Guest post by Jamie Richardson
A few years ago, I found myself trying to convince my son that he needed to “play the game” of school and figure out how to rack up as many “points” as possible in order to succeed. As these “encouraging” words came from my mouth, I stopped and asked myself, how was it that any of my students—let alone my very own son—needed artificial motivation to feel inspired about school? At that moment, I came to an important realization: The reason is me. Change just doesn’t happen at a school. Change starts with principals. We as school leaders need to come to grips with the idea that “the way we have always done it” is not preparing our kids for their futures. I made a commitment to use my position as principal to be a changemaker and challenge the status quo so that all of my students, my son included, felt that school was more important and more exciting than just a game. So how does a principal become an agent of change? Here are a few tips I can share from experience.
Rediscover Your Passion
Know why you do what you do as a school leader. Measure and guide with that compass. I take great pride and find joy in the work I do as a principal. Joy comes when I can make a difference. Too often, we become comfortable as principals and rest when our schools run smoothly. But comfort can lead to complacency. Principals are in the best position to drive critical change in our schools. Every day we can certainly find great things going on in our schools, not everything needs changing. And there are certainly constraints that we as administrators have to work within, but we have to recognize the vast wiggle room we have to try some things differently. Asking the hard questions when something doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean we have gone rogue; instead, we are simply not accepting powerlessness toward improvement. We can initiate important change despite our requirement to work within this system.
LaCreole Middle School (LMS) is an example of recognizing constraints but not letting that stop us. LMS is experiencing a culture shift that is having a positive impact on kids. Our staff has found the courage to focus not on a test, but rather on critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication—skills that will serve our kids in their futures. In place of traditional classroom work, our teachers are opting for project-based activities, leading to deeper authentic experiences. Instead of assessments or one-size-fits-all presentations, our kids are encouraged to demonstrate their learning in creative ways through the use of technology and makerspace activities. Focusing on small steps, we implement, evaluate, adapt, and learn from each other.
We recognize new strategies require time and training, so we have adapted how we do PLCs. Teachers now have options for personalized professional development sessions and opportunities for collaboration that support our continued learning. Together we find courage to take risks and break free from the status quo.
Don’t Go at It Alone
Change requires purpose, passion, and patience. For me, this didn’t happen overnight. I had to discover my “why” and take small steps toward change. It helped to find others doing this work to challenge my thinking and give me the courage and motivation to embrace innovation. Today, the educational market is filled with resources highlighting a need and urgency for creating change. One resource I used was the film “Most Likely to Succeed,” which helped me open up powerful conversations with my staff. Taking part in groups like School Retool highlighted small hacks toward change that I could use right away. Influential leaders in the field such as George Couros, Eric Sheninger, Thomas Murray, Joe Sanfelippo, and Jimmy Casas, continue to be resources who help me with perspective, courage, and tools to lead change at my school. Never before has it been easier to develop a learning network to create some awesome change. We do not have go this alone!
Doing something new takes courage and a willingness to take risks. I challenge us to reflect on the things we wish we could do and discover why we accept that we cannot. Where do you look for inspiration and support as a change leader in your school community?
Jamie Richardson is the principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He was one of the 2017 Digital Principals of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.