The title of this blog is “Lead Like Mom,” largely due to the fact that most of what I learned about leadership, I learned through motherhood. This title also reminds me to reflect on leadership through a female lens or from a feminist perspective. This year has not changed my attitude about leadership, but holding the job of Head of School while still retaining the job of high school principal has been more like being the mother of triplets. With colic. And diaper rash. And then finding another baby, so really it was quadruplets, but no one told me. Maybe quintuplets.
This is why I haven’t written in about three months, but more than that, I haven’t had much opportunity to reflect, because like a new parent, I have been moving frantically from one crisis to the next, putting out fires, soothing feelings, and trying to move forward while also figuring out which direction “forward” actually is. I suspect not everyone in school has that same sensation, because I try to move cautiously so as not to tip the boat, but all the while I have begun to realize how tippy the canoe really is. How many metaphors have I used so far? Only one can’t possibly suffice.
At the risk of reducing the drama, trauma, and intense learning of the past year into soundbites or easily digested tidbits, I am feeling the need of some level of reflection as the year draws to a close. So here, in no particular order, are some lessons I have learned through being immersed in leading like the mother of a herd.
1) It really does take a village.
I am more grateful than ever for this wonky and wonderful community I live and work in. It’s important to have organizational charts and job descriptions, but I also am thankful for people who just see what needs to be done and then jump in and help. By expanding our Leadership Team we accomplished more than we expected, and by putting people in partnerships working toward school improvement, the load is shared and people have more fun. Collaboration is vital.
2) You’ve got to find the comedy in the midst of the drama.
I had a student talking to me the other day about a personal crisis he was facing. We were deeply into his issues when a lizard scurried across my office floor. Both of us lifted our feet up and started laughing. Soon we were crawling around on the floor, trying to catch the lizard. It evaded us, and we delved back into the issues this young man was facing, until I realized the lizard was climbing up his leg. By this time, the challenge had more or less melted away, and we both gave up on being serious and howled together. Mark Twain once wrote, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” I’m not sure it’s the only weapon, but it sure works for me!
3) Keep the main thing the main thing.
When we are bound together by a unifying mission, we have harmony in the midst of differences. When we have to make hard choices about how to use space, how to spend money, what curriculum to teach, what activities we will offer, going back to the mission as a filter to sort what is good from what is best is the only way to make wise decisions.
4) You can accomplish so much if you don’t need the credit.
I have found great joy in empowering others to supervise, manage, and lead. Sometimes the idea I hear coming out of someone else’s mouth sounds remarkably similar to conversations I may have had with that person in the past, but the important thing is that the mission goes forward.
5) Schools are emotional places.
I have this sentence posted on the bulletin board above my desk, and its simple truth reminds me that this is just the way it is. Student will melt down, teachers will get frustrated, parents will be angry. It’s not about me — that’s just the nature of the beast we call school. Quiet reason sometimes helps, but more often than not, the emotions just need time to settle down.
6) It really helps to have encouragers and mentors.
I was able to seek advice from a long-distance mentor who pointed me to valuable reading and guiding principles. Even when I became so swamped that I did not communicate with him regularly, just knowing he was available was a support. I also gained a new appreciation for colleagues who are friends. I may be their supervisor in the way the arrows in our flow chart are drawn, but they encouraged me, laughed with me, cried with me, and told me I was doing a good job, even when that was highly doubtful.
7) Education has many faces.
I recently had a teacher tell me we aren’t emphasizing education enough, because students were missing classes to organize a student-led carnival raising money for street children in the Philippines. Not only was this a worthy cause, but the education these students received through their collaboration, problem solving, research, accounting, artistry, performing, and communication was beyond anything our organized classes could have offered. Not all education happens in the classroom.
8) Sometimes, it’s a “calendar thing.”
The school year has a rhythm and a flow. Now that I have been principal for nine years, I can anticipate when I am about to be buried in details, when students will grow fragile, when teachers will complain, when parents want to know. I had a whole new rhythm to get used to this year, and sometimes the two different jobs provided me with two different beats. I could either tear my hair out, or just try to dance. I choose dancing.
9) Communicate, communicate, communicate.
I thought this was a strength of mine, but I did not make it enough of a priority this year. It is almost impossible to communicate too much. When people feel like they know what is going on, they approach it with more confidence and comfort. Confident and comfortable people have a lot more joy.
10) Graduation does happen eventually!
June 2, 2017, fifty-three students will walk across that stage, give me a handshake or a hug, and they will be off into their bright and shining future. This day was almost impossible to imagine only a few long weeks ago, but it is now upon me. T. S. Eliot wrote, in his “Four Quartets,”
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
The seniors might understand that in many ways, they are back to where they started, and so am I, ready to begin exploring all over again.