Ever Wish You Could Have a Do Over?

Sometimes I wish I could have a “do over”.  Remember those when we were kids?  I had one of those moments earlier this month when I hosted our educational leadership and principal teams in our first collaborative learning sessions of the school year.  While I am convinced that the content we were learning about is a critical part of our work if we want to move student learning forward, I made a rookie mistake.  I did not do nearly as good of a job as I usually do at connecting something new to what we incessantly define as our most important work around teaching and learning.  I’m still beating myself up about it a little bit because typically it is something I am very good at as a leader, and I am relentless as a coach of other school and district leaders about clarity of vision, focus, and message.   With a little distance though, I have had an opportunity to reflect and remind myself of some critical leadership lessons:

1.  Vision, focus and clarity are critical to success.  Your actions and words need to stay in constant alignment or you will throw people off course.  Marcus Buckingham author of The One Thing you Need to Know says this:

Employees crave simplicity and clarity; they want to know precisely what they can do to be most effective—and then not be distracted from that. Their highest priorities—the “core”—must be clarified incessantly. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety … if you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.

2.  Be explicit about how any new ideas, concepts or learning connect to your vision, focus, and message. When introducing something new into the work, give people time to process and make connections.  Don’t assume everyone else will see the same connections you did right away.

3.  Value and use the organizational language, frameworks and structures to introduce new concepts.  Spend time learning the concept using language that is already part of your system long before sharing any new labels or buzz words, and frame it in a structure with which your team is familiar.

4.  Relationships matter.   While I prefer to think of myself as a valued colleague and member of the team when I work with principals and central services administrators in my department, at the end of the day, I am also the boss.  People typically want to meet the expectations set by their boss, and in many cases won’t give their boss honest feedback.   If you have established relationships, good rapport, and a culture of learning rather than perfection, your team will be honest with you.  I so appreciated my colleagues who called a “time out”and challenged me to a better job of communicating how this new piece of work connected to our focus.

5.  Admit you made a mistake and work diligently to clear up the confusion.  Based on feedback during the meeting, I was able to make adjustments, and in the two weeks since, I have had several one on one conversations with principals and members of my team making sure we understand things the same way.  I have made revisions to the document we will refer to all year to make sure we stay focused on our most important work.   I have written a reflection that I have shared with my team presenting what I hope will be an enhanced part of our work this year using organizational language we are familiar with and putting the new concepts into a framework with which we are all familiar.  I have checked in with all of our principals about their initial staff meetings and the work they are doing to set focus and direction with their school teams and I am listening to hear if our meeting a couple of weeks ago threw them any curve balls, and I am clearing up my message if necessary.

So… while my best hope would be that I could have a do over and set a few things up differently from the beginning, I have appreciated the opportunity to reflect.  I have also appreciated the great team I have around me and their willingness to put up a mirror, hold me accountable, and not allow me to throw them off course.

4 thoughts on “Ever Wish You Could Have a Do Over?

  1. Shelley, thank you so much for your insightfulness and for “modeling the way”. Your post demonstrates the importance of continuously reflecting to improve, learn and grow as a leader. I firmly believe that this is one of the most important qualities to have in any profession. I know I can speak on behalf of all the principals in SBUSD when I say that you are highly respected and you are role model for all of us.

  2. Shelley,
    I’ll put an athletic contest spin on my reply. Sometimes the most prepared athlete no matter the sport trains incredibly, eats perfectly, and then on game day/race day and the like for some reason they do not perform to the best of their ability. Factors could be weather, something on one’s mind that may have taken away from that effort, and countless other factors. However, what really matters is the reflection on what could have happened, what one will do the next time, and to improve upon a subpar effort.
    Over my 24 year career I’ve taught lessons that were spot on, but then those that were first time lessons that just ended up being a “dog” so to speak. However, reflecting on what could have gone better you figure it out and you get the results you need to get.
    You being a true professional have done exactly what you needed to do; reflect. It’s difficult when that occurs but getting it cleared up in your mind is so worth it. Thanks for sharing this blog. Being a Health and Physical Educator I’m constantly reflecting on each lesson and trying to improve each time. The luxury of having five of the same grade level(K, 1, 2) classes allows me to constantly reflect, and revise. Your post reminds me of a video that is about “Stranger Danger”. An alien named Corny has a special zapper that allows him to get out of trouble. In the presentation a line that I can recall Corny saying is “another do over day”. Until Corny learns all the rules about stranger danger and practices them correctly he continues to have a “do over day”. Too bad we don’t have “Zappers”. Corny finally learns the rules, practices them perfectly, and the “do over day” ends.
    Thanks for all you bring to not only educators that you serve but to those like myself (educator from Connecticut) who continues to strive for excellence to be the best I can for my students and families. Don

  3. I love do overs! There was a point in my career where I was having to “do over” several times a month! But like Donald Levine just commented, there are many reasons why we might not perform at our highest level. Reflection is helpful to correct and adjust as needed. I’m proud of you, our Assistant Superintendent, for putting that out there on your blog. It says a lot about you as person.
    I find it interesting that you felt you weren’t clear in your presentation. I have always found your explanations and rationale for new ideas very clear and thorough. I would consider you a “go to person” if I needed a complex situation or concept explained in digestable terms. Schmoker also talks about clarity and precision in his “Focus” book. When I read it I found myself thinking about my teaching and how I struggled so much with making a concept more clear for students and matching the task to the standard . Once I heard or saw my students say “Oooh, I get it”. I was relieved but worried that I didn’t explain accurately the first time.
    I empathize with fellow teachers as we learn the CCSS. I enjoy discussing and problem solving with peers about what happens when our lesson is not focused or the pieces are not all in the right place and the kids don’t learn well. I continue to learn and grow through practice and I remain reflective…Is my teaching clear, focused and relevant? If not, I guess there are always do overs. : (

    Enjoy your weekend!

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