The best way I can describe my experience this year at Wilson Middle School in Natick, MA comes down to two words; overwhelmingly good. In a world that can seem overwhelmingly bad in a split second, it’s easy to feel heartbroken, helpless, and certainly scared. Yet every day I am surrounded by people who work tirelessly to support each other and love our kids. And every day, I’m reminded that right in front of me, staring me in the face, is more good than I could have possibly imagined.
I’ve discovered that middle school rocks. I’ve learned that immersing myself in a culture that lives and breathes “relationships matter” has changed me. This culture has given me more hope, and often leads me to think about an idea my friend, Jay Billy, believes wholeheartedly. If we all strive to make our school the best school, this can change the world.
As I’ve jumped back into teaching (many many students!) I’ve been inspired to share on social media the awesome that middle schoolers have created right in front of my eyes. There have been challenging moments for sure, but I’ve chosen to learn from them as well as ride the incredible moments that we can so easily miss if we don’t keep our eye on the ball. I’m thrilled to say that students (and their teachers!) have blown me away.
Yet this post is about the administrators, those who work relentlessly to make every pocket of our buildings spaces where kids and adults feel empowered. Although a huge part of my journey has been finding people to join my crazy, this post is not about building a crew, but rather recognizing the power in those that build us. I’ve been a part of thriving cultures and I’ve had wonderful administrators steering our ship, but this year has been exceptional. Countless factors play a role, but I continuously come back to one every single day, courageous leaders.
In my fifteen years as an educator, I’ve experienced a variety of responses when asking my principals to shake things up. The one that will always stick with me went something like this. “Not everyone might like it. I prefer to stay in the middle.” I understood the concern, but my own concern is that we don’t have time for the middle. The talents of those aching to make a greater impact get wasted when our leaders choose the middle. We need building and district administrators who are so okay with who they are, they welcome the strengths of others, build their staff members up, and choose “courage over comfort” any day of the week. (If you haven’t seen Brené Brown yet on Netflix, you’re missing out!) This kind of recipe calls for people to jump on their ship and work tirelessly to reach a shared vision.
When we know we’re valued, it’s incredibly motivating to show up every day and do what we do. When we see our leaders valuing themselves, however, unafraid to be seen, there is a golden opportunity for vulnerability to spread and make running into school the norm. Suddenly, we’re in the arena together and just like that, the potential to make a difference in the lives of others seems to have no limit. Quite honestly, it’s hard to keep up.
This feeling hit me hard just last week at our final staff meeting. We did something every school should do, celebrate what went well. We not only celebrated but we talked, listened, and in groups wrote furiously to capture it all. We discovered moments of victory. We honored each other’s success stories and also learned what each of us values when it comes to success. Whether it was students leading their own IEP meetings, gaining confidence, participating in the countless after school activities that exist at our school (there is something for everyone!), joining their teachers and principals to launch school wide initiatives, or simply smiling when walking in, we shared.
When we have the gift of working with children in a culture where leading from the heart, supporting each other, and doing what’s best for kids are at the core of our existence, anything is possible. From students to colleagues, I’ve built crews whose sole purpose is to make the above mission come to life. I’ve written about leading beyond the titles we have as the path to empowerment. This year, however, I discovered first hand that when our building and district leaders courageously believe anyone can lead from any role, the crew can build you.
So to all of those administrators out there who are throwing themselves in the arena and getting their butts kicked every now and then, thank you. Even on your worst days, it matters. I want to to give a shout out to my own principal and assistant principals who make a difference for me daily.
Thank you for…
being a team.
meeting with me, listening to me, and seeing who I am beyond technology.
answering every question I have even when it’s probably in an iPass tutorial.
having my back when I don’t know what to do.
understanding my deep appreciation for ABBA, high fives, and anything competitive .
helping me through understanding middle schoolers as I’m new to this exciting world.
asking me to lead, as well as take risks in sharing my passion with students and colleagues.
appreciating what I have to offer as well as challenging me to unleash more potential.
being vulnerable enough to share what’s hard.
being courageous enough to throw yourself in the classroom and even join me in launching new classes…what a journey!
And to my principal specifically, thank you for taking a huge risk by being right in the arena with me, sharing the impact of leading beyond titles with educators in New England and beyond.
There are good schools everywhere, but in my experience and from knowing some of the greatest principals on the planet (and having been to their buildings!), it’s hard to get close to greatness without courageous leaders. Jay, I’m proud to say that I think my school is the best school. In fact, I think my district is the best district. When I joined Natick Public Schools, I became part of a strong sailing crew that has most certainly changed me. It’s where I want to be every day. It’s where I want my own kids to be. I join you, my friend, in challenging every school to be the best and one at a time, and eventually together, make the impact this world needs.