I remember when I was learning to drive a car, the importance of using the rear view mirror became pretty evident (don’t forget, I learned to drive a car long before the creation of backup cameras!). Being able to parallel park was a requirement for your driver’s exam and that rear view mirror seemed to be the most valuable tool that you had to use. There have been many days of driving that I wished that it was much bigger. Why is there such a disproportionate distinction between the size of that rear view mirror and the front window? Couldn’t the automakers have created something more realistic for drivers like me? (After all these years, backing up is still not my strongest suit!) And, what in the world does this have to do with a blog on school improvement?
I actually think it is a great analogy. First of all, to really improve schools you have to do both… reflect and learn from what has happened in the past and at the same time, we have to be looking ahead. That rear view mirror becomes the lessons learned from past practices, mistakes and successes. It is last year’s student data, goals we set, etc. as well as the time to reflect on what really happened at the school. And, now, I love that there is a such a difference between the rear view mirror and the front window! In all honesty, the real looking that we have to do is forward… out that front window.
Being able to picture what we want our school to become, what our common purpose really is and setting goals and action plans in motion, to get us there, is that forward look. Seeing where we are at, in other words, our current reality, is a great use for those big windows too. I know for a fact, the GPS will only work (aka- a map), if I know where I am starting from. The rear view mirror also comes in real handy when we are determining where we are. Being lost on the road brings confusion and an obvious lack of direction. These are not the feelings that. you want to experience when you are working to improve your school.
As I continue to work in schools this year, I will use the comparison of the rear view mirror and the front window as my personal visual for where the work and conversations should go. For example, if the discussions are becoming too lengthy about the past, then I know we are way beyond the small size of that rear view mirror. To keep looking forward, we need to think about the broader picture of where we are going, what lies ahead and what road map will get us there. Maybe those automakers did know a thing or two about design… there really is a reason for the window to be so much bigger than the mirror.
To the principals reading this, I hope this helps you frame what you want your focus to be as you begin this school year. You know that the past is important but it is not where we dwell. You get that some of your teachers will want to spend more time on what have been their experiences in the past and you will need to lead the conversations forward, to what you want to become as a school, not where you have been. I am not saying the historical context isn’t important, it just isn’t what will get you where you want to go.
Consider what questions that you can ask to move forward while at the same time honoring the reflective thinking of past experiences. Create opportunities for teachers to spend time understanding “where” they are and what road that they will take to continue on your journey. What steps are going to drive you forward? As you are driving this week, remember to keep your eyes on the road looking forward to what is ahead and that small, rear view mirror to clarify what is behind you. Thanks for reading and see you next Saturday!