Monday, January 2, 2017

One Word for 2017

My word for 2017 is very simple-

In 2017 I hope to slow down, breathe, and let things "be"; to step back and observe things as they are, without judgement or trying to fix it, which is particularly challenging in this line of work. It is funny how as leaders we preach often but sometimes do not practice what we preach. I am guilty of this, as I often stress to my staff and students to be more mindful, to take in the moments, and to take care of themselves. In a typical day, though, you will find me moving from one thing to the next, hoping to check things off the list that never ends. There are times of quiet when I actually catch myself running out of breath and my heart racing, thinking about what is the next fire is that I need to put out. Getting ready for work in the morning sometimes feel like a race to beat the clock, though I don't even know why I am hurrying. My days typically end exhausted and wondering how long I can keep up this lifestyle, tending to my school community as well as my family of 5.

So as I enter the new year, I hope to "be" the husband, father, leader, and colleague that doesn't just talk the talk but walks the walk. To be more present in the moment, to take time for those who need me most, and to let be what is right and also what is not. Most of all, I am going to be kinder to myself, be the leader that I want to be, and not apologize for it. What else can I "be" but me?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Look Back

For me, the start of the new year is a time for reflection. Reflection on the past year's celebrations, challenges, successes and failures. In January of 2016 I chose my #oneword, which was "Connect", and I have been thinking deeply about my choice, where that came from, and the status of my goal to date.

In 2015 I made a professional leap and took the role of Principal at The Dexter Park School, a school that serves students in my hometown of Orange. What became clear to me from the start was that there were tremendous things happening in the school and talented staff members who wanted to do things better for the students and families of Orange. Dexter Park, like many rural schools, has been through the educational policy ringer over the past decade, and I could see a school community who was reeling from that, knew what needed to be done, and wanted a voice to do so. Changes in leadership, the closing of a school, being labeled "underperforming" by the state all resulted in staff who felt powerless, beaten up, and sometimes in competition with each other. What was clear to me was that we needed to get the focus back to where it belongs: supporting our students and educators. My choice of "Connect" was to bring together our adult community around some common goals/beliefs, connect and build relationships with students and staff, and show off all the amazing things that happen each day to parents and the community through social media. 

In these moments of reflection, I am still in awe of the things we did over the last year. Together, we completely revamped our special education delivery model to co-teaching and became the Dexter Park Innovation School, with a focus on inclusion. We have established core and a School Improvement Plan that reflects those beliefs and unites our school around some common goals. To be perfectly honest, along the way I had moments of excitement, uneasiness, and questioning whether this work was too much too quick. Personally, I doubted myself, wondering if I could lead a school through such dramatic change in a short period of time. What I am learning is that change takes time, the work is never done, and what hinges on the success or failure are the people on the ground doing the work. These things seem fairly obvious but this last year has reinforced for me the belief that a leader is not a manager/director but a listener/supporter. I am very honest with my staff when I tell them that I don't have all the answers but together we can find solutions. Giving staff a voice for change and path to that change has made all the difference for us. I knew at the very beginning that we had the people in place; my job was to provide the vehicles to support them and the work that they knew needed to be done. It has been the highlight of my career to see our vision in action and the impact it is having on our school community, and to be the one cheering our students and staff on as they go has been an honor. I will continue to build better relationships, make more connections, and continue to celebrate our school community in the coming years.

I would not be anywhere close to the leader I am today without the support and encouragement of my PLN. The educators around the country who I have connected with on Twitter and Voxer have pushed me to think and act differently. I have always said that I am principal I want to be, not the principal I thought I should be, because of them. My #Mespachat and #principalsinaction colleagues reaffirm for me that schools across the nation are in good hands. Even though I have not met many of them in person, I consider them colleagues and friends. I cannot wait to see what 2017 has in store for all of us working together and creating schools that are places of joy, fun, and where there is excitement in learning. 

I am still contemplating my #oneword for 2017 so stayed tuned, but in the meantime enjoy "Dexter Park's Year in Review"