My Dear Colleagues,
Welcome and congratulations to all on the opening of the 2019-2020 school year! Something I want to share with you all during this busy, chaotic time of year is the idea of L.O.V.E. It is love that drives everything we do. We love our students. We love our teachers. We love learning. We love being leaders. We love our families. We love life. Also, since we all love acronyms in education, I thought I would share some values that I believe create L.O.V.E. in our schools.
Optimism: One of my favorite sayings is, “Choose to be optimistic--it feels better!” Often, we are overwhelmed by the pressure to perform and measure up to what seems like continually increasing expectations for schools. In this high pressure environment, our job is to foster hope in those who have lost theirs. There is great power in building optimism within yourself and others. To help build this with your teachers, model it. The “Pollyanna Principle” might seem silly, but If you fall down the stairs, at least you got down them pretty fast! A positive attitude doesn’t solve problems, but certainly a negative attitude never helps. As the leader in your building, you are the chief optimist, the #1 believer in your teachers and your students’ biggest cheerleader.
Vision: There is quite a bit of discourse in leadership models about defining a “clear vision.” I never really understood why that was so difficult. The vision and mission of schools is clear: to create a place where learning occurs. After fifteen years in administration, I now understand that it’s more about creating a “unified vision” so that we can achieve greatness. This requires the cultivation of a growth mindset for all. I see a principal’s role as a unifier in creating the vision, values, mission, and goals in each individual school. When we tap into the collective will of the group, we are able to garner buy-in and propel our teachers into the work of which they’ve always wanted to be a part. If we assert our own vision without input, we are not empowering our teachers to lead out. Instead, we have to ask them to consider foundational questions. What are our values? What do we believe in? What do we want for our students? What are we all about at this school? We have to collaboratively revisit that vision often. The teachers are the ones who will implement any vision that is set forth for the school; they must feel invested.
Empathy: This is the most important part of the L.O.V.E. concept. Our greatest challenge as leaders is to have empathy for those who seem to oppose us. In my first year as an administrator, after a faculty meeting when some teachers had ripped apart an initiative the principal was trying to roll out, I was spitting mad and told him those teachers were insubordinate, etc. My wise principal looked at me and said, “If you can get past the negativity and really listen, there are concerns there to which we need to be empathetic; their concerns are things we need to think about to make sure we are making the right decision”. I have carried those words with me ever since. Just as we expect teachers to get to the root cause and have empathy for students who have shut down or are disrespectful, we need to do the same for the teachers who are struggling in our buildings. Empathy is recognizing that there are not only two sides, rather, there are many sides to any one issue. Empathy is trying to understand everyone’s point of view and valuing other people’s reality.
As we go forward this year, let’s not forget to L.O.V.E. with Leadership, Optimism, Vision, and Empathy. Have a great year everyone!
DIxie Rae Garrison
Principal West HIlls MIddle School