The last time I wrote a blog post was a little under a year ago... what a difference 11 months can make... From the moment my assignment started, back in June 2017, until today, there hasn't been a day where I have felt stagnant, unchallenged or unmotivated. Becoming an assistant principal at a turnaround school has not only molded me as a leader, but grown me as a person. I could write a book about the many lessons learned during my experience, but I'll begin with these five lessons that have forever changed my life:
1. Do not underestimate your capacity for CHANGE. There is never a right time to do a difficult thing.
When going into leadership there are many factors that will determine your ability to obtain a role. Some factors include your personality, your vision, your grit, your credentials, and of course, your experience. However, one factor that you cannot completely control is the belief others hold about you. Different schools have different needs. Similarly, different leaders look for different characteristics in their assistant principals. I found a leader that took a risk in hiring someone who would have the character and persistence needed to work at a turnaround school. However, many times I questioned if I was ready. MANY people questioned my decision to work at a low performing school, and of course, many more questioned my principal's decision of hiring me.
I have had the privilege of working in high performing schools all my educational career, and while the internal thoughts of, "Is this the right fit for me? Am I ready? Will I be efficient in my role? Will I fail?" kept me up many nights, and still do, I always knew that if something challenges you it must be something worth experiencing.
2. You are a product of your environment, surround yourself with the best.
It takes self awareness and honesty with yourself to accept that you don't know everything. Accepting this was difficult but necessary. I was blessed to be in a school that had resources and the people to support me at every step of the way. My principal trusted and taught me important concepts on managing a budget, the hiring process and even the maintenance management piece. Having her as my leader was the second biggest component on my success during my first year (I will talk about the first in lesson 4). Our math & data specialist were imperative in mentoring me through desegregation and interpretation of data. We would talk for hours on the phone after work, hang out during the weekend to discuss plans, and many times walked out together way after the custodial staff was gone. Our reading specialist was a knowledge-tank filled with resources, experiences and ideas on reaching our struggling students. Not only that... personally she was my person. Everybody needs a person, and if you watch Grey's Anatomy you know what I mean by that. She was my balance, she provided emotional support for me when I needed it the most, and ALWAYS, ALWAYS gave me honesty. I appreciate you Errica, you're a light to all that have the pleasure of knowing you.
The teachers I met through my first year taught me the importance of being PRESENT. As I reflect on the closing of this school year, I wish I would have done several things differently to get to know them better. When working at a turnaround school, everything is important. We must not forget that its the people who teach our kids the ones that make the impact at the end of the day. How are we motivating them? Are we appreciating them? Are we supporting them? Teachers from turn around schools experience difficulties that no one else does in the classroom. It takes a strong heart to dedicate your life to our students.
Finally, the students you serve change you as well. If you read through my posts, you'll see that my life wasn't always easy. Working at Dogan has made me aware of how good I had it, even in my darkest times. Our children are deprived of so much, therefore we owe them THAT MUCH MORE.
3. Working at a turnaround school is not for everybody.
I have met many people that want to be in school leadership and begin interviewing for roles at several schools. I do not mean to undermine the challenges faced in high performing schools at all... every organization has its difficulties. I have learned though that in order for people to succeed in turnaround work they must be willing to commit to long hours, a fast-paced environment, budgetary constraints that will test your resourcefulness skills, and emotional maturity to withstand the discipline issues, the insults, and the weight of performing well on state tests.
4. You will not always agree with your principal, and that is okay.
Your job as an assistant principal is to carry out the vision of the building leader, therefore it is important that you and them share the same values on leadership and education. You will both have different ideas, you will have different methods, and even different styles to dealing with situations. The MOST IMPORTANT component of your success is YOU. Your ability to take feedback, your ability to change, your ability to make decisions when being trusted to do so, your ability to learn and be flexible. People always say, don't take it personal... but it's hard not to when your job is your passion and your craft. However, strong crews are able to point out each other's weaknesses to get closer to their strengths. A professional relationship without honesty cannot succeed!
5. No item on your to-do list is more important than building relationships.
I once heard someone say people in the morning paperwork at night. This was not only my first year being in this school, it was the entire leadership teams' as well. That meant that the learning curve for all of us was HUGE. We all had systems from the different schools we each served in, therefore selecting what would work best and implementing it at Dogan was challenging. I knew the paperwork requirements would take up a large part of my time, therefore I knew that at least for my first year I was going to have to put long hours if I wanted to get to know the students, their families and the staff.
During the day I invested my time in content and teaching, getting to know the custodial staff, working with behavior students, meeting my observation/coaching requirements and planning with the leadership team. When the students left, however, it became time to work on emails, creating forms etc. If my day was not structured this way, those small tasks would eat up my entire time.
At the end of the day I had to keep in mind who I was doing this work for: the kids. Being in leadership, there will always be adults that will have their opinions on your decisions and your abilities, it comes with the job. However, as an educator you HAVE to be connected with kids. Kids know your true intentions, they know if you care for them or not. They know if you're interested in their dreams and if you know their virtues. I decided to form the Dogan STEM Club to enrich Science on Friday after school. The days we met were some of my most memorable afternoons at Dogan. Of course I was tired, of course we were often the only ones in the building until their parents came, but the bond I formed with those 15 students was stronger than any other bond. It is my goal to continue doing at least one after school activity for the students that I serve.
This week we celebrated our kids' accomplishments in their promotional ceremonies. The smiles on their faces and the pride they held were heartwarming. I can't wait to see our little ones throughout their years at Dogan, and wish nothing but THE BEST to our graduating fifth graders. I hope life lets me see the amazing adults they become!
My heart is filled with joy of the possibilities that a new school year brings. Summer 2018 planning BEGINS!