Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why I Lead: Seizing Control

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the #SAVMP (School Administrator Virtual Mentor Program) and I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am to be working with John, Kristen and Andrew as part of this experience. When our fearless organizer and leader, George Couros, posed the question, Why Do I Lead? many thoughts came rushing into my mind but the one that resonated the most was the fact that I never felt like I fit in as a student in elementary school. 

In retrospect, I clearly suffered from undiagnosed and untreated ADHD and sitting at a desk all day was not conducive to my learning style. Unfortunately, at the time the conversations never revolved around adapting the instructional approaches to better meet my needs. No, instead, the conversations revolved around the idea that I was a mischievous, unfocused, disobedient and naughty little boy. My teachers wanted me to fit the mold of the "good student" and when it became crystal clear that this wasn't going to happen, they resorted to endless punishments, consequences, threats and meetings with my parents, which led to even more trouble at home but that's a whole other story. Can you visualize the proverbial square peg being jammed into the round hole? Well, let me introduce myself, Mr. Tony "Square Peg" Sinanis. Needless to say, my years as an elementary student shaped my attitude towards teaching and learning and it was not a positive one.

Fortunately, at some point in college I realized that I wanted to be an educator and after several years in the classroom I knew I wanted to affect change in an entire building - not just one classroom. I wanted to be an advocate for all students, especially my fellow square pegs. I wanted to be part of creating a culture and community that was rooted in happiness, trust, respect and excitement towards learning. I wanted to help nurture a school environment where having fun and learning went hand and hand. I wanted to give our students what I never had as a learner. That is why I chose to lead. 

But, choosing to be a leader is just the first step in the process. Being a leader brings with it many responsibilities, expectations and challenges. Being a leader means fighting for what is best for kids even when it is not easy. As I am about to enter my eighth year as a building leader at the elementary level there are many things that concern me, frustrate me, consume me but above all those are the many things about leading a school that bring me tremendous joy and fulfillment. 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about some of the posts I have written over the last year related to the many mandates and policies that have been imposed on educators from the federal government and here specifically in New York State (Squashed LearningOpportunities, Dear Dr. John King, Dear Arne Duncan, etc.). The changes to our Annual Professional Performance Review in NYS, the whole Race To The Top incentive program supported by the Obama administration, the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the direct connection between student performance on standardized tests and educator evaluation here in New York State.

All these mandates and expectations are beyond my control and I must do my best to ensure that they are being properly implemented in our school. Do I agree with most of them? No. Do I think they will help close the achievement gap? No. Do I think they will help enhance our classroom practice? Not sure. Do I think they are in the best interest of our children? No - I don't think the focus is on our children. I think the focus is on accountability. I think the focus is on solving the "crisis" plaguing public education in our country so we can compete in the global landscape (is there really a crisis?). I think the focus is on making money for the likes of testing giant Pearson. The list could go on and on but in the end, it doesn't matter much what the intent of these policies and mandates are because there are people in our country lobbying to bring them to our schools and we have to deal with them. Dealing with policies and mandates is where their (politicians, commissioners, etc.) control over us should end!

From my vantage point this is where the power shifts… the power and control shifts back to us as educators who are working with children each day in the thousands of schools across this great country! Ultimately, we have control over how these policies and mandates manifest themselves in our schools. This is why I lead.

We still control what happens each minute of every school day in our classrooms, lunchrooms, recess fields and gymnasiums. We can affect how these policies and mandates look in our schools - not politicians, state education commissioners or lobbyists - we control the minute by minute decisions in our schools. This is why I lead.

We can decide if we want to go out and buy a basal series or an anthology or if we want to adopt the reading workshop model. We can decide if we want to buy workbooks to teach our children about the mechanics of writing and grammar or if we want to implement the writing workshop model and embed the instruction in the daily mini-lessons. We can decide if we want to use positive reinforcement when dealing with behavior issues or if we want to employ a zero tolerance policy. We can decide if we want to buy iPads or Chromebooks for every student in our school or if we feel that technology of this nature is unnecessary and that children should be using books to learn new information. We can decide if we want to use a traditional math series that emphasizes drilling of basic facts or if want to employ a philosophy of mathematics instruction that focuses on the development of deep conceptual understandings. We can decide if we want to use Twitter as a way to communicate with parents or if we want to ban all social media from our schools (please don’t do that). We can decide if we want to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on test prep work or we can decide to have faith in the high quality instruction in our classrooms that will indirectly prepare our children for the high stakes testing game. We can decide if we spend money in the budget on hiring additional support staff to work with children or to create a position to deal with all the mandates and expectations. This is why I lead.

So, from my perspective it seems that we decide a LOT each and every day in school and these decisions are the ones that matter most to our children and their development. We have control over so many things that matter to our children and communities and that is something we cannot forget during the day-to-day stresses that can easily consume us. I guess in the end I also needed to write this post because I needed to recalibrate my focus and remember that I can make a difference in the lives of our students, not the many mandates we must implement. I needed to write this because it will serve as one of my most important goals of the school year – I am going to try and not complain about the current landscape of public education (believe me, it frustrates me beyond belief and change is needed) and instead, I am going to focus on all the amazing and important things that are in my control and work from there to best serve our community and to achieve my personal goal of meeting the needs of every child in our school! This is why I lead. 

Why do you lead?         


  1. Excellent post, Tony. I love the focus on things that can be controlled. Thank you for sharing and telling your story.

  2. Tony, thank you for sharing your personal experiences about what led you to become an educator. You are correct in that as leaders, we do have control over decisions which directly impact teaching and learning at our schools.

    Looking forward to learning from those in this SAVMP virtual community!

  3. Great post Tony. I think you hit on two key points that I agree with. The first is being a leader with the courage to stand up disagree with those in power when you feel something is wrong. I have read other posts you have written where you very clearly articulate why you feel high-stakes testing does not help the students at your school become great learners. It takes courage to say this publicly and I applaud you for that. The second, is that you do not allow your disagreements with those in authority to consume you. You do not allow yourself, your teachers, or your parents, to focus solely on things beyond our control. Instead, as a leader, you refocus everyone to the real decisions they have to make, and there are many of them.

  4. Tony, great advice for us all. Let's focus on our kids, families, and buildings.

  5. Well said, Tony! If we focus on what WE can control the students we interact with on a daily basis will be better. Policy can't control relationships...and if we have those we're in a good place. Our school experience was very similar and clearly contributed to how I lead. Really enjoyed the post