OK, truth be told, Rhona and I are visiting a school and I actually finished the first day of a 3 day interview visit. Not only
that, it’s early morning hours after a fitful sleep tossing and turning between the first day “autopsy” and the second day “preparation”.
Flights almost anywhere from Ghana result in overnight flights and early morning arrivals so the coupling of economy class overnight seating and a 3:00 pm full faculty interview after arrival must be considered a challenge to relish. Frankly, it was downright civil compared to what my administrative counterparts in a school in Japan posed to me several years ago. On that occasion I flew overnight from Jakarta to Tokyo on a Friday evening, navigated the challenging path from Narita airport to the suburbs of Tokyo on a cold December Saturday morning, placed in a meeting room that felt like a cold storage facility, and was subjected almost immediately to a 2 hour administrative team interview. But I digress….
Yesterday was most definitely a civil beginning! Four seats to myself for on an under subscribed flight was a lucky break – it would have been more fun to be bumped up to business class but I’ll take those extra seats and the horizontal position any day! Arrival at the hotel – check, leisurely breakfast -check, shower & shave – important/check, and pick out the optimal shirt/tie combo that would be sure to impress the 3:00 crowd! All set….
Arrival at school, a double expresso, a campus tour, dialogue with the Head of School, review of the 3 day gauntlet, and several bottles of water later and it’s time. The stage is set for that first hurdle – a full faculty interview!
Anyone who has worked across a K-12 school knows that a high school faculty meeting crowd is different then an elementary faculty meeting crowd. It’s simply the way it is! In fact, HS faculty get a bad rap on this front. I’ll give this faculty credit, they played along nicely with my activity to open up my interview. I asked them to identify the traits and qualities they were looking for in their next Principal and then enter them into an online application @ polleverywhere.com . Their entries created a cool word cloud of their responses and we were able to examine this together. My plan was to examine their responses and then present my even cooler powerpoint which would dramatically connect my self-identified traits/qualities with what they had identified and, voila…..the perfect match would reveal itself….and we all would live happily ever after. Being a risk taker is hugely important, and I was taking a bit of a risk. As a risk taker, you have to be prepared to “fail well” or “fail up” so that you can do even better the next time. Though, in my one off situation there is no “up” to fail towards with this audience. It’s a one off situation! While the cool word cloud and my even cooler presentation were not exact matches, it didn’t really matter. Several ideas and some overlap surfaced, a strategy for using a piece of technology was modeled for teachers, and my risk taking behavior was put on display. (By the way, I had never used this online program before which some might say is a stupid thing to do in front of a faculty who you are trying to convince of your rational, thoughtful, non-impulsive and well prepared educator style). Having said that, schools are generally “risk averse” BUT we want to help kids learn to be risk-takers…Hmm….does anyone sense irony? But I digress…
Here’s the point. I can’t really give an autopsy about the interview because I can’t remember what happened. The hour long interview flew by. Questions, of which there were many, were flung from all corners of the vast room. I ducked, I darted, I bobbed, I weaved, I handled some questions flawlessly and my love of sentence fragments probably got the best of me for others….and then, it was 4:00 pm. I was, like……is this it? Are we really over? I’m just getting warmed up, I’ve got more to say….I didn’t tell you about the time I…… Come on you guys, give me some more….give me your best shot, I’m ready for it….
When you are standing in front of 50 folks and you are so focused on answering questions and moving from one topic to another, it really is hard to recall exactly what you said throughout the time so actually dissecting it is tricky. What I do know is I felt genuine, honest, and I do believe I communicated that I know a reasonable amount of stuff about what is good to do in schools for student and adult learning!
But now…..in the 4:00 am autopsy, here are 5 things I wish I had said to the faculty yesterday AND I wish I said them with the gusto that they deserve:
- Don’t “vote” for me if you aren’t fully committed to building a high school culture in which every kid feels cared about, mentored, and connected to an adult. This means all teachers must be fully engaged in creating this culture. This is so fundamental that if you don’t want to own this culture, then we probably aren’t suited to work together.
- Don’t “vote” for me if you don’t want to spend time examining and reflecting on your instructional practices and curriculum while aiming to be a better teacher. If you think you are already a master teacher and there is no more for you to learn about your craft, then you are kidding yourself and we probably aren’t suited to work together.
- Don’t “vote” for me if you think the current general structures of high schools including the reliance on Carnegie units (credits), the over emphasis on SATs, the over emphasis on traditional grading practices, and the traditional silos of high school departments are best for student learning and preparation for the challenges kids will face in their futures. Taking a close look at innovative practices going on in schools around the world would be an exciting endeavor. If you are locked into the industrial model of schooling and you don’t want to examine and consider possibilities, then we will have challenges working together.
- Don’t “vote” for me if you don’t think all kids should have a high bar set for them and that all kids are capable of reaching a high bar. If you don’t believe that kids are capable of aiming high, we will definitely have trouble working together and you need to really think about your work.
- Don’t “vote” for me if you don’t think parents and students should have a voice. Defining parameters and systems for that feedback and that communication is essential. Parents rely upon our work with their kids. We have a responsibility to them. Feedback from students about their learning is critical, their voice is important. It’s about building community, and communities involve all constituents! If you don’t believe this, then let’s talk!!
I could probably dig further for some other messages and round out a top 10 list BUT I have to prepare for Day 2….the birds are chirping outside our hotel room and morning is here. It promises to be a long day of interviews and meetings. I wonder what the journey will be like as the day rolls on?