Life in the Gray

There are many days that I wish my life as principal was simple and decisions were black and white, cut and dry, or whatever you would like to call it.  Unfortunately, this is not reality for school leaders, as complex situations, dynamics, and circumstances have us living in many shades of gray.  We are faced with decisions and situations where simple yes or nos simply do not apply.  We often compromise to meet various people where they are while understanding that not all parties are going to fully "win."

When I think about some of the experiences that I have had as an elementary principal in the past three years, I have come to the conclusion that my core beliefs have allowed me to make the best possible decisions for our schools.  In the following paragraphs, I will explain my core beliefs and share how these values have carried me through tough times.

It's About People, Not Programs (Thank you to Todd Whitaker)
Let's face it, students and educators are living in an age of extreme accountability where high volumes of data are in our faces on a daily basis.  We are surrounded by numbers, mandates, instructional programs designed to meet the needs of every student in every classroom, and insane amounts of assessment.  I am not discounting the importance of data, accountability measures, or comprehensive instructional frameworks, but we must remember that there are smiles, beating hearts, and emotions behind all of these things.  It is easy to get sucked into efficiency, large amounts of data and numbers when making decisions; however, to be the best, we cannot neglect the human element when faced with changes and difficult situations.  Dr. Joe Clark said it very well in this post: Data Have Flesh.

Collaboration is Necessary in Today's World
The work of an educator is so incredibly important that it simply cannot be done alone.  Whether you are a paraprofessional, teacher, custodian, principal, secretary, superintendent of schools, or food service worker, you must communicate and collaborate effectively to meet the requirements of the system and the needs of students.  Together we are better when working toward a common mission, and it is so incredibly powerful to see this take place in schools.  Effective collaboration is necessary in the regular day to day operations of a school, and amplified even more in times of crisis.  Students come through our doors with a variety of needs and require multiple supports to give them the best opportunities for success.  Regular classroom teachers, specialists, support staff, and administrators must communicate openly about strengths, areas of need, systems of support while designing appropriate learning opportunities for all kids.  This is no small task.  The days of closing your door at the end of the hall and assigning problems 1-41 odd are over; the work is just too important.  I feel extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a great team of people within our district who are able to provide sound advice, different perspectives, honest feedback, and critical information in good times and bad.  If we are going to be excellent, we cannot do it alone.

Never Underestimate the Power of Expectations
"If you expect it, they will do it" is a line that I have used with our staff members for a number of years, and they have probably grown tired of it.  However, when we are able to define our purpose and create the conditions in order for it to be met, great things will happen.  When we are dealing with simple or the most complex situations, we must have the highest of expectations while keeping the previous two core values in the front of our minds.  Using data and the available information while keeping in mind that there are people behind the numbers, taking a team approach to have various perspectives, and maintaining high expectations is sure to lead to the best possible outcome in the majority of situations.

It is never black and white in the life of a school leader; we are living within various shades of gray on a daily basis.  I believe that sticking to your core beliefs will allow leaders to slow down, focus, and make great decisions that will lead to the best possible outcome in difficult situations.  What are your core beliefs?  

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