Saturday, August 8, 2015

Strength for the Journey

http://goo.gl/k3qn6
Strength for the Journey is one of my all-time favorite worship songs.  It was written by Michael John Piorier and the lyrics really sum up my reflections from this past summer.

This summer was a lesson in humility and patience.  Traditionally summer is a time to set new goals for learning, improving, tinkering, and rest in order to prepare and rejuvenate for the year ahead.  Summer is a time to reset, take the long view, recalibrate, tackle larger projects.  All of these were part of my to-do list.  Now that we are a few days away from welcoming students back to school I see that the path this summer was far different from my vision.  And in the end, I am grateful for the challenges and hard work that came with the different path because I believe that our school is in a much stronger place than if the summer had adhered to  the path I mapped out.

The typical list of summer conferences that I like to attend did not happen due to a variety of reasons.  In addition, I was tethered very close to home diligently looking for the right people to add to our staff (the last one just accepted yesterday, the day of New Hire Orientation--nothing like cutting it close!)  Thus, PD this summer relied heavily on reading.  In reviewing some of the titles that I read, I see how well a few of them tie together and unknowingly strengthened me this summer for the journey I undertook.

Redeeming Administration by Ann M. Garrido is a wonderful read for anyone in leadership and I envision drawing upon many of it's lessons this year.  Another of my favorites from this summer is Exploiting Chaos by Jeremy Gutsche.  These two reads really helped crystalize the "why" of my crazy summer journey.

http://goo.gl/ouo5zd
In Garrido's book, she speaks in the first chapter about the importance of Administrators creating "an environment where life can flourish." (17)  As leaders, if we do not take the time to find the right faculty and staff for our sites, then life can't flourish.  Students are not given the freedom to explore because they aren't challenged, or they don't feel safe or welcomed or recognized.  A poor environment does not encourage life to flourish.  In the same way, if we mis-hire, the adult who is not a right fit for the community also can not flourish.  They are nervous, stressed, overwhelmed.  Again, if they don't feel comfortable then they can't flourish.  It is a lose-lose, and something that we really can't afford when dealing with kids.  So, while it took all summer to complete the hiring process, when put into the context of creating a community that allows life to flourish, I am grateful that it took so long.  The new cohort of faculty and staff is AMAZING and I can't wait to see them and their students grow this year.

https://goo.gl/aWXn7A
Another aspect of schools that encourages life to flourish--or not--is the actual curriculum.  And here is where Garrido and Gutsche intersect.  Part of Garrido's book overlays the story of a Catholic Saint with the chapter focus.  Chapter one is all about vision and the saint that she chose is a saint named Angela Merici, a Catholic educator in 15th century Italy and foundress of the Ursuline order, well known for it's work on the North American frontier during the early years of the United States.  The line that resonated with me about Merici's life was that she was "open to allowing her work to evolve, not insisting that her own ideas be preserved for generations." (24)  I wish to superimpose this idea with a theme from Gutsche's book that actually comes from Stanford's dSchool: Nothing is precious.  As leaders, there can be a tendency to get so attached to our ideas, visions, goals, that we can't let go of them when something better presents itself or when flaws are identified.  However, modern leadership requires great flexibility and agility.  This summer, in addition to hiring a small stable of new educators, an
opportunity presented itself  to make some bold changes in one department where the curriculum had become staid.  It was (and is) a great risk that the Admin team took to decide to completely renovate and re-imagine the department.  Quite honestly, some of the faculty departures allowed us to be a bit bolder than had they not left.  The challenge to fill three spots in the department was a bit daunting.  But then we flexed our thinking, took note of the idea that "nothing is precious" and dove in to re-imagining.  The result will play out this year and we are extremely excited about the potential.  Yes, there will be challenges but we are implementing a growth mindset here and being willing to fail a bit to learn and grow.  Had we stuck with the "that's the way we've always done it" mentality, or had I been insistent that my summer path was THE summer path, this would not have come about.

So as summer winds down and the excitement and energy of a new year approaches, I look back and see that there was a vision greater than my own at work here.  I have opened the door a bit wider to challenge, I am re-focusing on the larger picture, I am less fearful of what appears to be chaos, and I know that there are many people on the journey with me.  Here's to a great school year!

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