Guest post by Donald F. Gately, principal, Jericho Middle School, Jericho, NY
I recently prepared introductory remarks for our end-of-the-year concert. Using the same “concert introductions” document that I’ve used since I became a principal, I cut and pasted the elements that need to be repeated every year: Turn off your cell phone, don’t yell out your kid’s name, stay until the end of the concert, thanks to our dignitaries for attending.
Despite the canned reminders, I always craft different remarks as part of my introductions. At this event, I referenced a study done by the renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks about the positive effects that learning to play a musical instrument has on the brain. My mentor taught me that any time you address a large gathering of people in your role as principal, it is an opportunity to reinforce the vision and mission of the school.
As school leaders, we have to find ways to grow professionally and improve our leadership practices. While it would have been easy for me to recycle my old introductory remarks, I would have been missing out on an opportunity to grow.
Because of the chaotic dynamism of being a principal, there’s a tendency for some people to cling to consistency. If it went well last year, let’s just do it the same way again this year: “Here comes parent teacher conferences, meet-the-teacher night, graduation, or a concert again—let’s trot out the same plan from last year.” I call this attitude, “Good enough is good enough,” and it’s not okay.
Good enough is simply not good enough. Despite how long we may have been doing our jobs, complacency will not help us improve. With the new year approaching, like many people, I have sought the one word that will represent my intention to grow. I am committed to looking at every single thing I do with the purpose of improving and getting better. To do this, I am focusing on an important factor, which is my one-word resolution for the coming year: feedback. We cannot grow unless we hold up the mirror to our personal and professional practice. Ways to do this include:
It’s easy for people to tell you when you’ve done a good job; I love giving people good news, being a “bucket filler.” But to have a growth mindset means inviting constructive feedback that will help us improve. I’m going to push those conversations to make sure that I invite the kind of advice that will help make me and the school better.
I have a flyer on my door inspired by the #ObserveMe movement. On it is a QR code that you can scan that will bring you to a Google form to give me feedback. Many of the teachers have their own versions of this flyer on their classroom doors. You can find it here. Using this tool, I invite everyone with whom I interact to give me feedback.
Students, staff, and parents should have opportunities to offer feedback after essential meetings, workshops, and school events. Google forms make this easier than ever. Survey hack: Place flyers with a QR code link to the survey on the exit doors of the school; if it’s a workshop in the auditorium, place the flyers on the doors in the back. Participants will scan the QR code with their phones and complete the survey on their way to their cars.
What’s your one word for this coming school year? How are you trying to improve?
Donald Gately, Ed.D., serves as the principal of Jericho Middle School in Jericho, NY. He was the 2016 New York Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @donald_gatelyand visit his blog In the Middle of Learning.