Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Principal's Confession

You know all those mommy blogs out there, where a harried and exhausted mother admits she abhors  something she knows she's supposed to love?  I secretly hate packing my child's lunch.  Or, I actually don't like nursing.  It hurts and it's exhausting.  Or perhaps, I skip pages when I read my child to sleep, because the stories are stupid and I'm tired.  

I've got a guilty admission, too, but it's not about being a mother. Mine is a confession about being a principal, one I hesitate to even mention because only a bad person and crappy principal would feel this way.  It's this:  Yearbook day.  

This is the day in late May when kids get the yearbook they ordered way back in October, and the manic, free-for-all flurry of yearbook signing begins.

That's what I hate.  I hate, hate, hate signing yearbooks.

I should love it, and treasure the honor, just like all mothers should love and honor packing a child's lunch, right?  But I don't.  Instead, I feel anxious and unable, all discombobulated with all the eager faces peering up at me, the Sharpies thrust in my face, all the, "Mrs. Schwanke Mrs. Schwanke Mrs. Schwanke Mrs. Schwanke."  Of course, I force a smile and say, "I'd love to!"  And then I awkwardly find a wall or use the kid's back as a flat surface, and open the book, all crooked and off-kilter, and the pen is in my hand, and I try to take the lid off and invariably drop it, and I start to write something, but I can't think of something concise and eloquent to say, something that will live on that back cover FOREVER, something that will mean something personal.  So I end up just making a stupid little heart shape and signing my name, which doesn't seem enough, somehow, because each kid should get a little more from me, shouldn't they?  Shouldn't every child get a message from their principal, written with love and care?  A long and heart-tugging note to wrap up a great year?

So on yearbook day, all day long, I feel inadequate and crappy.  Each time I am asked to sign a yearbook, I do it poorly, and then I'm disappointed in myself.  Each time, I scold myself to change my attitude, and I make  one of those feeble self-promises to do better next time, and then I don't— another gaggle of kids comes up to me, herd-like, and shoves a Sharpie in my personal space and I go through the whole thing again.  And the whole time, I'm feeling on edge because there are fifty other things I should be doing with my time—big end-of-year tasks and questions and problems to deal with.

And then the day ends, and the last day of school comes, and the problem goes away for another year.  But I still feel kinda bad about it, every time I see my copy of the yearbook sitting on my desk.

Next year, by God, I'm going to find a way to love it.  I don't know how—maybe I'll reward myself with a M-n-M every time I do it right.  Or maybe I'll just block the whole day off my calendar and walk around with my own Sharpie and sign every book, unprompted.  Maybe I'll sign each one before they even get distributed.  I don't know.  But there has to be a better way, right?  I am determined to find it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

It's May, people...

I haven’t posted in a few weeks because, well, it’s May, people.

And this post will be crazy short because, well, it's May.  

May brings conflicting feelings we all experience, us principals and teachers and parents.  There is so. much. going. on.  There are athletic championships, and music concerts, and Arts Night, and celebrations and awards shows and parent events.  For us at the elementary level, there are field trips and popsicle parties and student-to-parent performances, and there is Field Day.  (Need I say more?  Such a happy, exciting, energy-filled day—that leaves us flopped on the couch like a dried up old sponge at day’s end.)  Middle and high school people have awards ceremonies and graduations and parties.  Tons and tons of those things.  My comrades at the secondary level have zero control of their schedules right now; they’re just waking up every day and determining how many events they need to get to before the day turns into another day and it all happens again.

None of which is a complaint, though.  There's nothing to complain about, really, except being tired.  Which isn't a bad place to be.  Tired is uncomfortable, maybe, but it's also triumphant.  After all, by now we’ve spent a lot of time with our students, so we know them really well.  We’ve grown fond of them.  Exceedingly fond, in fact.  So we’re a little sad that it’s all going to end and fade off into memory.

That's the thing.  May brings a complicated mixture of twinges—pride, sadness, nostalgia, giddiness, celebration, and that lovely relief in knowing it's almost time to close one book and open another. 

So it’s not just hanging on throughout these last few weeks.  Saying, “I’m just getting through” would diminish the fabulousness of this time of year.  Because the truth is this: May is not something to endure.  It is a time to be really freakin’ proud of ourselves for what we’ve done for the past ten months—the energy we’ve given, the triumphs we’ve experienced, the challenges we’ve handled.  It’s also a time we can give everything that’s left, because in a few weeks the pace will change and we can fill our emotional gas tanks again.

We can see summer's light, and we're propelled by its pull.

I'm feeling very, very grateful to be in a job and a world where I get May.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Reflect Forward

Not long ago, I started thinking about the concept of “reflecting forward.”  I’m sure this idea has a fancier name somewhere with someone more eloquent than myself, but to me, reflecting forward is the idea that we can take what we have learned along the way and use it to plan next steps.  It’s not just learning from mistakes; instead, this would be deliberately planning future events by reflecting on what did or didn’t work in the past or, even, the present. 

You know that quote from Albert Einstein?  It’s the one that points out, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  So, then, reflecting forward is the opposite of insanity—it is very, very sane.

I’m not talking about bigger issues like bad habits or relationship fails or anything that happens to us because we’re human and therefore very, very flawed.  I’m talking about the things we do as teachers and principals, as leaders and decision-makers, as people who are in charge of something.  How can we reflect forward and plan for different, more favorable outcomes in what we do?

Here’s an example.  I struggle with remembering the specifics of events that happen throughout a school year.  For example, every stinkin’ year we have a schoolwide celebration in late October.  I always remember the vague details, but I didn’t do a good job remembering exactly how to prepare for the event.  As a result, the days leading up the celebration were a little frantic and scattered.  This past year, though, I finally reflected forward—I sat down and made a specific, point-by-point list of things we’d done to prepare, things that had been successful, and things we needed to change.  Then, I got into my Google calendar and added an event for a few weeks prior to next year’s party.  I copied-and-pasted my list right in the “description” window of the event.  Now, I have it on my calendar to plan differently in the future based on my reflections from today.   
Then I took it one step further.  I added an event a few days after next year’s event titled, “Considerations.”  In the description window, I again copied-and-pasted the list, but headed it, “Any changes for next time?”  Then, in both calendar events, I clicked the “repeat” feature for several upcoming years.  By doing so, I have set up a structure that will force me to consider improvements for several years to come—and I can always click backwards if I want to remember what changes I made and why I made them.

Google calendar is a natural and effective tool for us to reflect forward, because we can document and plan our evolution of improvement.  There are other ways, too; notebooks, list systems, audio recordings, and even those simple manilla file folders of yesteryear work well.  It doesn’t matter what tool we use—just so we plan for improvement by reflecting forward.        

Teaching, Time, and Water in a Sieve

"Time flies."  The nurse shook her head and locked eyes with the infant I held in my arms.  She was finalizing paperwork to discha...