totalitarian, a glory hound or an answer key because those roles are not me, and I wouldn’t be effective in those roles. If you are reading this and you are new in a position, a teacher, EA or admin, be sure to figure out what your job is, and what your job isn’t. Decide what you are comfortable doing and what you are not and bring to the job your personality and your talents. Don’t try to be something you are not, students are smart and they will see through any act. To be the best you can for the students and colleagues in the building you need to be true to yourself.

Push Your Boundaries

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by JMRosenfeld

In addition to my job as an administrator, I coach some basketball. One of my favorite lines to use with my players when I challenge them to do something they haven’t done before is “I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you could.” It works really well when the task or challenge is something way out of their comfort zone. I remember asking a rookie on our team to take over the defensive responsibility of covering the other team’s star player. He looked at me like I was insane, and I gave him the line – “I wouldn’t ask you to cover him if I didn’t think you could shut him down”. Regardless of the result, there is a blast of confidence for that player and an opportunity for them to prove me right.

At the start of this school year I had someone do the very same thing for me. As many of you know, George Couros works in my division, and has been helping me get involved with Twitter and Social Media. George was kind enough to sit with me, teach me about Twitter and Tweetdeck, show me sites for creating a blog and tell me all about the amazing connections you can make by developing a PLN. I was excited, started tweeting and blogging and learned a lot in a short period of time.

Around Christmas, I started to get really bogged down with work, stressed out by the busy nature of the pre-holiday school craziness and simply worn out. I left for the holidays and stopped interacting on Twitter as much, I completely stopped blogging and really detached from my PLN. By the end of January, still with no posts on my blog and a vanishing presence on Twitter, George contacted me. He talked to me about the value in staying connected and the importance of reflecting, especially when times are tough. He pretty much threw down the gauntlet and implied there really is no excuse for letting that part of life, and my career, go so easily. I really needed that push.

Yesterday, as I prepared for a presentation that I will be making to our staff on Twitter and PLN’s, I sent out a tweet requesting a video that talked about WHY we should use Twitter. There are some great videos on HOW to use Twitter and great blog posts on WHY (see here, here, and here) but I couldn’t track down a video that spoke to the WHY (There may very well BE one, I just couldn’t find it). Lyn Hilt, another Social Media and Education guru, dropped me a Tweet simply saying “Maybe you should make one”. And there it was again, the coach telling me to go out and do something outside my comfort zone, the push to challenge myself and improve myself as a player… er… I mean educator.

I have NO idea how to make a video, NO idea how to edit a video, NO idea how to add graphics, manage the audio, post it somewhere, I am pretty much clueless. But you know, I trust Lyn, and I trust that she wouldn’t ask me to do something I couldn’t do. So I am going to give it a try, and I am going to see what I can do when it comes to producing a video. I am going to see if I can prove her right. It seems every time I have been challenged to do something out of my comfort zone this year, as a new administrator, I have learned and I have grown. Many times I have grown by reflecting and learning how I could have handled a situation more effectively, but regardless it was always beneficial experience.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have someone push us, but other times we need to push ourselves. We need to find opportunities to do something out of our comfort zone, that will create an opportunity to learn but more importantly to grow. When we find these opportunities we need to trust in our abilities, trust in our judgment and trust in our principles, because these three will most often guide us to a successful conclusion. In the end, my video may very well be terrible, but I know that by trying to do this I will learn skills I can teach my students, I will grow in my ability to present to my peers and I will be a better person for challenging myself to do something I previously couldn’t.