Sunday, July 6, 2014

Learning to Lead

My friends Joe Mazza and Tony Sinanis often talk about the impact of being the lead learner in a building.  They live this title to the fullest extent.  I hold them both in such high regard, because they are truly leading the learning in their area.  If we are going to lead learning organizations, we need to lead the learning as adults.  We need to consistently push ourselves to learn new things and model for our staff the importance of continuous professional growth.  
Having said that, being the Lead Learner should also encompass Learning to Lead.  At a very young age I was told that I had “leadership ability”.  To this day I don’t really know what that means, but I knew it gave me confidence to get in front of a group of people, provide some energy and enthusiasm, and attempt to get people headed in a similar direction.  The confidence that was instilled was great, but I think it also had a negative effect.
We consistently tell kids in Fall Creek that they work hard.  We do not tell them that they are smart.  The theory behind that is that at some point all kids will run into something that they view as too hard.  For those who have been constantly told that they are smart, it may be a let down when they can’t figure something out.  For those who have been told that they work hard, it may be a just another task that they know they can achieve with additional work.
I think I always felt smart when it came to leadership.  Things came easy and I could get by with energy and enthusiasm.  Sometimes I feel like it has been more of a curse than a blessing.  Working to become a better leader is hard.  When things got hard and difficult decisions needed to be made, I often felt like the kid who has been told they were smart for years.  Now what? What if it doesn’t work? What if people start seeing me in a different light? What if the decision is wrong and it impacts everyone’s lives? 

People are often placed into leadership positions because of great interview or because  they had experienced some success in a different role.  The fact is…being a lead learner means taking the process of learning to lead seriously.  Certifications, degrees, and experience can all play a role in that development, but the process has to take you out of your comfort zone and help you move to a different level.  I recently had my leadership teams fill out a survey for me through the Franklin Covey training.  The results were honest, and clearly identified areas that I need to improve.  I am so happy that I have a group willing to tell me I need to get better in certain areas.  The challenge for leaders is we try to get better at too many things and subsequently get better at none. We discuss how we can improve in an area, but rarely find the time to dig deep and get better in our leadership practice.  
We read books and think of ways to implement, and then the day to day operations take over and our growth timeline gets pushed back.

Every year I ask our staff to come with “My Three”.  They find 3 things that they can look to after a day, and when accomplished, walk out feeling good about what happened.  There will be days that they struggle to meet the three and others that they will have them met by the time kids arrive…but it is a constant reminder that little victories can bring big success.  As the year starts, I WILL work on the following as I continue to LEARN to LEAD…

1. Be a Leadership Builder
2. On Time…Every Time
3. Listen More…Talk Less

I am so lucky.  I live in a school district that allowed me to take a Superintendent position with no experience. I live in a school district that allows me to SCREAM the great things happening here in every social media forum I can find.  I live in a school district that was willing to give me time to grow.  We have an incredibly supportive community, a wonderful school board, and a staff that has never said no to an initiative.  They all deserve the best leader, and one willing to work hard at learning to lead.  I could not be happier to call this place home…Go Crickets!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Principals Are People Too

A group of fantastic principals have connected on writing a series of blog posts to get some perspective on a few topics...I am happy that they pushed me back to writing...thanks folks!

“Are you out of your mind?” I was coaching golf and I told one of the coaches from a rival team that I was moving to Eau Claire, WI to become an elementary principal.  I was leaving a counseling position in a fantastic school district, where I was able to coach basketball and golf, two of the activities I loved most in the world. He asked if I had thought it through and laughed a little bit.  I was really excited to be a principal.  The building I was moving to seemed to be a good fit for me, and I was happy to get my wife back to an area of the state that she really liked.  We packed our stuff, moved across the state, and started a leadership journey that has proven to be life changing. 
My first experience as a principal was incredible, considering I had little to no idea what I was doing.  The transition to the area was great!  The school was wonderful, the families were very supportive, and I was one of 12 elementary principals in the district, so there were a number of people who I could lean on in my first year.  I was able to make some connections, had a great mentor, and felt like we were making a difference in the lives of kids.  We often referred to our school as the “Little Slice of Heaven on the West Side”.  It was really my first adventure in the area of branding our school and telling our story, which has become a clear passion to this day.  Kids would ask me if I had a house, or if I had kids, or if I slept at school.  When I told them that I had kids and a wife my favorite response was… “Wow, that’s weird”.
When we moved to Eau Claire we purposely chose a house on a particular side of town so our kids would go to a different school.  I really wanted them to have their own identity and not be “the Principal’s kid”.  We came to find out that it didn’t really matter.  Everyone knew they were “A Principal’s kid” even if was at a different school.
The social piece of being a principal was harder than I thought.  I found myself wondering what people thought of our kids, our house, or our cars.  I wondered if being a principal meant I had to hang out with other principals.  I wondered how long I had to work to make sure people thought I was doing a good job.  I did a great deal of wondering.  Every year we sat our kids down and told them that they may be looked at differently because of what daddy does for a living.  Was that fair? Probably not.  Was it real?  Absolutely.  Administrators are people too and I think sometimes the daily grind of what this job means can take over a family. 
Fast forward to this year.  After 5 years in Eau Claire and 4 years in Fall Creek, this was my last as an elementary principal.  I have been able to split the Superintendent and Elementary Principal role here for the last 3 years. As I move into the Superintendent job full time, our school board and community have been so supportive.  Fall Creek is truly a special place.  We have a number of staff members who have students in our building.  That has really helped our kids.  With so many families who have connections to the building, our family feels more at home.  The connection and pride to a small school resonated from the first piece of Cricket gear our kids put on to today where our closets are mostly green.  We could laugh when my oldest son tied my daughter to a tree and someone got it on camera.  We cried when our team lost in the sectional semi final.  Our kids envision what they will look like on stages, fields, courts, and hallways.  Maybe it is time that makes me think the lines between being an administrator and community member are not as defined or maybe it is the ages of our kids.  The only thing I know is that the place has definitely played a role.  We all want what is best for kids here…it doesn’t matter if you are on our staff, an administrator, or a community member.  Fall Creek Pride is real…and our family has bought in 100%.
We chose this profession…we chose it because we wanted to see kids succeed and we thought we could make a difference.  We chose to be parents for the same reason.  Sometimes the administrator and community member line can get blurred.  Part of being a good administrator is being a good person…and being a good person means taking pride in what you do and where you are from…and I could not be happier to say that we are from Fall Creek…Go Crickets.