Friday, October 26, 2012

The Cure

A few weeks ago, I jumped into the Panther Car for meetings with aspiring principals and their mentors. Farmers were working, small town windows had been painted for homecoming and, save for the familiar descent into the cesspool that is political advertising, it was a great day to be out.

I had a few excellent meetings with my students, who are spending a large chunk of money and even larger amounts of time and effort learning to be principals. In class and online, we talk extensively about why they want to lead schools, what they have to offer, and their vision for kids' opportunities. They are among the most inquisitive, coachable, intellectually curious people I've met. And it's refreshing.

On my way back to campus, I caught a couple former students who are in their first year as principals on the phone. I heard about the daily trials that are familiar to anyone who has spent time leading schools--working with teachers to develop plans to get off the NCLB naughty lists, efforts to upgrade technology and  teachers' skills, sorting through homecoming pranks, budget problems, curriculum controversies, and a crazy story or ten about a goofy teacher or renegade student. The best part was that all were eager to talk and  said that, as unpredictable as their new job is, they love it because of the opportunities they have to make differences. That's important, because it's hard to love certain parts of being a principal. If you don't believe me, ask one.

Today a doctoral student stopped by my office while on campus with a group of high school juniors and seniors visiting UNI. We had a great conversation about his upcoming dissertation that will explore the school experiences of young African American males who have dropped out of school. It may also involve retrospective accounts of African American males who dropped out of school and are currently incarcerated. We're not sure yet.

I'm good at identifying the things that frustrate (no, maybe something stronger...disgust, perhaps) me most--paperwork, mindless committees, shallow office politics, turf battles, egos, apathy, byzantine decision making processes and incoherence expanding in all directions.  In thinking about it,  I reminded myself of something. All of those things are just distractions--albeit ever-growing ones--that get in the way but have little or nothing to do with the students I teach.

And so as I slog through my interactions with The Committee on Byzantium, get caught in the crossfire in  a new ego-laden turf skirmish, or fall victim to a new policy or initiative devoid of reason or coherence, I have to remember that there is a cure.

And the cure is more time and engagement with students.