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Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing: The Mission
Written by Jane Scott
A few years ago, when I was principal of a California elementary school, I was asked to be a participant in our school district Chief Academic Officer’s research project. That work gave me the opportunity to examine essential aspects of my practice, and helped me to reaffirm my connection to a mission greater than myself, educating children.
One of the things I discovered was that the day-to-day challenge of leading a school building can, and will, get you off track; if you are not mindful. While the issues that occur during the daily operation of a school building are involved and can be of significant importance, they should never take the place of the real work: the Mission.
To stay on track and remain oriented to the Mission of achieving proficiency for all our students, I implemented the practice of daily reflection. Although reflection had always been a part of my work as an administrator, this level of on-going and ever-present reflection had not. I found this new daily practice provided a necessary perspective. These now often internal dialogues helped me to process daily routines, seek clarifying input from other administrators and staff, and make decisions which resulted in dramatic change.
Completing this project with my CAO helped to confirm that my reflections, and the actions that came out of them, were grounded in the reality of getting the job done for kids and others – in other words, checking to see that I was staying aligned to the Mission. Additionally, I developed a deeper knowledge base and clearer understanding of my job as principal - monitoring progress, providing feedback, making adjustments to school wide programs and taking strategic risks. Accounting for students’ academic performance was the main thing and focus of my work.
As part of my developing practice, I also found it beneficial to collaborate with other principals, a partnership that helped to extend all of our work to succeeding years. Without a process such as this, principals run the risk of becoming overwhelmed as they face the challenges of turning around a struggling school.
Back in my own building, it was essential for me to stay aware of how my staff was managing our school-wide, Mission-aligned transformation, and the anxiety they were feeling associated with it. By constantly reviewing our data with my staff, I was better positioned to manage resistance to change, which could have kept us at the "status quo." Across the building, daily dialogues between staff and school leaders became more focused, with constant monitoring and consistent modeling resulting in a more refined organization. New skills, new systems, and new operational structures tied to the data had produced the desired outcome of greatly increased student proficiency.
By year’s end we had all grown in our knowledge of what it means to systematically change the way we "did school." But more importantly, we learned that it was possible to remain true to a mission larger than ourselves – that proficiency and strong character were possible for virtually all of our kids. We actually learned to manage the ups and downs; the key was not to do the work in isolation.
The work of leadership was not and is not a solitary endeavor. True change is and always has been the result of the collaborative efforts of a committed group of people working toward a common mission. Such was the case in my building; it was students and adults striving for proficiency. It was a committed group of people who above all else understood the importance of keeping the main thing, the main thing – the Mission.
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