Sunday, November 14, 2010

Man, I've got a Great Job.

I've been on the road lately for our principalship students' portfolio presentations. At the end of their program, we ask them to deliver a formal presentation highlighting the internship work they've done around the Iowa Standards for School Leaders. We pitch the experience as one that will prepare them to introduce themselves to school districts and communities in interview settings. We also encourage them to invite mentors, family members, friends and everyone who has contributed to their success in our demanding, two year program. We hope the event feels like a cross between a formal presentation and a celebration.

On Friday, one of our excellent soon-to-be-grads who already serves in the principal's role was discussing the challenges of balancing professional and family life when she shared that she is pregnant. Some family members and friends in the room already knew, but not everyone. Several were moved to tears as the the presentation/celebration swirled together. When eyes had been sufficiently dabbed, her mentor spoke.

He explained that he'd spent more than three decades as a principal before retiring and becoming her mentor. "She is today ahead of where I was when I retired," he said. And he didn't seem like the kind of guy to throw empty praise around.

Man, I've got a great job.

That got me thinking about another of our young graduates, Mrs. Tara Estep, who is now the principal at Hansen Elementary in Cedar Falls, IA. Last year, I asked her to blog about her experiences as a new leader. And blog she did. Below is an entry she shared with my class of aspiring principals.

Subject: your week 8 reflections...I was there too. (New)

Date: November 30, 2009 10:23 AM

Author: Tara Estep

Hello everyone! I trust you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your friends and family!

I had the chance to read through your week 8 reflections. They were great…honest and real. I remember thinking those same things! At the time, I was journaling, and I went back to see what my reflections were. Here are a few things I had written down when I was just beginning my journey…

Am I ready to be an island? Ready for the inevitable loneliness?

Am I ready to create relationships that will never turn into friendships?

Am I ready to transition to the “dark side,” and to forever be looked at differently?

Am I ready to go against the grain and no longer with it?

Am I ready to have everyone’s problems become my problems?

Am I ready to think about 400 kids rather than 25?

Am I ready to walk into the lounge and hear the once bubbling conversation come to an abrupt halt?

Am I ready to be the target…the one to blame…the one that gets judged?

These are important challenges to think about. Many of you had these same themes in your reflections. It’s great to reflect on those challenges, so you have a sense of what you’re getting yourself into. But, many have said it and it’s true…the positives far outweigh the negatives. Here is the second half of this journal…I finished toward the end of my program.

I am ready to be a visionary…to share and develop that vision with my staff.

I am ready to affect positive instructional change and always ask, “Is what we’re doing best for kids?”

I am ready to be involved in positive conversations that move us forward!

I am ready to make informed, research based decisions…I’m ready to make those tough decisions…the ones everyone expects me to make.

I am ready to be a motivator, a leader of learning, and a compassionate ear for kids and staff.

I am ready to be a trusting mentor…one who facilitates, assists, and supports.

I am ready to lead with ethical behavior…to lead by example.

I am ready to instill the importance of teaching: an opportunity to teach young minds, touch young hearts, and make a difference each day.

I am ready to take on the politics…fight for our school, and do everything ethically possible to make sure my teachers have the best resources needed to do their job.

I am ready to be involved with teachers and their learning! I am ready to be a collaborator, a listener, and a sharer of ideas.

I am ready to love my job, hate my job, care too much, work too hard, leave too late, cry, laugh, and scream.

I am ready to make a difference.

Ready or not…here I come.

Although it may feel like you are getting a lot of the “doom and gloom” right now, please know that as a principal you get to do all of the above and more! UNI does a great job to prepare you for all the challenges that are sure to arise, but once I got into the job I was more surprised by the positive outcomes I wasn’t expecting. I was pretty much expecting all the other stuff… (well maybe not all of it) :)

Will you ever be prepared enough? No. Does it feel like a blur sometimes? Yes. Is balancing really, really tough. Yup. Are you a target at times? Sure.

You will. 

Frequent readers of The Balcony View know I'm often frustrated with much of what happens around me politically, socially and educationally. But leaders like these beginning to spread their wings and share their immense promise reminds me that we've got people with talent that exceeds the challenges we face...And that I've got a great job.

Friday, November 5, 2010

See the Irony?

My kids are busy taking standardized tests at school this week. I know how the scores are misused to "show" things that the tests are not designed to measure. As a former principal, I also know the pressure that schools feel to post good scores and trend lines. Something my 12 year old said caught me this week at breakfast and it connects to so many things that are wrong in education now, from the way we overuse tests, to the way we report data, to the way we evaluate (or not) teachers, to the way we try to motivate students to do their best on the tests that are often far removed from what they experience daily in the classroom.

So he's talking about how he wants to score really well on a certain test and is really geared up for it. "That's great," I said. "What's got you so focused?"

"Well, if I can do really well, I'll be moved into the higher ____ group and won't get stuck with Mrs. X next year," he said.

Ufda. Love the motivation to do well, but how sad is it that his focus is to score well to avoid Mrs. X, who has quite a reputation?

So then I ask him if he plans to check his answers thoroughly when he is finished.

"Ooooooh yeah," he responds. "Besides, we can't read a book or anything, because they don't want us rushing to get done and then starting to read."

Am I the only one who sees the irony?