Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Making A Difference

There are times when I wonder whether I'm applying the right strategies at the right time in the right manner.

One of the perplexing aspects of my role as an educational leader is accepting the fact that the degree of impact and the value of outcomes of some of the decisions I make today may not be determined for weeks, months, or even years - if ever. I believe that many educators feel the same way about the challenge of extending energy and effort without immediate feedback. I realize you can quickly discern from the grade learners receive on an assessment whether you were successful or not in teaching a specific skill or particular concept, but I'm referring to long-term influences. For instance, a learner can perform very well on a test but the real measure is whether the individual will appropriately and successfully apply that skill in the future. That is, the learner may regurgitate the facts or demonstrate the skill at the point of evaluation but you may never know whether they inculcated the knowledge and skill or merely studied it and produced it solely for the test. In another example, a decision to select a new textbook series for math can not necessarily be examined for impact for more than a year before you can ascertain the merits of that decision relative to sustained performance levels across grades and through the scope and sequence of instructional delivery. It requires a firm conviction, resiliency, confidence, and a leap of faith to persist in spite of that uncertainty. Growing people, building the future, and transforming perceptions and understandings takes time.

I have stood outside on the sidewalk in front of the school building nearly every day since the first day of school. I've previously explained my purpose - to learn names and faces of our learners and establish relationships through simple greetings, handshakes, and brief conversations. In fact, the idea behind spending valuable time in this fashion came from reading how Walmart stores employ greeters as a means to reduce theft. Studies showed that a casual exchange between the greeter and customers, however trivial and fleeting, develops enough of a connection that it dissuades most would-be thieves from thoughts of stealing items from the store.

Given that, I still imagine that there may very well be people - staff, learners, and parents - who question my investment of time in such an endeavor. Why is the highly paid superintendent spending valuable time just standing around outside as a glorified Walmart greeter when he could be inside his office attending to more important responsibilities? Is that what the residents of Green Island are getting for their taxes? Nonetheless I have persisted in imitating the postal workers creed of "neither snow nor rain nor heat..." and diligently welcomed everyone to school each morning with hopes of somehow extending a sense of acceptance and recognition to each individual.

This week I discovered, firsthand, the benefits of this daily routine. It was reaffirming. After a while you really get to know each person, by way of their usual facial expressions and habits, and even the way they walk and  who they walk with. Some are more outgoing than others, some display more humor, but they all manifest unique characteristics that offer distinctions. Because of these peculiarities evidenced by individuals I was able to detect someone approaching the school with a slower gait wearing a somber expression that was markedly different than their normal demeanor. That prompted an inquiry about their state of being. There was an admission of a troubling issue, but a reluctance to express specifics. I took note of that exchange and later, during the exchange between first and second periods, sought out the individual and once again asked if everything was okay. This solicitation induced more of a response, enough to direct the individual to a specific staff member who could appropriately address the issue and provide support. The learner indicated they were surprised that I had noticed them and followed up on the initial interaction. This same experience was replicated in another instance two days later. Every day slightly over three hundred kids of all ages pass by me as they enter the school. I'll never know what, if any, difference my presence makes with them, but on at least two days I know I made a difference.

I'll conclude this Blog post by relating a story adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

No comments:

Post a Comment