Every time I attended Professional Learning conferences such as the MEMSPA conference I got all excited about the learning! I returned ready to implement EVERYTHING back at my building. My teachers used to say, “Look out, Derek has just gotten back from a conference, I wonder what new things he will have in store for us?” I have learned that it is better to take some time to reflect on the learning, put things in perspective, choose some immediate learned skills or strategies that can be implemented right away. Then consider what needs more time to be developed before implementation. What needs to wait until next year and may need more consensus decision-making or staff buy-in before being considered as a potential new program, strategy, or skill.
As I reflect, I did a better job of maintaining a stable culture and climate when I focused on what I wanted to change about myself, my leadership, and my skill set, instead of a focus on what I wanted to bring back to have my teachers implement. So, don’t overwhelm yourself, do what I used to say to my school family, keep chipping away at being better, instead of trying to smash the whole block of ice.
Not enough space in this column to write about the outstanding learning day we spent with Kim Marshall and all the different learning sessions, but I felt a strong sense of connection and the importance of relationships was at the forefront of this conference. The current pendulum swing that is so focused on the Science of Teaching has left the Art of Teaching to be ignored. I was reminded about a quote that I love from our good friend Mr. Rogers.
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
You see, it is as simple as a handshake, and a phone call! Let me explain.
Principal Baruti Kafele, told us his life journey of learning where he barely graduated from high school, met significant others who motivated him to graduate Summa Cum Laude from college, saw in him a propensity for public speaking and helped him realize that it is our focus on relationships that is most important- a focus on the “Attitude Gap” - The gap between those students who have the will to strive for academic excellence and those who do not. He turned his failing school around in 10 years and left a legacy where students, faculty and staff STILL feel his presence after he left the principalship and his school! Principal Kafele charged us to ask ourselves four essential questions about our schools that would help close the attitude gap:
When students are in my classroom or school:
What do they see?
What do they hear?
What do they feel?
What do they experience?
Not how do they perform on academic tests, behave, treat others, and learn, but an assumption that if we are creating a climate and culture of high expectations, nurture and care, that focuses on what students experience, then we can go a lot further in closing the achievement gap if we pay attention to the human, affective side of school. He said to us, “Do you mean Principal Kafele, that the achievement of students can increase just because of a handshake?” Yes, replies Principal Kafele, meeting and greeting every student warmly when they enter, walk through and leave the building can and will impact academic achievement. It IS as simple as a handshake, high five, or hug!
I was moved at the Leadership Banquet when Eric Cardwell, current NAESP Zone 6 director and elementary principal in Alpena shared a story of a special program in his school called “Points of Pride.” When students display a particular life skill trait, any staff or faculty member can nominate a student, fill out the award and Eric will make a call home. Well, a deserving young man was called about how responsible he was in class and Eric shared the information with the boy’s dad who was thrilled to hear about it.
Later he receives a letter from the boy’s mom, explaining how touched her husband was by the phone call and how he was moved by the experience of hearing of his son’s great work. She was writing Eric to thank him for making the phone call about her son and that it was particularly meaningful to her that he talked with her husband. It was one of the last good things he got to hear before he passed away after a lengthy illness. Eric keeps the letter posted front in center on his desk. It keeps him grounded amongst all of the extraneous “stuff” that fills the life of a principal with worry, fear, anxiety, and trepidation. You see Eric just picked up the phone and made a phone call. As Mr. Rogers says: “There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
How will you unknowingly change the life of a person today, this week, next month, next year? We don’t know, do we? Stay focused on what matters, the human relationships that we nurture and tend to each day. You see, it’s as simple as a handshake, and a phone call. Nelson Mandela said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”