In a time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever for principals to model the characteristics they wish to see in teachers. Educators will mirror a positive attitude, calm demeanor, and solution minded outlook when that is what they see from the building leader.
Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) and Julius Campbell (Wood Harris) are unable to co-exist as defensive standouts on the T.C. Williams High School football team in Remember the Titans. This conversation starts with Gerry half-heartedly trying to learn details about Julius’ life so that he can placate Coach Boone (Denzel Washington), who will ask him to talk about his teammate. The topic quickly shifts to Julius and Gerry critiquing each other for their play on the field.
During the back and forth, Julius is criticized for playing selfish football, leaving his teammates “out to dry.” To counter, Julius condemns Gerry for not getting on the white offensive lineman for failing to block for Rev (Craig Kirkwood), the black quarterback. Gerry’s silence equals his acknowledgement. Julius explains that he will continue to lookout only for himself.
Not wanting Julius to “win” the conversation, Gerry states, “That’s the worst attitude I ever heard.” Julius poetically finishes with, “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”
Gerry has no rebuttal, because Julius is right. Even though Julius is not listening to his coaches or making plays in the best interest of his teammates, Gerry has no grounds to chastise him, because Gerry is not portraying the leadership qualities necessary to bring together a racially divided team.
As student return to schools, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Teachers are playing out worst case scenarios. There is a pervasive glass half empty mentality sweeping the nation. The worry and concern are justifiable. But, the fact of the matter is kids are coming back, and we need to be ready for them.
What do our students need?
They need teachers to make them feel safe. When the classroom door closes, the outside noise needs to be turned down. The emphasis has to be on teaching and learning and not the uncertainty of the future.
What do our teachers need?
They need principals to make them feel safe. When the building door closes, the outside noise needs to be turned down. The emphasis has to be on teacher and learning and not the uncertainty of the future.
The best way for a principal to support educators is to model the traits they hope teachers will model for their students.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. It may be difficult for others to see, but it is the principal’s responsibility to bring it into view for the staff. Approach the day with optimism and the mindset that things will continue to get better.
Students are the energy that makes a building run. A school is transformed from a sterile workplace to a warm environment when kids return. Focus on the joy, curiosity, and love of learning that they will inevitably bring back to schools.
Always share what you are grateful for. Even during a pandemic, there is a lot to celebrate. The amount of ingenuity, creativity, patience, grace, and understanding from teachers is at an all-time high. Take a moment to acknowledge all the wonderful things teachers are doing.
Teachers will look to the principal when problems occur. What you want to hear them saying is, “If they’re not worried, than neither am I.”
Things are going to go wrong. Things go wrong when there is not a global pandemic. It is the response to the problem that makes all the difference.
In preparing for the return of students, a lot of time and energy is being put into process, procedures, structures, and systems. Some of that time will have been wasted, because there are factors that cannot be known until students return to the building. When things do not go as planned there is a natural inclination to stress. But, if you accept the reality that plans will need to be reworked beforehand, you are less likely to lose your cool when issues arise.
Now that you are remaining calm when all your plans fall apart, it is time to start taking action. Staff will fixate on the problem when no one is working on a solution. Move quickly to brainstorming ideas, because that shifts the energy from negative to productive.
Utilize as many staff members as possible when searching for solutions. This helps in a number of ways. Most importantly, teachers and instructional assistants have a boots on the ground perspective, which enables them to flush out potential problems and address unique details. Second, it helps minimize anxiety. People fear the unknown. But, with everyone collaborating on a plan, no one is nervously waiting to be told what to do. They have a say in what “we” do. Finally, what ultimately gets a staff through a pandemic is the culture of the building. When everyone works together the family atmosphere of a building is strengthened
As a principal, it is important to know that teachers will look to see how you react to challenges over the next six months. It is imperative that principals model calmness, positivity, and attack problems with a solution mindset, because that is what we hope teachers demonstrate for their students. After all, “Attitude reflects leadership, principal.”
There are a thousand areas where teachers can direct their attention. It is hard to know where you will get the most return on your energy investment. Be careful not to dedicate your valuable time to something that might come across as impactful, but ultimately has little to no benefit on student learning.
Happy Gilmore’s Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) is a highly unlikeable character. The man is trying to steal a sweet grandmother’s home. As much as you grow to hate Shooter over the course of the movie, in this scene he is absolutely correct.
Shooter just finished winning another golf tournament. Instead of focusing on his victory, the media is solely concerned with Shooter’s opinion of new golf pro, Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler). Not a single question about his performance. Rather, several questions about Happy’s extraordinary ability to drive the ball over 400 years.
Obviously upset, Shooter provides two of may favorite quotations when pressed to discuss Happy: “I was too busy winning” and “Yeah, how’d he finish again? Dead last?” At this point in the movie, Happy is a circus act, with no real golf game. Shooter has every right to be upset with the line of questions, as the emphasis should be on his performance.
A teacher has just landed her first job. Does she wait for the fall to get started? No chance. She is coming in over the summer to get ready for the start of the year.
So much to do. Where does she get started?
There is a giant corkboard right outside of her classroom. It looks like it has not been updated in several years. She thinks that this is the perfect place to begin. She will spruce it up to hook students before they enter her classroom.
With ribbon, color photos, borders, construction paper, and a bedazzler in hand, she is ready to go. Over the course of a week she spends hours rearranging the layout, adding, taking things away until finally it is just right.
She takes a step back to admire her work. While this first year teacher is basking in the glow of a beautiful bulletin board, a couple of teachers walk by and comment on how great it looks. Reassurance that all that time and effort was well worth it.
At the same time that our beginning teacher is designing her corkboard, the veteran teacher next door has been hard at work inside her classroom.
This year she is dedicating her summer reviewing last year’s assessment results. She is going through each test to pull out the most missed questions. Next, she is linking those questions to the state standards. Once she has all of that information she will rank which standards gave her students the most difficulty. She plans on creating daily warm-up questions that focus on these standards. Her students will get a daily dose of the most challenging material, so that when summative assessments come around, they will be thoroughly prepared.
Additionally, she is transitioning all those assessments to be taken online. This way she can link the standard to each question. Now she will not have to go back by hand to identify the most missed standards. The grading software will disaggregate it for her.
The Wednesday before school starts, families are invited back to school. Parents and students come streaming in the building to meet their teachers, catch-up with classmates, and get a glimpse at what is new this year.
As parents walk by the beginning teachers classroom they can’t help but notice the gorgeous bulletin board. Many stop to talk with each other about how promising the new hire is. In fact, people are taking pictures of the board and posting them on social media. The images are getting lots of likes. In fact, other teachers from around the county are commenting on how they will be stealing some of the ideas.
When these same parents walk by the veteran teacher’s room they notice a bulletin board with important information about the curriculum and the different ways she will be communicating with families. Nothing flashy. If parents choose to go into her room, the veteran teacher is more than happy to discuss curriculum, pedagogy, rigor, and all the ways she plans on growing her students that school year.
The night ends. And, as families leave the school, the principal overhears parents discussing how impressed they are with the beginning teacher.
If you fast forward to the end of the first quarter, the new and veteran teacher are at two different positions.
Because of all the effort the veteran teacher put into her warm-ups, her students were well prepared for that first assessment. The scores were markedly improved from last year’s first test. Students have more confidence heading into quarter two. Also, the new warm-up process has helped mitigate behavioral concerns that typically occur at the beginning of class.
And where is the beginning teacher? Her bulletin board is not looking as beautiful as it once did. Over nine weeks the pictures have faded, some of the construction paper is ripped, and the material that is displayed is no longer pertinent to the instruction happening in the classroom.
Inside the classroom she has been struggling to keep up with the curriculum. With her head just above water, she is less patient when it comes to student behavior. Spending more and more time on classroom management is only putting her further behind with the curriculum. She wishes she spent more time over the summer learning the curriculum, designing lessons, and creating systems to maximize instructional time. Every time she passes her bulletin board, she shakes her head.
People naturally gravitate towards the new and shiny. It is hard to not put time and energy into the things that garner recognition and praise.
But, you can’t be all sizzle and no substance. It has to be about the students. You must be, “Too busy winning.” And for educators, winning is all about teaching and learning.
It is hard to know if the actions we take are having any impact on our students. The “thank you” is rarely there. Even if your efforts appear to be falling on deaf ears, you never know how a student really feels about the time and energy you put in to support them.
Short video. Big message. A River Runs Through It remains one of my favorite movies of all time. One of the major reasons being there is so much to take away from it.
In this scene, Norman Maclean (Craig Sheffer) and his brother Paul (Brad Pitt) are fly fishing on the Gallatin River. Norman was supposed to take his girlfriend’s brother, Neal, with them. Unfortunately, Neal had too much to drink the previous night and passed out on the walk to the river.
Norman is frustrated and believes that his girlfriend will be upset that he did not help her brother. He states, “He doesn’t like fishing. He doesn’t like Montana. And he sure as hell doesn’t like me.” To which Paul replies, “Well, maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.”
This is an incredible line, because we discover later that Paul is really talking about himself (no spoilers here, even though the movie came out in 1992). Secondly, it perfectly puts into words how your good deeds will not always be received in the way you want them to be.
The last day of school. The student you have been pouring your energy into for the past fours years comes into your room with a letter. It is a college acceptance letter. They start crying. You start crying. You hug. Fade to black.
Okay, that never happens.
What will happen is you will be in your classroom grading papers after school. You turn around and see a former student at the door. Maybe a student who made your job a lot more challenging than it needed to be. You exchange pleasantries and ask them how high school is if you are a middle school teacher or how college is if you are a high school teacher. They tell you it is a lot tougher. You smile and tell them how proud you are of them. They reach out to shake your hand and then leave.
They never said thank you. They never said how grateful they are for how you prepared them. They never said how much it meant to them that you never gave up on them. They never said how you changed their trajectory simply by caring.
But, did you catch it?
They came back to see you. And what that “says” is thank you for caring, thank you for believing in me, and thank you for never giving up on me.
Of course it would be nice to hear those things. Even better it would be nice to hear those things when those students are in your class. But, it does not work that way. It is hard for adults to acknowledge an appreciation for help. It is near impossible for students to verbalize it.
All that means is that you can’t let a student’s response, or lack of one, dictate your actions. You must continue to do what is best for students even when there is no sign that they care, or even want your help.
It may seem that students are disinterested in the help that you are trying to give. But remember, it might be that what they like is “somebody trying to help” them.
In my Coping with Failure post, Rocky reminds us to keep moving forward. Unfortunately, there are times when something or someone will prevent you from progressing. If you reach that point, it is important to recognize it so that you are able to cut your losses and push forward.
You probably think I am going to go with a scene from Frozen. Well, close. Some people have even called Frozen the nordic version of Tombstone. That is not entirely true, but nonetheless both films deal with moving on.
Initially, moving to Tombstone is an attempt at an escape for Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell). He hopes to leave the life of a lawmen and the perpetual danger it put his family in. Tragically, he gets roped back into his former profession, which ultimately leads to the death of his younger brother, Morgan (Bill Paxton).
This scene immediately follows the murder of Morgan at the hands of the Cowboys under the leadership of Curly Bill (Powers Boothe).
Here we see Wyatt inform the Cowboys that he is no longer concerned with enforcing the law. He wants to salvage what is left of his life and start somewhere fresh with his remaining family.
Famously, Curly Bill hears this and simply states, “Well…bye.”
I am a people pleaser. It is not okay to me if there is there is someone in the building who is unhappy. I take it extremely personally and will do everything I can to “fix” the situation.
Frequently, I send out Google Form surveys that allow teachers to share feedback and potentially criticize, critique, or complain about something. This information gathering is extremely important because it helps inform future planning. But when you internalize negative feedback it can be devastating.
My immediate response is to fix it. How can I make it better? What can I do to change this person’s mind? Is there anything that can be done improve the situation? While these are all very noble pursuits, they often are not the appropriate response.
What I should be doing is determining if the problem or concern is systemic. How many people are feeling this way? Is this a common belief? Does it negatively impact the culture? If the issue is widespread, then it is important to work through solutions with relevant stakeholders in the building.
If I determine that the concern is isolated, I need to move on. This is difficult for me, because as I have stated before I want everyone to love coming to work, and it is painful when someone does not.
I am getting better.
Recently, I sent a survey to staff to evaluate recent professional development. Fifty people responded. As I was reading through the comments, one person crushed the training stating that it was a “waste of time” and how they took “nothing away from the day.” This person gave the training a 1 out of 5 stars.
At first, I took it personally. But then I looked at the results as a whole. That was the only 1 star rating. The mean score was 4.3. The median score was a 5. The other comments were glowing.
Because I did not dwell on the negative response, I was able to look at the totality of the results. And because the opinion was not shared, I had a much easier time reading those negative comments and saying to them, and to the person who wrote them, “Well…bye.”
There are a lot of things that we are unable to choose. “Stuff” comes our way and we have to deal with it. When you have the opportunity to choose, be sure to make the choice that is going to set your students up for success.
This is what happens when you choose “poorly.” Okay, maybe it is a little dramatic, but I believe it gets the point across.
In this scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Julian Glover (Donovan) drinks from a golden chalice believing it to be the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, it turns out to be the wrong cup, and instead of obtaining ever lasting life, Donovan decomposes in a matter of seconds.
Every morning I start my school day directing carpool traffic. It is one of my favorite parts of the day, because I get to welcome parents and students to our school.
I am sure to wave and share a smile with every car that goes by. Everyone deserves to have a positive experience when coming to school. Over the years I have become familiar with lots of the cars. Here comes Roscoe, the golden retriever. I know his window will be down for an early morning ear scratch. The white truck that greets me every morning with a salute instead of a wave. The mom on Friday who asks me how my boys are.
These are all positive examples of my daily morning interactions. Unfortunately, not all drivers are warm and friendly first thing in the morning.
No matter how hard I smile or how fast I wave, some parents will ignore my attempts to elicit a positive reaction. Of course I would love for every parent to smile and wave back, but one non-participating parent is not going to ruin my day. It does make me wonder why that parent is choosing not to positively interact with me. Which makes me wonder what impact that has on the child. Which led me to wonder if we have any “non-waving, non-smiling” educators in the building and their impact on student learning.
Teachers do not get to choose their students. They do not get to choose their curriculum. They do not get to choose their colleagues. But, they can choose their attitude.
I go back to the child with the perpetually unhappy parent. At home maybe they don’t see joy, love, humor, or warmth. Maybe their only opportunity to experience a positive interaction is at school.
So who are we to deny those students that right?
There are a lot of things out of our control. Smiling, laughing, waving, joking, comforting, expressing appreciation, and demonstrating excitement are things that every educator can do.
In order for any child to learn they have to feel safe and loved. We cannot assume that every child that comes to our class already has those needs met. Make the choice to greet your students with the positivity and enthusiasm they need to excel.