Time to Breathe

Yesterday I wrote about a writing activity I have used with staff called List, Jot, Write Long. It helped us think about our beliefs about instruction, and move toward developing individual and team goals. This morning, I actually presented this information to my teachers during our all staff gathering. Here was the agenda:

I felt like I was as prepared as I could be. Or so I thought. I shared visual samples of what the Individual Professional Development Plan could look like. An example of a SMART goal was distributed as well as presented on the whiteboard. We confirmed the due date for these goals to be submitted to me (within a month).

As one might guess, the problem I ran into was changing too much at one time. I threw two new things at them today: 1) Connect your individual goals to a team goal, and 2) Do it in the context of a professional learning community. Expecting staff to make two shifts at one time is not realistic, especially when we have state assessments and other initiatives breathing down our backs.

If I think back to my days as a teacher, I knew not to differentiate more than one piece of my instruction. Otherwise I would potentially lose my students due to too many choices and lack of focus (Content + Process = Product). For example, I could differentiate the process I used to present the content through visual, auditory and kinesthetic means, but that meant my content and product needed to stay the same.

So why didn’t I follow what I knew to be best instruction? Maybe I am also feeling the pressure of getting information delivered without a lot of time and resources. Nevertheless, as I came back from our staff gathering I reflected on how it could have been better. I touched base with a few teachers and asked, “What are your thoughts after today?” The general consensus was that it was good information and they understood what is expected of them. It was just a matter of finding time to look over all the materials.

I appreciate that my staff is so honest with me. It shows that we have a good level of trust, that they know I am looking out for their best interests and vice versa. Around the same time, the former principal at my school stopped by to drop off some documents. Always willing to lend an ear, he listened to my concerns about all this information being delivered to staff without enough time to truly integrate it with integrity. His response: Give them more time.

Brilliant! And why didn’t I think of that? Maybe because I was too mired in the conflict itself and needed another perspective. At any rate, I developed a plan that extended the due dates as well as bring in subs to give grade level teams substantial time to collaborate. When I sent out the new plan, staff responded immediately with “Thank you!” and “I appreciate you understanding”.  The fact that my teachers didn’t say much until I asked them speaks volumes about their character and their willingness to follow their principal into new territory despite their uncertainties.

I think any public educator can make the claim that we are being inundated with initiatives like we have never seen before. I don’t believe this to be hyberbole; has their ever been a time before the present when standards (CCSS), teacher evaluations (value-added) and instruction (RtI) are all being overhauled at the same time? We as leaders need to recognize this, for our staff and ourselves, before leading change. All of these initiatives are truly secondary to the energy and well-being of the educators who work with our students every day. In spite of whatever comes our way, we need to build in time to breathe so we don’t become overwhelmed or forget why we entered this profession in the first place.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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