Like looking back and seeing your footprints in the sand is sometimes the only way to see where you’ve been, looking back is sometimes the only way you realise you were broken.
There is a danger of course, to look back, see the brokenness and judge it as being bad. But that would be wrong. In this case, I look back and see good times. Times where I was challenged. Times where I was strengthened through the difficulties I was facing. Strengthened through the constraints of a situation that forced me to assess the what-nexts and the then-whats and the but-thens.
With a new perspective, and the ability to turn around and metaphorically “look back”, I can now see that it was a time of brokenness, where I questioned if my judgements, the judgements that I had confidently made in the past, would indeed pass close scrutiny. But again, not a bad time.
I wonder, without this time of brokenness, would I feel so “whole” at this moment? Is this present feeling of completeness only possible because when I look back I can see so clearly the times where parts were missing? Is it the contrast of the then, to the now, that amplifies this feeling. Or maybe even produces it!
It brings me back yet again to the principle of balance that is so important for me. Yet another case of knowing the light is bright because we have fumbled in the darkness.
So I will enjoy the light. Now, being in the light, I can recognise the darkness of my recent past. It is neither good, nor bad. Without one I cannot have the other.
Over the Thanksgiving break my family and I visited Jeju Island, South Korea and explored its coastline, its many museums and its other unexpected treats. And of the unexpected variety, there were many!
The tomato wine from the World Liquor Museum, while unexpected, couldn’t really be considered a treat (imagine watered down tomato paste), but finding ourselves in 30cm of snow atop Hallasan on our way across the island to the airport definately was! It was completely unexpected, and my absolute highlight (being the deepest snow I have EVER encountered!) of the long weekend. It changed my perception of Jeju completely!
Admittedly, I really didn’t do much research before we travelled. I had heard a lot about the island from others and thought I had a fairly good impression of what to expect. It was a smallish island, had a couple of international schools, apparently not much to do there, but would be warmer than Seoul so a good place to spend a couple of days. I was largely ignorant.
And it occurred to me my trip to Jeju was similar to how we treat our students.
We think we know who they are based on the conversations we have with other teachers, the lunchroom table chatter and the letters in their gradebook. We don’t take the time to learn about who our students are – what they love to do, what they dislike, what makes them smile, where they have lived, what their parents do, if they have a pet, how long they have lived in this country, what other countries they have lived in, how long they spend on a bus each day just to get to school, etc, etc, etc!
I discovered the snow on Jeju half an hour before I left. Spend some time today finding out about who your students really are – maybe there are some undiscovered highlights that will change your perception of who your students really are!
I love the use of analogy. It causes the reader/listener to think and put the two pieces together, comparing and contrasting at the same time. So, at the risk of asking you to put a couple of things together, here we go.
A good principal is like (or should be like) the co-driver in a rally car.
Rally Driving is my favourite motor sport to watch. Not that I’m a big motor sports fan at all, but if I’m flicking through the TV and land on some rally driving, I’ll stop for a bit and watch. It’s fast, its dangerous, it’s exciting and there are two people in the car. The on-board-camera is the most interesting for me. You get to see the driver and the co-driver interacting. The driver has feet and hands going everywhere – brake pedals, accelerator, hand brake, gears, clutch, steering wheel. He’s flicking that car around like a rag doll, sliding in and out or corners, taking off over crests, hitting blind corners at amazing speeds. And the co-driver? He’s reading. Out loud!
If you have never watched a rally, then at this point you might be a little intrigued. Is he sitting there reciting Dan Brown, trying to untangle the DaVinci Code? Is it a map? Is he making sure they stay on the right track? Take a few minutes to watch this video.
He is reading race-notes. Race notes that he and the driver have written themselves a couple of days earlier. These notes are extremely precise. Distances. Turns. Speeds of turns. Road conditions. Inclines. Declines. Etc. These race-notes describe to the driver exactly what he will be facing next as he races along the track. The driver’s job is to listen to the co-driver and adjust accordingly. If “100 L2” is the call, the driver has to slow down to 2nd gear for the left turn coming in 100 metres. Very precise, timely, informative information.
And now the Principal…
Schools are full of very smart people. Students, teachers, administrators. As the Principal, it is your job to presume this, to expect this, to create this. Of course there are some who are not. Presume anyway. And to this end, be precise with your race-notes.
Your race-notes are how you talk to people. Be precise with the language you use. Give your teachers, students, colleagues the information they need to be the best they can be. The precision of the language you use is extremely important, as it can influence the way things get done, now and in the future. Your choice of words can have a direct impact on how a teacher continues to grow and develop their teaching practices, and your choice of where you give those words can have just as much impact.
Consider this scenario…
The Principal is sitting in her office talking to the HS Social Studies teacher about a lesson she observed. The summative assessment was not good! She hands him an article to read saying, “Here’s some information on summative assessments I think would be helpful for you to read.” The teacher, listening, hears her say, “I think your summative assessments are poor and I need you to read this.”
Now, with a rally driving co-driver twist.
The Principal has entered the HS Social Studies teacher’s classroom and has asked where they should sit. They sit. The Principal passes over the article on summative assessment and says, “I saw the effort you had put into your summative assessment and it reminded me of one of the articles I have on summative assessment best practice. I thought you might like to add it to your assessment resources. It’s great to get new ideas to add to your own practice.” The teacher, listening, hears her say, “I saw your effort. I read a lot of articles. I presume you do to. Here’s how this one will be helpful.”
With this twist, the teacher is in the drivers seat (his classroom), the principal has shared that she does a lot of reading, the principal has shared she expects him to be building similar resources, and the principal has told the teacher how she expects him to use the information from the reading.
So, the analogy…
The principal should be the co-driver when working with teachers, just as teachers should be co-drivers when working with students. Both the principal and the teacher should be strapped in for the ride, committed to reaching the end and working together to get there. The principal should be very precise with his/her race-notes, which should give the teacher everything they need, and more, to make their own decisions about how to turn the corner. And if they crash, the co-driver should be there to help the driver get out of the car.
Perhaps, being a principal should be like being a rally co-driver.
About the Author
Bruce Knox is an international education leader, committed to making the future brighter than the past for the students and teachers he serves. A compulsive learner and thinker, his mission is to turn thinking into doing!