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Education: In Search of Silver Linings

In less than two weeks we welcome the students back for the start of another school year.  As I prepare to return, refreshed and ready for another attempt at making our school the best place to work and learn, I attempt to stay a step ahead of the chaos that comes naturally with the launch of every school year.

I recently heard the author of “Water the Bamboo,” Greg Bell speak at a conference in Portland, Oregon.  He began his keynote presentation with this statement, “Each and every one of you are a miracle.”  It reminded me to think of how to begin each day focused on the miracles we serve in our school. Knowing myself pretty well I realize I am not naturally driven by the affective side of leadership.  However, I do my best to learn and grow continuously which means I need to continue this year being more aware of the emotional needs of those I encounter.  Mr. Bell also shared that he starts each day asking himself what is going well, personally and professionally.  His point being that if we focus only on the negative we miss celebrating what is going well.  He also ends his day with asking himself what went well.  So, let’s try it.  As we walk into a new school year, what is going well and where are the silver linings?

good The Good

What is going well in our school and district?  First, our teachers are professional, dedicated, and committed to our students.  We’ve worked diligently to establish and maintain genuine professional relationships that blur lines of traditional hierarchy to ensure there are minimal barriers to student success.  All stakeholders in the school community have input – administrators, teachers, parents, students, community members, etc.  This has provided a multi-layered position of support for our teachers and our school.  There is much work to continue in this area, but we’ve started a great process that will only have a positive return.  In addition to our teachers, we have amazing students with so many talents including academics and beyond.  By recognizing the talents beyond academics we are better able to address the education of a young person not just a test score.  This is something that makes me extremely proud.  Finally, our district is on the verge of something great.  As we continue to break down barriers to our success and overcome obstacles that keep us from being the best school corporation in the state of Indiana. We have the potential, and we are getting one step closer each day.

The Bad

If you’ve followed the professional dysfunction in Indiana you’ll know there is continuous conflict with our State Superintendent and the State Board of Education.  I feel embarrassed for our state.  The ugly, in my opinion, is the politics in education that serve a purpose other than making our children the priority.  Whether you are Team Ritz or Team (everyone else but Ritz), it is a lack of professionalism and leadership that sets the tone for the climate of education in our state.  It breaks my heart.  I’d like to believe anyone invested in schools has the right intentions along with enough heart and passion to make the educational experience better for children, not to advance political agendas.

Silver Liningssilver-linings-playbook-quotes-4

Have you ever seen the movie Silver Linings Playbook?  Minus the vulgar language and the oddly fascinating love story, I connected to the idea of finding a silver lining no matter your situation. No matter what our situation, we find a way to do what is best for children.  Millions of dollars of funding have been lost over the last five years to Indiana property tax caps and has caused many challenges at our local level.  Yes, we are given less funding per child than the state average.  Sure, we have class sizes that are way larger than we are comfortable with at most grade levels.  No, we don’t have enough funding to support the type of technology to keep us innovative at all levels.  Do we pay our teachers like we want to, absolutely not.

However, little is standing in our way of getting our job done.  Our teachers make it work by showing up every day committed to our students. Individual schools and our district as a whole continue to score well on our state accountability tests and we provide a well rounded educational experience to provide a variety of programs from athletics to the performing arts.  This is our sliver lining, what is yours?

Sincerely yours,

HMG

Next Up:  Tips for Launching an Effective School Year

New Year New You?

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At the end of every academic year teachers and principals reflect.  Let’s be serious, we reflect for about thirty seconds on what went well and what we are proud of, and then we torture ourselves all summer over what we will do better next year.  If you are anything like me, you think about it constantly and over analyze it to death.  Questions like…How can I decrease the time it takes for teachers to submit data in a timely manner?  How can we be more efficient with our student support team?  How can we access necessary mental health programs for our students?  In what ways can we be better overall?  However, recently I have asked myself this question:

Is it me and my leadership style that needs to change to move our school forward?

It sounds a little selfish, I know.  But really, how many times do you stop and think about yourself and the impact your behavior and actions have on others?  I realized recently that I also welcome collaborative reflection as a part of my process.  Allowing others to have input provides multifaceted perspectives I may not have considered.  Using an individual and collaborative approach has helped me arrive at some very important conclusions for the future of our school.

Last year, we spent much of our professional development time establishing and modeling effective professional learning communities (PLC).  Each of us took a version of the Meyers Briggs personality inventory.  Some members of our staff had been involved in personality identification and training prior to this year; however, after finding out what their four letter combination there wasn’t much done with the information.  Our teachers used their four letter combination to determine who they were individually as a professional.  The next step was to take inventory of all the members of the PLC and identify a collective personality style.  Finally, we spent time discussing how we give and receive information in the PLC setting and how that could be deterring our teams from our mission:  to be the best for our students.  As administrators we participated in the learning along with the teachers.

I learned my personality type is an ESTJ:  The Guardian.  After searching the web to find power words to summarize ESTJ’s here is what I found: objective, decisive, realistic, analytical, practical, dependable, organized, logical, responsible, and systematic.  In knowing all of these things about myself, most of which I knew before this professional development activity, I have been more aware how others receive information I communicate to them.  For example,  we have an amazing teacher in our school.  Her personality type is an ISFJ: The Nurturer.  We had a really difficult time communicating simply because she wanted to be heard.  I listened, but found I jumped too quickly to try to solve the problems she shared.  Just knowing that about her, I was able to receive information from her without jumping to the analytical, take charge me to solve problems.

Back to my question:

Is it me and my leadership style that needs to change to move our school forward?

There may be a more self-aware version of myself leading this school year.  I have read some terrific books over the last few months that have energized my passion for the challenges we face in schools.  I know our teachers will recognize this renewed spirit as we begin the school year.  My goal, rather than presenting a new me this year, is to be the type of leader who makes those around me better.  I plan to do this by committing to be a better leader today than I was yesterday by using constant, honest reflection.  How will you make this year better than last year?

Sincerely Yours,

HMG

Next Up:  Why You Should Be Afraid of Pandas