This past week since the school year officially ended has been like one long exhale, as things come to a close and settle. Reflection is such an essential part of learning and yet something that I think many of us in education find it difficult to make the time for in meaningful ways. At our last day of school chapel assembly last week, our director of spiritual life shared the myriad of things she had learned throughout the year. It was a beautiful example of reflection and has caused me to pause and consider my own learning over the past year.
This year our staff completed two book studies together for the first time; I attended several conferences; Todd Nesloney came and presented a full day of learning for our faculty and staff; and I devoured several professional books on my own. Each of these “formal” learning experiences contributed greatly to my growth over the past year. And yet, as I reflect, some of the most powerful and transformational learning simply came from day-to-day life as a principal.
In January, a pipe burst in our school and flooded the administrative areas of our building, including my office. Looking back, it had a major impact on my school year and I learned so much from the experience. Yes, the end result is a beautifully renovated office space that is much more conducive to my leadership style and goals; but the biggest impact is what I learned during those three months of “inconvenience.”
Attitude is Everything
The first day back to school after the flood required a lot of juggling and moving of different classes to different classrooms, while carpet was being dried out in the otherwise undamaged spaces. I decided to unofficially name this day as “Adventure Day!” in all of my communication with staff. The amazing result was that every single person went with the flow and embraced the adventure. I did not hear one single complaint about the situation throughout the day, and everything went off without a hitch. My point? In every circumstance we have the choice to focus on the positives or the negatives. As leaders, our responsibility to respond with joy and enthusiasm is magnified. As Todd Whitaker says, “When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold.”
Lead From the Front
Damage to the office areas was significant enough that it required our administrative assistant and me to relocate for a few months. The first suggestion was for me to temporarily move my office to a conference room in another building on campus, a good distance away from our elementary classrooms. While that solution would have been ideal for my personal productivity, I knew it wasn’t the best overall solution for our school. So, we packed up and moved into the library. It was a centralized location within the school and frankly, I couldn’t imagine a better place than to be surrounded by books! Over the next three months, privacy was lacking and focused productivity pretty much only came early in the morning or late in the afternoon and evening. Yes, there were days where it was frustrating for me and I’m sure for our librarian too! And yet, I learned so much.
My appreciation for the work that our administrative assistant and librarian both do deepened incredibly, since we worked in such close proximity; they are simply amazing! I got to know some students better and particularly their reading interests. I saw students helping one another and stepping up as leaders in that environment that I hadn’t noticed before. And, I was reminded that every kid has a story. One particular day, a kindergarten student pleaded with me to read her the library book she had just checked out because she said no one would read with her at home. Suddenly, the importance of catching up on my email faded away, and I was reminded of my “why” - the kids I serve. That experience has been on my mind every single day since - a moment I would have completely missed out on, had I been holed up in a conference room across campus.
Lessons from the Restroom
During the months of renovation our staff restroom was also out of order, so we had to use the student restrooms in the hallway. I’ll be honest that this was the only part of the whole mess that I really wanted to complain about. And yet, even here, there was a lesson to be learned. One day, through the stall wall, a little voice said, “Dr. Lamkin, is that you?” I tried not to laugh and just replied, “It sure is, buddy.” There were a few seconds of silence, and then the student exclaimed, “So, can I tell you about the book I’m reading?!”
This was another small moment that I will carry with me forever, because it reminded me that kids ARE listening and our passions DO matter! I am incredibly intentional in trying to be a “reader leader.” Like many great principals, I regularly book talk, read in classrooms, and promote books in any way that I can. This interaction reminded me that the kids do see and hear that. That short conversation in the restroom led me to talk with that student about his reading progress almost every day since. So while I can’t say that I advocate for using student restrooms regularly, I’m grateful that the inconvenient situation provided me such a memorable connection with a student, and encouraged me to keep sharing my reading passion with kids!
The end result of our renovation has been wonderful. We were able to reconfigure some spaces that are now far more conducive to working with kids. My newly renovated office is beautiful, and while I aim to be a “principal in action” who is out-and-about across campus, important work happens within these walls as well. I am grateful for a space that is welcoming and more collaborative than what I had previously. And on a shelf in my new office is the copper pipe that burst and caused the flooding. It is a daily reminder of the valuable lessons I learned this year...lessons that came from the blessing of inconvenience.