I do not watch hours of television, but sometimes a series grabs me and becomes “my show”. For the past couple of years, “This is Us” was that show for me. No matter where I was on the road, I had to watch it on Tuesday night. This year, the new series by the same producers, “A Million Little Things” is my go to show. I watched the trailer this summer and didn’t really think that a show that started with a suicide would grab my attention. For those of you watching it, you know that there is much more to it with twists and turns that were unexpected. That is why it reminds me of school improvement work and so begins my blog for this week…
In the opening show, John eloquently explains what friendship means. He talks about experiences we share with others that defines a friendship and he ends with “friendship is… a million little things”. I could easily write this blog about just that; how perfect that description is to me with the amazing friends that I have. I could tell you about the way my friends draw me in and, as we share our lives, it truly does become about what we experience together and how we lean on each other. The energy we get and give our friends, the support and kindness that is authentically there, the people who you can not forget… it really is about a million little things.
However, this blog is not supposed to be about my friends. I intentionally want to use my writing and this space to support continuous improvement of schools. I want to acknowledge the dedication and commitment to a common purpose that drives schools that improve. I share the experiences of others as well as my work to help you benefit from what is being done elsewhere. I strive to give you encouragement when you think you are losing sight of your goals and that you are reminded that it is difficult work and you do have to learn and grow together in order to make the biggest impact on students. In other words, it really is about a million little things.
One of the principals who I work with told me that the most difficult part of school improvement work for her was that there are too many pieces of the puzzle. She described her stress to me by saying that she always worries about losing a piece or not knowing how all of the pieces fit together. She takes the work home with her (physically and mentally) and admits that it seems overwhelming at times to really lead this work.
A million little things…yes… this is the work of improving schools. Addressing cultural issues, getting all staff on one page about the common goals and commitments that it will take to change the way things are done is often job #1. Being collaborative around what is taught, how it is assessed and how we respond to student needs takes great leadership. Being a skillful communicator who can match a vision for improvement with consistent messages and practices requires great courage, trust and patience. Creating opportunities for evidence-based decisions to provide guidance is necessary. Sharing leadership with others, empowering and respecting the expertise of staff and allowing for your own vulnerability to be visible are skills that demand your on-going attention. And, doing all this while students are in the building needing our daily attention (after all, schools do not close while we figure this out!) brings us back to the twists and turns. A million little things…
The great news is that, in my opinion, the little things add up to the big thing. Sometimes, it reminds me of a complicated book. You read and read and sometimes want to stop because it doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere. You find it hard to stay with it and you might even take a break sometimes because it exhausts you just trying to figure it out. And, then, one day you turn the page, you start the next chapter and it all makes sense. The little things have finally led you to the big thing.
In the complex world of improving schools, I am so thankful for the teachers and school leaders who will continue the journey. They might close the book but most of the time, that is just temporary. It is a bit like falling off a bicycle and getting up and back on it again. We have to stay the course. We are doing this for our students and they deserve every one of the million little things that it might take to turn a school around.
This is the time of the year when energy levels in schools start to be depleted. When the rest and rejuvenation from the summer feels a hundred years ago. It is the time to make sure that we don’t close the book or stay off the bike too long. It is a very great time to refocus, revisit our collective commitments and goals and to ensure that we are working on the right work. Are we prioritizing everything so nothing is really important? Have we allowed the distractors to invade our direction? Do we stand up for what we believe in when others try to move us off course? What really is happening right now? What do you need to adjust? Which of the million little things do you need to focus on? And, lastly, what are you going to do today, tomorrow and the next day to ensure improvement?
Thank you, again, for being with me on Saturday mornings. I appreciate your comments and your support. Have a reflective, successful week and to my American friends, enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am thankful for each and every one of you in my life.