This past week we ventured out on our first #EduBros trip together and headed down to Orlando, Florida. We rented a 400-square-foot tiny house, spent two days at the “Happiest Place on Earth” (Disney World!) and attended the National Association of Elementary School Principals conference for the first time. It was truly the perfect blend of fun and learning and although we left feeling refreshed and energized, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the new ideas gained from what we learned.
One of the unique aspects of our current dynamic is that we bring two different perspectives, since I (Steven) am a current administrator and I (David) am an aspiring administrator, currently working as a music teacher with additional leadership responsibilities. In reflecting on our recent trip and what we are taking back to our respective schools and positions, we thought we would each summarize our key learnings as they relate to our two different roles.
Reflections from an Administrator (Steven)
In education, new initiatives are thrown at us constantly. As someone who loves to learn and has an insatiable desire to make things better, I (Steven) know that I can run a high risk of causing initiative-overload by wanting to try too many things at once. A theme that I heard throughout the conference was to focus on the majors.
Keynote speaker Sean Covey encouraged us to focus on the wildly important. He spoke of setting WIGs (Wildly Important Goals) and then filtering everything that we do (including those 50-plus page school improvement plans we all have) through the lense of the wildly important. Daniel Pink spoke about the power of “when.” While most of the research he shared focused on the natural peaks and valleys of a 24-hour day, I applied his thinking more broadly, to the “when” of the school year. We must keep a pulse on the climate of the staff and students to know when is the best time to launch (or not launch, for that matter) something new. Pink explained, “Scheduling isn’t about convenience. It’s about performance.”
In a session about creating a culture of literacy in our schools, Brad Gustafson and Todd Nesloney shared brilliant ideas and strategies, but perhaps their wisest advice was to look for ways to take things already happening in our schools and reframe them from the perspective of encouraging reading and writing. In essence, this removes the creation of a new initiative and simply gives fresh purpose to things that are already in place. How easily could and should this concept be applied to whatever emphasis we find ourselves needing to focus? I am returning to school this week overflowing with renewed passion and new ideas, but also with a mindful attention to keeping my focus streamlined on the wildly important needs of the students and staff I serve.
Reflections from a Teacher-Leader (David)
Throughout our trip, I (David) was reminded again and again that no matter how long you've been in education, for a short amount of time or for years upon years, you always have room to grow. The NAESP conference was an amazing opportunity to hear success stories from people around the country who have been doing their best to meet the needs of the students they serve. Students need and deserve champion educators each and every day to show them that they have potential to do great things in their lives. Regardless of our formal role or position in our schools, we have that opportunity! The “Relentless, Skateboarding Principal” Hamish Brewer spoke about never negotiating on his children. He kept saying that he was "all in" for his kids and his school, and that really hit home for me. No matter if I'm working with students, fellow faculty, or parents, I need to always focus on being “all in” for my kids!
Something else that was extremely powerful for me was the power of social media. This was the first time that I've ever had somebody say to me, “You are David Lamkin. I follow you on Twitter!” Not only was this a great reminder to talk with students about their social media presence, but it was a reinforcement of the fact that no matter where we are, we can work collaboratively to reflect and grow together as educators making a difference in the lives of our students. I'm excited to grow my social media use and continue to better myself, so that I can take that back to my school. The conference was an uplifting, motivating time where I gained many ideas that I can implement as a teacher, teacher leader, union president, and future principal. I'm excited to start to roll out some of the things that I learned immediately in my classroom and I'm excited to continue to network and grow with the amazing educators I met at the conference.
Finally, we were both reminded that everything we do in schools truly comes back to culture and the types of experiences we create for students and staff in our schools. The effort to lead change in the pursuit of excellence is only as effective as the culture that supports it. There are few places in the world where the power of culture are as evident as in Disney World. The magic of Disney doesn’t happen by chance. It is a direct result of a close attention to detail: staff members who go out of their way to smile and make eye contact; characters walking the streets; cheerful music playing from the bushes; even quotes from Walt Disney are posted on areas that are undergoing renovation. Many books have been written about the leadership philosophy of the Disney company, and it all began with the vision of Walt Disney himself. As we take the experiences, memories, connections, and friendships of this summer trip with us into the new school year, we are energized to push forward. As Walt Disney said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” So let's do it!