In a world that, sometimes, appears chaotic, it is a great blessing when organization prevails. You know, when things make sense and seem easier than you could imagine. When competency and expertise are in abundance and decisions are made based on evidence and facts. What a wonderful feeling that is when you just know that things are being done right. Thankfully, that was my experience this week. Here is the story…
On Monday I had surgery. It was planned so expected and necessary. Being off the road, not in my schools and back in Canada waiting for the surgery for the past couple of weeks, caused lots of moments for reflection and maybe, just maybe, a bit of anxiety. Being someone who likes to be in control of their own decisions and life, it is somewhat stressful to know that you are going to be completely dependent on the work of others. Over and over, I thought of how the surgery would go, what to expect when I was at the hospital, and, of course what the weeks of recovery would be like. And, as this week has progressed and my recovery is going well, I recognized that I was well cared for and now the work is up to me…which brings me to the work of improving schools…
Picture this- a new family moves in to your school neighborhood. The children are nervous about starting a brand new school in the middle of the year. You are the principal. The family comes in to meet you prior to their first official day (that would be my pre-operational visit last week for blood work, tests, etc) and from this very first experience they have a feeling about what being in your school might be like. Were they met with organization or chaos when they arrived? Were they expected or did it seem that there may have been a communication mix up and someone didn’t know or forgot that you were coming? Did they feel confident in your ability to lead the school? How would we want both the parents and students to feel leaving after this initial meeting?
My pre-op visit set the stage for me to feel confident in what was going to happen the following week. When I arrived, I was greeted with expectation and a plan was in place for the tests and sharing of information that I needed. Every health professional demonstrated competence and expertise. I left feeling confident in their ability to take care of my needs. And, this continued on the day of my surgery. Like the children arriving for their first day, I was a bit nervous and excited at the same time. I haven’t been feeling my best for a long time so the excitement for me was the anticipation of how my health would improve once this was over. For the first timers to your school, the wonder of how that first day will go with other students and staff causes many mixed emotions. For many, the excitement of a fresh start, new friends and the very important perception that they have of how your school “is” based on their “pre-op” visit and critically important to their success. You want them to come with a positive mindset and be open and ready to learn. For me, this was about me going with my “homework” done. I did what was asked to prepare, the experts worked with me and now the “learning” (recovery) is up to me. I have to own the responsibility for the work now. And, isn’t that what we want with our students? We set the stage, we share our expertise, we build confidence with our practices and then we ask them to share in the responsibility by taking ownership of their learning (my healing)?
In the book, Leading with Intention (Spiller and Power, Solution Tree Press, 2019), Jeanne and I write about establishing and maintaining organization as one of the eight critically important areas in leading successful schools. Chapter 2 is dedicated to reflecting on and understanding the systems and practices that are necessary for a sense of order to prevail. We shared a story of a school in Georgia that moved from a school of chaos and disorganization with one simple change… a new principal. This new principal started with the overall culture and introduced protocols and expectations for both staff and students that made sense. Little things like morning routines, transitions between classes, consistent expectations by staff, increased visibility of the adults in the building and a very important expectation that the students begin self-regulating their own behaviors. In other words, they had to accept responsibility for their actions.
When we think about improving schools, our number one priority is ensuring that every single student’s needs are being met. Sometimes, we have to get the other things in place first so the positive learning environment that we expect in the classrooms starts in the halls, the gymnasium, the cafeteria and on the bus. It starts when we walk through that first door or have the first conversation on the telephone with someone. It starts with the on-line presence or messaging that we share. To create confidence in what we offer, we have to pay attention to the decisions that we make, the sense of order that we establish and the messages that we are sending. Students know when we are disorganized, when we lack the confidence or competence in what we are doing. We are not fooling them when it isn’t there.
My experience this week at the Moncton Hospital, part of the Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick, Canada was extremely positive. The health professionals and the overall system created a feeling of confidence in me and left me wanting to ensure that I now do my part to heal properly. The work of improving schools is not “one person’s” role. It takes a team with expertise to really figure out the needs of students and move forward with the right “prescription”. It takes proven practices, caring relationships, patience and a willingness to find the cure for each and every student.
I will close this week by asking you to consider how others would describe your world. Does it seem chaotic or organized? Do you create a feeling of confidence with others or is there more work to be done to be more competency-based in your practices? Are you providing clarity in your messages with focus and intention? Are you sharing the “how” and “why” so others understand the expertise behind decisions and actions? What could you do to improve these practices? Have a great week. Thanks again for reading and I look forward to being with you next Saturday.