A 9 word sentence that will never capture the true meaning- the true metamorphosis- the true measure of what has happened.
Educators are familiar with the term, "Life-long learners." For some of us- we just threw up in our mouths a little. Cliche' or not- what if we modeled this in our own lives.
Even principals can learn and grow. When we embrace feedback (even the kind that has a bitter, ugly taste to it) we can find power to move. Move up... or as my immediate supervisor says, "Rise Up." She leant me a book by Brene' Brown called Rising Up. In my morning read today I came across this passage:
"When a group of team first comes together (form), it's often rocky for a time while members figure out the dynamics (storm). At some point, the group finds its groove (norm) and starts to make headway (perform). Storm occupies the middle space. It's not only a dark and vulnerable time, but also one that's often turbulent. People find all kinds of creative ways to resist the dark, including taking issue with each other." She says- we need to acknowledge it is coming and "STAY THE COURSE.... the middle is messy, but it is also where the magic happens."
Our school uses the Fill The Bucket metaphor by Wrath and Clifton. In their book they attribute a toxic, negative culture to what they call "Active Disengagement." When times get tough, in that storming stage, it is easy for all of us to actively disengage.
I received some feedback this year that showed evidence of our storming stage. I could have pulled back and become actively disengaged. It was tempting. Instead- I listened- and made some adjustments. I engaged more. I put time into reading, reflecting, and listening. The result- I matured a little more- I gained new perspective- and I am leading differently. There is a joy that fills my insides when I see how far I have come... if you are a school leader or a future principal- maybe something I learned here can help you on your journey. I have the staff at Vera Scott and Falcon Elementary to thank for my growth. Here are some specific things I have learned (so far):
1. You are a driver- no longer a passenger. When you are in a car and shift from the passenger to the driver- everything changes. You need situational awareness. Speed, fuel levels, other cars, laws, hazards, road conditions, passenger needs (bathroom, siblings fighting, hungry passengers), and more enter the picture. Gone are the days of watching the cows or prairie dogs on the side of the road. When we walk down the hall of the school- we must have strong situational awareness.
2. Lead in a way that people's brains can follow. Clarity, Focus, eliminate distractions... you can't ask people to juggle lots of initiatives... so prioritize and focus then help others keep the main thing- the main thing. Leadership Blueprint Trainers (The Flippen Group) taught us that clarity reduces social anxiety. So communicate and limit the number of new ideas we are bringing in. I have created three committees that each have one question to address- One focus.
In addition, the brain shuts down in socially toxic environments. We must not tolerate or give permission for folks to sabotage our community. In my case- I needed to create avenues for folks to vent and share concerns in a way that they felt valued and safe. I used back door channels like Today's Meet to set up concern retrieval anonymously. I also created a weekly voluntary huddle for folks to come together around things that they wanted addressed.
LEAD LIKE a MECHANIC METAPHOR
If a school were a car- leading so brains can follow is like having a clean windshield. We can see where we are going. Sometimes you need good wipers to push away distractions. Some headlights for when it is dark- some cleaner and fluid when stuff tried to stick that is just blocking our vision. And as a driver- we need to push those buttons and turn things on and off when they are useful.
Leaders have to manage clarity and focus. Clarity is also a part of our "Dashboards." Keeping focus on the right metrics and measures. Maybe there is a fuel gage to check on morale- maybe there is a data wall measuring our key initiatives.
Brains can't function in stressful, toxic environments. Like a car- moving parts create friction. Engines create exhaust like teachers feel exhausted right before a break (If you are married to an educator you know what I am talking about).
Cars have systems to take care of the heat and friction- they have systems to take out the exhaust in safe ways.
We can create systems in our schools to also manage friction and exhaustion. We can make safe pathways for hot communication and burning topics.
Intentional school cultures have some pillars that make the place thrive:
1. Loyalty- they commit to each other through thick and thin.
2. Clear Vision- always led by the organizational mission... that builds momentum to get past the smaller conflicts. Vision is KING!
3. Long term thinking... we are part of a long journey- we need each other... our students need us to think about 2,5,6 years out.
4. Joy- We know how shot life is- and we want to enjoy the journey with the ones we have.
So- I am committed to the wonderful Falcon Elementary staff and community. I am pushing myself to lead in ways that brains can follow- to confront the behaviors that do not fit our cultural expectations of active engagement and positive interactions... and to keep the main things the main things...