Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Three

I am currently in my 10th year as an educational leader... one year as an assistant principal and nine years as a principal. The journey started around the time my son was born and as we get ready to celebrate his tenth birthday in a few weeks I was recently lamenting about how quickly he has grown up and how I miss the days when I could literally fit most of his body in the palm of my hand - I wish I could turn back time and experience those moments again. 

Then I started thinking about my time as an administrator... a principal... an educational leader... a lead learner and I thought to myself... WOW... ten years? Already? Where did the time go? I remember the first few months in my new position where the days usually ended with me in tears because administrative prep school had not really prepared me for the day to day aspects of leading a school. The crying staff member going through a divorce; the child who explicitly described being beaten by a parent; the substitute teacher who was likely still drunk from the night before (yup... that happened); or the parent who cursed me out because of the color of my skin. Yup - no college or university program could have prepared me for those experiences and although those moments hurt, just like holding my son in the palm of my hand, I would not trade them for anything. Truth is, I love being the lead learner of an elementary school - the kids, the staff, the community, the events, the day to day smiles and jokes - I LOVE it! Is it always sunshine and roses? Nope. Is it always easy to do the right thing? Nope. Is it always fun? Nope. But if I could turn back time, I would do it all over again... being an educator is my dream job and it rarely actually feels like a job! 

Now, after almost twenty years of experience working in schools, I started to reflect on what I think the keys are to being successful; being happy; being effective; and being what everyone around you needs at any given moment. After a lot of reflection on what has worked for me as an educator over the last 20 years or so, I have narrowed them down to THE THREE...

1) BE THE EARS... the. most. important. part. of. the. job. is. being. a. good. listener! This is it - this is the bottom line! Everyone around you needs to be heard. Kids need to be heard. Teachers need to be heard. Parents need to be heard. Secretaries need to be heard. Colleagues need to be heard. Supervisors need to be heard. You have to be the ears for all these people... and you can't just listen to them... you really have to actually hear them. Hear what they are saying; hear what they are feeling; hear what they want; hear what they need; hear every word they are saying to you because it is not about you... it is about the other person. You may not be able to successfully solve and address every problem; you may not be able to make everyone happy (scratch that... you will not make everyone happy but that's OK); you may not feel great after listening but regardless of the end result, when someone feels heard, at least one need has been met. Remember, our kids, staff members and families have lives beyond the four walls of our schools and those lives impact them while they are in school so we must be attune to those lives by LISTENING! 

2) BE THE VOICE... this can mean so many different things but for me it means advocating for the needs of those around you and celebrating all the positive things happening in your space! Your kids, staff and community need you to be their voice; they need you to fight for what they need; they need you to address their needs even when it's not easy; they need you to be their voice... especially your kids. Our kids are often the ones who go voiceless in the educational experience (educators and family members often seem to think we know better) and we need to empower their voices and amplify them and sometimes that means becoming their voice. Additionally, take the time to tell your story and brand your space! Branding, which typically is a “business world” thing, is exactly what our schools need today and when I say branding, I am talking about creating an identity by telling your story! There is so much bashing of public education in the media today and the landscape of public education is not a pretty one but as educators - whether a superintendent, classroom teacher, support specialist, or the Lead Learner of the building - we still control everything that happens in our schools. And since we control what happens in our schools (even with state/federal mandates and policies, the final execution is our call) we know there are awesome techniques/approaches/etc. unfolding in our schools so let’s spread the word; let’s brand our schools; let’s BE THE VOICE! (By the way, if you would like a step-by-step guide for branding your space, check out the book I co-authored with Joe Sanfelippo and you can order it here: The Power of Branding and check out the site for some free online resources to support your efforts to be the voice). 

3) BE THE CULTURE... A long time ago Todd Whitaker taught me that if the principal sneezes, the whole school community catches a cold. Although I wasn't sure I agreed with that concept initially the longer I have been in the position, the more I see that it is a reality. As leaders, whether of the school or the classroom, we set the tone for the space. What we value and put emphasis on becomes the priority and eventually permeates the classroom or building. If we focus on mandates, policies and test scores, then that will set the tone in the building... that will become the culture of the space. So, decide what is important to you... decide what you believe in... decide what you stand for and communicate it loudly and clearly because you are the culture of the space! For me, it comes down to one thing... doing what is in the best interest of children, even if it is not easy. I lead with my heart and am proud to stand behind my beliefs and decisions because I think they are in the best interest of a child. For some more tips on BEING THE CULTURE check out this other post I wrote a couple of years ago - Leader With Heart!

So, from my vantage point, if you want to be a successful educator, you need to consider THE THREE... Be the EARS; Be the VOICE; and Be the CULTURE! 

What did I miss here?? Please let me know in the comments section, which will help me learn and grow!


  1. What a great blog!! Loved it!! You nailed it!

  2. Great post, something that I needed as a reminder. Thanks Tony! Spot on! Vicki

  3. As always, another brilliant post, from one of the most exceptional leaders. Thank you for always wearing your heart on your sleeve and helping all of us get better.

  4. I'd add on being "the eyes." Students, teachers, and parents all need help seeing a bigger picture and how their own trees fit into the forest. Help them see purpose, paths, entrances, exits and exciting opportunities that can too easily be missed when we're busy in our own live's moments.

  5. Tony, listening is always the first step of coaching. I don't know if you are familiar with Cognitive Coaching, but you'd probably be a natural if listening is so embedded for you.