Monday, July 29, 2013

The Great Balancing Act

cc flickr photo by azjd14

Today was the beginning of the second week of our new school year (yes, I know we start early).  As a school, we are still riding the highs of the "honeymoon period" -- when student behavior is outstanding, teacher morale is high, and stress is low.  I feel like our staff (myself included) is optimistic about the year to come.  Like many schools, we face a lot of challenges, many beyond our control.  We have a high number of students that live in poverty.  Our state isn't exactly generous with their funding of public education.  And, love 'em or leave 'em, the Common Core standards are breathing down the back of our necks.

Its difficult to go too far within education circles without hearing the mantra of providing students with rigorous curriculum and high expectations.  I don't have a problem with the use of these terms, per se, but in many cases (especially in the political arena) that is where the conversation ends.  As if rigor and expectations are enough for meaningful improvement.  Raise the bar, and students (or staff, or schools) will rise to the occasion.  As educators, we know that the reality is that we have to balance high expectations with a high level of support.  This is true at the micro, and macro levels -- from the individual student, to teachers, to departments, to schools, and even districts.  Without adequate support and resources, all of the high expectations in the world aren't enough to overcome the formidable challenges of meeting the diverse needs of our students.

This principal gig has certainly been a learning experience for me, if nothing else.  To be honest, In my first two years, I'm not sure that my expectations for myself, my students, or my staff, have been as high as they should have been.  Here's a secret.  I don't like conflict.  I don't like people to be upset with me.  And, I like to feel like I am viewed as thoughtful, and fair.  Sometimes this translates to difficulty saying no, delegating projects, distributing leadership, or providing critical feedback.  As Todd Whitaker might say, I am carrying around a lot of monkeys -- many of my own making (see Shifting the Monkey).

Whenever, I reflect on this personal kryptonite, I think of a 2010 post, by David Truss, entitled Going to the Hard Places (be sure to follow David on Twitter and add his blog to your feed).   In his post, David recounts the advice of his principal with regard to giving critical feedback:
"If you aren't willing to go to the hard places, then you aren't helping your staff, or your school."
As I embark on another year as a school leader, I am hopeful I can take steps to "go to the hard places" more often, while at the same time providing the support necessary to balance high expectations.  I ask my staff to do the same with our students.  They should demand the same from me -- and I should expect nothing less of myself.  In a way, it may be a significant step toward professional salvation.  Otherwise, those monkeys on my back might eat me alive.

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