Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

#SLDunkTank Redux

A little more on Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank this month:

So ‘self-help’ really isn’t my preferred reading genre, but in addition to Dunk Tank, I highly recommend 10% Happier, by Dan Harris (yes, that Dan Harris).  Much of what Harris ultimately uncovers (spoiler alert) is that our own perceptions of situations factor greatly into how they impact us.  Not that it’s as easy as saying, “Don’t let anything bother you” – obviously that’s not possible, nor is it always the best way to handle conflict or problems.  What I take from it – and what I have been trying to do in my own life – is focus on responding to the things within my control to change, and trying to let the things beyond my control go as much as possible.  The last year or so that I’ve been practicing this – well, it hasn’t been 100% stress-free, but I stress about far fewer things and am stressed less often.  As Harris says, I’m definitely at least 10% happier than I was before.

Before coming to this realization, I had a definite tendency to perseverate, over things both within and not within my control.  Perhaps I’m getting more patient or mellow in my old age, but I’m finding it easier to look at situations more objectively than I used to and respond (not react) accordingly.  Coda & Jetter speak to this proactive approach throughout Dunk Tank, and one section of their book that I think deserves highlighting is their “Eight Tasks to Optimize Triumph Over Tragedy”.  They’re survival skills for when you do find yourself in the dunk tank, but they’re also pretty good habits to get into regardless.

NB: This list is presented under the assumption that there are not more serious underlying medical or psychological factors present.  Nothing on this list is a replacement for counseling, addiction treatment, and/or medication as deemed necessary by a professional.

List Your Gratitudes: It’s hard to be perpetually stressed, upset, or otherwise in a bad place if you can list – mentally or physically – the things you are grateful for in your life.  Periodically taking stock of the good things in your life is helpful for avoiding getting stuck in the mire and reframing your outlook.  Not professionally related, but our house has been on the market since January, and we haven’t had a lot of action.  I’m not happy about it, believe me; I could focus on that and stress about not making progress in the last 3 months, but I choose to focus on my gratitudes: if we don’t sell, I am grateful to live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood.  My kids go to great public schools, have friends they enjoy with minimal drama, and are involved in activities they love and that make them feel good about themselves.

Recognize Your Talents: “Self-talk” can be positive or negative.  In times of great stress, negative self-talk may come easier than positive, so it’s important to deliberately focus on positive self-talk.  Even if you have not had many concrete achievements in your position, Coda & Jetter say, focus on the contributions you make.  How do you make your workplace/home a little better every day?  Even if it has no tangible impact on the dunk tank situation you face, the worst-case scenario of this strategy is that you are in a good place to talk yourself up at your next job interview.

Create and Use Affirmations: A little bit of overlap with the previous section, but this is more concrete in terms of developing positive things to say about yourself and then reviewing them regularly.  It helps prevent you from falling into a perpetually negative mindset.  I recall speaking with another dad (teacher in another district) at our sons’ Cub Scout meeting at one point during my dunk tank experience.  He had asked me a simple question about work and I went off on a jag that probably made him feel uncomfortable.  He made a joke; I don’t remember the exact words but it was something to the effect of what a drag it was to talk to me.  He wasn’t wrong.

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable Again: Sometimes we stay in bad work situations because leaving is scary and requires us to be vulnerable (opening up to rejection in the job hunt process; risking repercussions of having people in our current workplace find out).  Having been there myself, I get it, but it’s an important mental block to overcome.  Allowing yourself to be vulnerable puts you in a good position to either fight the necessary fight in your current workplace and not shrink and be a pushover, or break out of your comfort zone and move on to a potentially better situation.

Strategize Your Game Plan: So you’re in the dunk tank.  What are you going to do about it?  Specifically, I mean?  And what if that doesn’t work, then what?  What’s your Plan A, B, C, etc.?  At what point is enough enough and you need to eject?  What Coda & Jetter call “proactive paranoia” I’ve always referred to as “playing chess” – thinking about multiple possible courses of actions, outcomes, and responses.

Redefine Yourself: Does your game plan include any changes in how you view yourself professionally?  Take the opportunity to develop new goals.  If you are an assistant principal, maybe now’s the time to look for that principal position.  If you are a building administrator, what about a position in central office (or vice versa)?  It’s no coincidence that artists with the most staying power – Madonna, Bowie, Prince – have been able to successfully reinvent themselves (and please don’t read too much into the fact that two of those examples are now dead).

Develop Yourself into a Behind-The-Scenes Expert: Knowledge is power, so do some “deep dive” self-directed learning and learn more about topic or topics relevant to your field – it will either make you more confident, make you better able to navigate the dunk tank, or help you represent yourself well in an interview if/when you decide to leave.  The worst that can possibly happen is that you know more afterward than before you started, and it may even help with the recognizing talents/affirmation/positive self-talk.

Empower Others: Cultivate a Think-Tank for Your Colleagues: In the most basic terms, this involves you creating a support system for yourself where one doesn’t currently exist.  Coda & Jetter give the example of getting superintendents together from around the local area to share advice, information, and experiences, but you can do this regardless of your position.  Reach out to your counterparts in other districts and get together once a month – not as a “bitch session”, but to discuss current events, share interesting articles, and generally compare notes.  If you can’t bring yourself to do it locally (either within your district or outside of it), develop your PLN on Twitter, LinkedIn, or your preferred social media service.  It’s good for the soul to be able to rub a friendly elbow with people who do or have done your work and can commiserate, support, advise, and celebrate.


Required Reading

As someone who has been involved in a variety of social networks over the last decade, I know that my participation in each tends to ebb and flow, influenced by any number of factors both internal and external.  One service I’ve been making better use of recently is Goodreads, which – if you couldn’t tell from the name – is a social network for book lovers.

When I first started using Goodreads (and Shelfari before it), I thought it would just be a neat way to catalog all the books I’ve read, because I just have a tendency to want to suck the fun out of everything catalog, collect, and categorize things.  Goodreads allows users to sort books into “shelves”, and the initial three that every user gets are “Read”, “Currently Reading”, and “Want to Read”.

Up until now, I used this service primarily to catalog books I’ve read and maintain a list of books I’d like to read (something for which I previously used Evernote) for my own purposes, passively accepting friend requests but never really making use of the network.  Now, however, I’m starting to take more of an interest in the networking aspect – I see what my friends are reading (many of them don’t tend to share this information out to Facebook or Twitter) and getting good recommendations and suggestions for what to read next.

Goodreads also allows you to add shelves to your initial three.  I created one the other day called “Edu-Must-Reads“, which is where I tag books that are – in my opinion – “desert island discs” of the educational publishing world.  Not all of them are necessarily about education, but anything on that shelf is something I consider an essential read for folks in education, for any number of reasons.  These works have all had a significant influence on the lens through which I view teaching, learning, and leadership.  Not only is this a resource for my Goodreads friends, but I figure it’s a quick link I can share with anybody when the discussion of favorite books about education comes up (because those are the kind of nerd parties I go to).

Feel free to peruse my shelf – it’s a bit small at the moment (13 at time of writing) but as I read more, I have no doubt it will grow.  Also, if you’re on Goodreads, let’s connect so we can grow our respective collections together.

#SAVMP 2016-2017

Moving ever onward out of my comfort zone in the name of professional growth, I signed up to participate in SAVMP for the 2016-2017 school year. SAVMP is the School Administrator Virtual Mentoring Program, and I volunteered to serve as a mentor to aspiring and novice administrators.

I know I’m only just beginning my third year, but in my experience, being in a position such as mentor or student teacher supervisor has helped me to clarify and codify my own thinking on any number of topics, situations, or challenges.  I’ve spent the last two years learning by the side of some excellent mentors in my own district, and while I’ve also tried to pay it forward to my admin colleagues who joined the district after me, I’d like to think I also have something to offer a fledgling administrator elsewhere in the Twittersphere.

Back in the heady days of 2007-2009, edu-Twitter seemed to me to be more about connecting with and learning from one another (it’s felt more like a self-promotion engine/mutual admiration society to me for the last few years, but that’s another post for another day).  The teachers we interviewed for The End of Isolation called out the networking and professional collaboration aspect of Twitter specifically as a primary benefit of the service.  Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s something else, but when I heard about the call for mentors, I thought this would be some small positive step I could take to help someone out as I’ve been helped as I transitioned to this new professional role.

An additional benefit (for me) is that apparently there will be blogging prompts.  I look forward to those, as I’ve been lacking for structure and focus for blogging of late.  I anticipate this will be a mutually beneficial project for both my mentee and me.

If you’re interested in seeing what this is all about, check out the hashtag #SAVMP on Twitter.

ICYMI: My Faves 2014-2016

I tag each post on this blog with some categorical classification, and one I started using a few years ago is Damian’s Favorites – this tag represents what I feel are the best posts on this site (or at least the ones I wish got read more than the others).  Periodically I like to do “Best Of” recap posts; I did one in 2011 and one in 2014, so I figured I’m due.  Below are some of my favorite posts I’ve written since my last rerun post recap in September 2014:

Happy New Year, everyone; let’s make 2016-2017 the best one yet.

Year 2: Highlights & Lessons Learned

This week brings my second year in administration to an end.  I started 2015-2016 off remarking how different the start of Year 2 felt from the start of Year 1, and as the end of Year 2 approaches, I feel like the year is slowly and (more or less) gently coasting to a stop, as opposed to the “careening toward a brick wall” feel of Year 1.

This was a good year.  Much like my second year of teaching and my second year as a school psychologist, I was able to put much of the newness and uncertainty of Year 1 behind me and make what I feel was a substantial contribution to the district via my position.  In addition to the expected job responsibilities, I focused a great deal of energy during my first year establishing relationships, both with the folks under my supervision and with the building and district administrators with whom I work.  I have long believed – and this bore out in my dissertation research – that trust and open communication are bedrock elements of good leadership (and ultimately, good for the health and growth of the organization), and I would like to believe that my efforts in that area – along with the tireless efforts of my staff – helped bring about some positive growth in our district.

Some of these highlights include:

  • The Quartweet Project: I wrote about this extensively here and here; a neat postscript to this event is that months later, the performance of one of our student compositions was aired on German television!
  • Arts Advisory Council: This definitely warrants its own post, but briefly: I envisioned a ’roundtable’ of sorts made up of art & music teachers from across the K-12 grade span, the goal of which is improving and building the arts program in our district.  We met four times throughout the year, and typically had about 8-10 teachers participating at a given time.  We got quite a few interesting results from this collaborative time, and a major goal for next year is to develop a formal mission and vision for the arts program in the district that aligns with our district strategic plan (like I said, more on that over the summer).
  • Northfield Community Middle School site visits: Tons have been written about the work Kevin Jarrett, Glenn Robbins, and the crew at NCMS in southern New Jersey are doing w/r/t school culture (I know Kevin’s Digital Shop is kick-ass, but it’s really about so much more than that).  I coordinated two site visits for a variety of teachers, librarians, and administrators in my district to see what was going on and how – if at all – some of that might be applicable to our district.  I have since seen tangible evidence of the influence of those visits in our district in the development of makerspaces, reconsidering student voice and learning spaces, and the planned renovation of our intermediate school computer lab.  None of these are close to the final products, nor are they the be-all, end-all of education, but the conversations and consideration happening around them are crucial.  I’m happy to have played a small role in instigating them.
  • Curricular Expansion at the High School: I supervise an eclectic group of disciplines: Technology, Art, Music, Business, and Family & Consumer Science, as well as our libraries across the district.  It’s no secret that many districts are making cuts in the arts or outright eliminating difficult-to-staff positions like FCS once teachers retire.  This year, I asked my high school teachers to identify gaps in our curriculum with the intent of developing new courses to bolster our offerings in these disciplines.  We ran a new course this year in our Business department, Introduction to Social Media.  While enrollment was on the low side this year (understandable for a course that didn’t hit the Course of Study til after most of the enrollment was completed for 15-16), it has proven to be such a popular and timely course that enrollment has doubled for 16-17!  That course is being revamped with the benefit of the past year’s experience and will be even better next year.  Additionally, I am proud that our high school will be offering new courses in both Family & Consumer Sciences (Nutrition for Healthy Living) and Music (Theory & Composition courses with a focus on either guitar or piano).

Of course, this is an incomplete list, but this post is already nearing 1,000 words.  So my lessons learned?

  • Decisions can’t always be made by committee (but we should do it as often as possible!).  It’s not a sign of poor leadership to consult your teachers on decisions; it says that you value their input as professionals and the perspective they have which we, by the nature of our non-instructional positions, lack.  This is the underlying philosophy behind my desire to create the Arts Advisory Council, but nowhere is this more crucial than in the hiring process.  I am grateful to the staff members who volunteered to serve on interview committees with me and my admin colleagues; I believe their input is a major reason why we have been as successful with our hires as we have been.
  • Organization can be hard, even for the super-organized.  Without exaggeration or hubris, I am one of the most organized people I know.  I have many weaknesses (just ask my wife), but disorganization is not one of them.  That said, I had a few administrative tasks that slipped through the cracks this year that should not have.  In reflecting on how I can do better with that, I decided to put together a Year-At-A-Glance list, in which I note some of the BIG picture tasks that need to happen each month (e.g., budget submissions, curriculum revisions, etc.).  I also put some recurring items on there (e.g., reminders to staff about spending down budget) that are important but can easily get swept aside in the daily madness.  Putting it down in writing now, after staff and students have left for the year, allows me to give it the time and thought required, and it’s an organizational investment that will pay off during the school year.

I head into my second summer as an administrator happy with the year that passed, excited about the opportunities and challenges coming in the 16-17, and ready for a little downtime before we start it all over again.  August 18th doesn’t seem that far away.