Dear Blake Families:
After another very full week, I hope that everyone had a nice weekend. After Celebrate Holliston Day on Saturday coupled with soccer games, we are hoping to have a low-key Sunday afternoon. Thank you to the sixth grade and related arts teachers for a successful parent night Thursday evening. We hope that sixth grade parents found the night to be informative and that you share in our excitement for this school year.
On Thursday evening I took some time again with the sixth grade parents at PIN to share the goals and vision for the year. I also conveyed that reflection and goal-setting are values and practices that we have worked to embed into the Blake culture. September is an incredibly busy time for educators (transitional work, new curriculum, new students, parent nights, goal setting, and meetings - never mind all of the 'day to day' aspects of teaching and 'out of school' commitments we are all trying to maintain and balance). As we as a staff develop/discuss/finalize our goals for the school year, I think it is important to step back a bit and reflect upon their importance and implications for our students. Over the last two weeks, I have been fortunate to experience some unanticipated connections that centered my thinking about this process of goals and the impact that they can, and should, have on our work.
At the heart of our process, as we are establishing our goals we should be looking for 'what we want', both for our students and our own professional growth. I have shared before that I am part of a job-alike cohort of middle school principals through The Education Cooperative (TEC). We meet on a monthly basis, and although the topics/discussions do not always directly relate to Blake or my work, it is always good to recharge 'out of the daily environment', and I always feel as though I can take something away - an article, idea, new way of approaching a challenge, or sometimes just a sense of shared understanding from colleagues. Our first meeting was last Friday, and our facilitator, Mary Hayes, took some time at the outset to share her goals for our group: advance knowledge and use of effective practices; share resources of interest; showcase accomplishments and expertise of members; enable members to present challenges; get feedback, ideas, and advice; and share vulnerabilities in a safe setting. These goals are noble, yet clear, in nature and it is my hope that we can apply them to our work together - both for the present year and years to come. I hope that they will stay at the forefront of my thinking as we look at professional development and our efforts at establishing and enhancing a truly collegial atmosphere and culture at Blake, one of the overarching goals that I have shared for our school.
The second connection came on Friday in the form of an e-mail from Ellen Toubman (our World Language content specialist) that she sent to her department, about her own children's parent night, where she had heard a former colleague share a philosophy of the 'checklist of three'. I asked Ellen's permission to pass the philosophy forward, as I believe, as she said, that it holds true for many of us as well. Dr. Lee Levison, the current headmaster at the Collegiate School in New York City, developed this list to guide his work with his students:
1) Am I competent? Do I know my material well and have something of value to offer them?
2) Am I fair and reasonable? Can they trust me?
3) Do I care about them as a person outside of the classroom?
I love this checklist and will be posting it in my office, as both a reminder and centering compass. Having attended multiple parent nights as a parent, sitting on the other 'side of the table', these questions reflect what I am hoping to see from the adults who are working with Maggie, Owen, and Grayden. I believe that parental lens ('What is it that I am hoping for my own children or the children in my own personal life?') is important to keep in mind when we are working with students, and this checklist can be another 'avenue'/approach as we develop meaningful goals.
I also recognize the importance of reflection and goal-setting for myself as well. I am cognizant of the fact that I ask for a lot of feedback and input, and I do take it to heart. The third connection was when I came across an article from the Harvard Business Review, entitled 'Four Mistakes Leaders Keep Making' (located on the Articles tab of this blog). The author, Robert Schaffer, highlights four managerial 'traps' that inhibit organizational change -- Failing to Set Proper Expectations; Excusing Subordinates from the Pursuit of Overall Goals; Colluding with Staff Experts and Consultants; and Waiting While Associates Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. The article begins with an overview of the traps and frames how they can prevent true growth: "Deeply rooted in the managerial psyche, the traps are extremely difficult to recognize because they are almost always mechanisms for avoiding anxiety. They serve to protect egos and prevent discomfort."
Although the roots of this article have a 'business model' in mind, I found them to be of interest and I was able to extrapolate some meaning for our work and a perspective on leadership. After describing the traps, Schaffer outlines examples for how to overcome these traps and a 'way of thinking' for leaders to guide the change/reflection process: "The behavior traps can sabotage even the most productive organizations—especially because they reinforce one another in ways that senior management may not see. Grim as the situation may be, it does have its bright side: These traps account for such significant productivity losses that if you’re willing to confront them, you can find major gains. The first (and toughest) step is simple awareness. Try to identify recent events where you encountered some of the behaviors I’ve described. Then you can start to push yourself outside your comfort zone, experiment with more-effective methods, and enjoy positive results as your reward. Small personal experiments by senior executives tend to be the most liberating. No “program” can yield benefits as compelling as those experienced by a manager trying out a new way of setting performance demands."
Again, I believe this perspective directly relates to the shared mission and belief we have for ourselves and our students -- the importance of taking risks, healthy anxiety, and the value of perseverance. The question 'What do we want for our students?' is certainly one that can not be answered and resolved in one set of goals. However, perhaps these experiences/thoughts noted above, can help us as we look to make progress in that direction. I hope to keep these experiences and thoughts in mind throughout the year and look forward to continuing our work.
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