Know What Matters and Make It Work 

Guest post by Angela K. Doll

A parent request for hourly behavior updates.

A student sent to the office for repeatedly trying to staple himself to his chair.

A community member’s plan to improve the school by eliminating all technology.

As school administrators, we get to deal with many strange, silly, and sometimes dumbfounding things. Add to this the pressures to increase achievement, solve staffing situations, fix facility issues, and prevent escalating social problems—all while on a limited budget—and our daily lives as school leaders can wear us down, cause us to lose focus, and put us into a fixed mindset of doom. We start to question if our efforts really matter at all. 

When the stress and struggles of school administration have you questioning your choice of careers, I have found it helpful to know what matters to me as a leader to maintain a growth mindset and move forward. Our incoming freshman study the 7 Mindsets to Live Your Ultimate Life by Scott Shickler and Jeff Waller to lay a strong foundation for personal successes in high school. I’ve found this paradigm, too, has allowed me to discover, understand, and foster what matters to me. And what matters to me is that in our high school, we see all of our students for who they really are, meet them where they are in life, and help them discover and develop their talents.

How do you determine what matters to you? Here are some lessons I’ve learned that have helped me figure it out:

Identify your passion. What would you do if money was no object, if your possibilities were endless? Chances are, it might be different from school leadership (mine is!), but when you figure out what you would really love to do, pick that apart and ask yourself why you would do that. What would you intrinsically get out of doing what you’re passionate about? Then reflect on how your leadership does or doesn’t mirror that in some way and use that as the core to what matters to you. This gives you the “why” you go to work each day.

Build relationships. We cannot be alone on an island. We need colleagues, family, and friends in our lives to stay connected and maintain our health. Get to know your teachers, students, and community members and let them get to know you. Take the time to talk to others and be present at student, staff, and community events and get-togethers. Connecting with community helps administrators find support when the stress and struggles of our jobs get us down.

Give your best self to those you lead and hold yourself accountable for your own happiness. Remember that we are in these positions because we have something to give to others—whether that is leadership, a different perspective, encouragement, or simply a feeling of belonging.

Take time for yourself and realize that right now is the best time to start leading with purpose, servitude, and openness. To do this requires some vulnerability too. When you share with others what you struggle with, what you wish to improve, and what your vision for the future is, you are communicating what matters to you.

We need to be cognizant of the things that wear us down and our responsibilities as school leaders. But we need to also work on ourselves to the be the leaders we need to be to foster a culture of community and positivity in our schools. It’s human nature to want to feel as if we belong to something bigger than ourselves. As an administrator, you have the opportunity to use that natural tendency to create a culture and climate that nurtures achievement and growth in your building. That starts with you and with knowing what matters. Once you know what matters to you and you know why you are here, you are able to have a clarity and a zest for leadership.

Think about your communication style to students and staff and try to incorporate more of your own personal perspective by sharing what matters to you and why. Then ask your students and staff to share feedback on what motivates them. Reflect on and combine your views together to foster a more inclusive and collaborative school culture.

Angela K. Doll has served as assistant principal at Moorhead High School in Moorhead, MN for five years and was a special education administrator for four years prior to her current role. She is the 2017 Minnesota Assistant Principal of the Year.

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