Monday, July 14, 2014

What can we learn when we unplug?

One of my favorite questions to ask potential candidates during the interview process is how they find balance between their personal and professional lives.  As the next superintendent of Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools (17 days and counting down) and a mother to 3 children under the age of 10, balance is something I work very hard to find and maintain.  I owe that to both my job and my family and I strive to model it for those around me.

In preparation for the new position, I decided to unplug from work, spend time with family and friends, catch up on some unfinished projects, and recharge for August 1st.  I spent a fabulous week in the Traverse City Michigan area and as I reflect on our fun, I found some important lessons to pass along.  Modeling reflection along with the balance I mentioned earlier, is something I hope will characterize my leadership.

#1 BMX bike racing with the kids.  This is something we had not done before.  But instead of just watching, I strapped on a helmet and rode the course along side my kids.  How could I challenge my kids to do something new and different if I weren't willing to do it too.  As a bystander, we miss out on far too much, failing realize that we my have hidden talents or passions because we are too afraid to try something new. As an educator and leader, I shouldn't ask for things that I myself am not able to model.  

My kids LOVED racing.   They rode and rode until their little legs couldn't pedal fast enough to get up the hills.  I LOVED racing. We raced, laughed, watched more skilled racers and studied their patterns of riding. Education is a race, but if we all strap on helmets, study the practices of highly effective schools and ride the course together, I have no doubt we will all be better for it.

#2 4th of July Race.  My sister in law has started running and wanted to run a 4K on July 4th.  I decided to run also, as I find balance through running.  Some may say I am a competitive person, and that's not a total lie :)  So, as the race started, I set my target on a runner up ahead and used him to keep pace through the course.  As we got closer to the finish line, I began to close the gap on my target up ahead.  I ended up finishing 2nd in my age bracket and was mad that I didn't run faster and close the gap sooner....yes the competitive side of me.  

But think about it.  In education we have to set targets for our students, buildings, and districts and then have laser like focus on those targets.  Even with a 2nd place finish, I could have run faster down the incline, lengthened my stride more, and pushed harder at the end.  I want to model the attitude and mindset that there is always room for improvement or refinement in our educational practices and building operations.  We owe that to our students, families, and community and just as importantly to ourselves.  

#3 Goldfish at the fair.  My youngest approaches EVERYTHING he does with enthusiasm and 110% commitment.  He decided to try to the goldfish toss, tossing a ping pong ball into small fish bowls to win a free fish.  He used every ticket he had, adjusting the arch on his toss and the angle of his body position over and over again, getting closer with each attempt.  In the end, he never made a ping pong ball in the bowl.  He lipped it in and out, hit the edge, and had some roll off the rim.  

And then it happened, the kind girl behind the table REWARDED HIS EFFORT and gave him not one but TWO fish!  She saw his commitment and rewarded his growth rather than his mastery of the task and she MADE his year.  For a boy that loves everything, he is over the moon for these two an aside the fish traveled 7 hrs home in a solo cup and now have a lovely Sponge Bob Pineapple Home :)  We should all learn from the girl behind the goldfish stand.  Reward the growth of your students, educators and administrators for growth is just as important as mastery.  Growth sets the stage for future learning and eventual mastery, continued commitment, and excitement for learning and doing new things!

#4 The Blue Angels.  On July 5th, we sat along Traverse City Bay and watched the Blue Angels fly.  If you have watched the Blue Angels in person before, you know that you see the planes before you can hear them roar by.  You have to rely on anticipation and vision to predict where the jets will pass by next.  In the journey we call education, you have to have vision, anticipate trends in education and make adjustment before the "noise" is heard.  Once the noise settles in, we have missed the opportunity to impact education for the betterment of students.  

I am so excited to lead a district that has vision.  Mechanicsburg set out on a course of assessment practices, data analysis, systematic intervention, and formative instruction long before the 3rd grade guarantee or OTES came into effect.  It is that continued vision and anticipation to adjust to the changing landscape of education that will allow us to impact the lives of our students.  

I hope that those of you charged with leadership in your grade level teams, buildings, and districts have a chance to unplug, reflect and recharge for the important work that lies ahead in education.