Anyone who knows me well knows that I spend an out of the ordinary amount of time reflecting on my work. In fact, I reflect so much that I often choose thinking about work over choosing to sleep. Not a good thing I know. However, it isn’t so much the work I think about but rather the people who we work with and work for; primarily our staff and our students. More than anything, I want them to look forward to coming to school every day. I want our staff and students to feel valued, to believe that our administration genuinely cares about them and to feel that we honor them for their contributions they bring to our school community every day.
The last couple of months have been filled with both joy and challenges. As a building principal, I choose to focus daily on the joys of the job and reflect on how I can respond to the challenges in a positive way in order to cultivate an environment where people feel they can “own their moment. “
In other words, when given the opportunity for self-reflection and self-change, I want us to own it!
A few years ago, my associate principal and good friend @joykelly05shared a family tradition with me whereby her family would sit in a circle and share their rose and thorn for the day, week or any length of time she chose to place on the discussion. By the next year we began to incorporate this practice with our new teachers during our end of year new teacher social.
This past week was no exception. As we wrapped up our final new teacher meeting of the year, every one of us was given the opportunity to share our rose and our thorn on the current school year. I was touched by not only their willingness to own their moment when they were given the opportunity to reflect on the year, but by the responses that soon followed. Their roses included colleagues that made them feel valued and welcomed. They expressed their gratitude for an administration that genuinely supported them. They shared their appreciation for a student centered culture which focused on building strong relationships with students. I have to admit, I felt a sense of joy when I heard their responses, even when they followed up their roses with their thorns. They spoke of personal experiences that included feeling fatigued at the end of each day, working with challenging students, a desire for classroom windows, managing the workload, and the overwhelming feeling that we all felt during our first year when it seemed we could never catch our breath.
However, what brought me the most joy that afternoon was that each thorn was quickly followed by another rose, in almost an apologetic manner. How refreshing it was to listen to our teachers respond to their challenges by focusing on the positives that would come as a result of being poked by a bristle on a stem. In other words, they chose to own their own moment by shifting their focus to the petals on the rose rather than the thorn on the stem.
The truth is those bristles often come in the form of our most challenging students. Yet, every now and then we are reminded that many of our students who remain closed buds during their school years often blossom into beautiful roses long after they leave us. Hence, why it is imperative we stay focused on the long term rather than the short term.
In the last two months, I have been blessed to feel the emotional highs of re-connecting with students whose petals had wilted during their high school years as we desperately tried to care for them. Those of you who have watched a kid spiral downward right in front of you know that feeling of raw emotion when you blame yourself for not being able to help a student detour his/her path of self-destruction. For us, it was heartbreaking to watch our talented and beautiful young kids fall victim to drug addiction, sexual abuse, runaway/homelessness, theft, prison, and hopelessness. Yet, here they stood before us in our office years later full of life, laughter, and a new found hope for life. Among them a mother free from addiction with a beautiful baby, soon to be wife, working and attending college. A young man free from prison with a second chance at life, enrolled in college and hoping to help others to avoid the same mistakes he made. And finally, a young man who overcame his demons of drug abuse and criminal activity to return home to the unconditional love and support of his family in order to begin a new life, working and soon to be enrolled in college.
Admittedly, I have not been able to stop thinking about the three of them since they re-entered my life.
Each one of them a beautiful rose on a stem full of thorns.
Each one of them with a future full of beautiful petals.
Each one of them owning their moment.
“The power to grow lies in the power to reflect” – Unknown