Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader

It’s Up to Us

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I work with an amazing group of principals who inspire and motivate me every day, and yesterday one of them shared something with me that made a powerful impact.  She is beginning her first full year in her position as principal (she started mid-year last year).  Since she started at her school last October, this new principal has been working diligently to build relationships and gather data.  She has combed through test scores, sat in on grade-level meetings and made a huge number of classroom, hallway and playground observations.  She has engaged in discussions with students, staff, parents and community members, and she has earned their trust and their respect.  She has been a colleague, a leader, and a decision-maker, but most importantly she has been a learner, an observer, and a listener… and each day she has grown a little bit stronger in her convictions about the kind of school she wants to lead.  This year she decided to set the tone of her first staff meeting using this quote as the theme for their work together…

It’s Up To Me…

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.” – Haim Ginott

What I know from speaking to her afterwards is that she got choked up and had a few tears in her eyes as she read the words.  She knew the message she was planning to send might be harsh, but she knew it was the right one to send.  I also know she moved others to tears, and she inspired others to thank her, to give her hugs, and to speak encouraging words.  She had several staff members request a copy of the quote, and she sent it onto them with a message to “never underestimate the power you have as a teacher”.  What she did that first day took conviction and it took courage.

Upon reflection, she also shared with me that while the journey of becoming a principal has not been an easy one, she feels strongly that she has been chosen to lead her school for a reason.  She has a vision, a sense of purpose, and a belief that she will make a difference.  She has developed what Michael Fullan has referred to as a “moral imperative”, and I am certain that through her leadership, her school will thrive.

My conversation with her made me think!

As site and district leaders…

  • It’s up to us to develop the collective sense of moral purpose.
  • It’s up to us have courageous conversations.
  • It’s up to us shape the school culture.
  • It’s up to us to hold up the mirror, even if some of us won’t like what we see.
  • It’s up to us to define what we stand for and act accordingly.
  • It’s up to us to inspire and to motivate.
  • It’s up to us to push people to places they never thought they could go.
  • It’s up to us to challenge the status quo and do what is right, even when it is not popular.
  • It’s up to us to create schools where we would be proud to send our own children.

It’s Up to Us

I have come to the frightening conclusion that as leaders we are the decisive elements in our schools and in our districts.  It is our daily mood that creates the climate.  As leaders, we possess a tremendous power to make a school exceptional or to make a school a failure.  We can use tools to create indifference or use instruments of motivation.  We can berate and blame or we can inspire and innovate.  In all situations, it is our responses that decide whether or not our schools will exceed expectations or fall below them.  It is the choices we make each day that ensure our students succeed BECAUSE of our schools, not in spite of them.

 

One thought on “It’s Up to Us

  1. Amen and Hallelujah! Absolutely right, if I do say so myself. As school organizations become more complex and difficult, and the world around becomes more threatening, the importance of the lead educator- the superintendent- can not be underestimated. He/she sets the tone by which all else is measured. The smile, the encouraging remark, the inclusive invitation, the distributed leadership- all have rippling effects, resound from water cooler to lounge tables, and determine the spirit and response of the larger organization. Everyone looks up to enjoy the warmth of the sunlight; they look down and scurry for shelter when it rains. Which would you rather see in your school district?