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Saturday, July 19, 2014


I became a full-time school building leader at 24 years old when I accepted the responsibilities of a principal serving a K-8 learning community comprised of 330 learners and 35 staff members. As I reflect on that early entry into administration I remain more surprised now than I was all those years ago. Perhaps naiveté would account for the fact I applied for the position without concerns that I was "too young" and lacking in sufficient experience. Nonetheless, I interviewed for the role and the superintendent and school board hired me after working two years as a teacher/principal at a 165 member K-6 school in another district.

That first leadership experience proved to be a challenging and rewarding opportunity. Maybe the best way to describe it would be to explain that it was analogous to a child learning to walk. I crawled and expended great amounts of energy disproportionate to the progress I was making. Optimism, persistence, time and effort were valuable resources that conspired to help compensate for the absence of past performance or well honed skills. I gradually gained my footing and some momentum to sustain commitment and achieve worthwhile benchmarks of success. Little by little, I eventually acquired confidence in my abilities and earned credibility by staff members who were much older, including several that had sons or daughters my age. But, I really had no indication of how I was doing as a principal. Although I met regularly with the superintendent, I had not been evaluated at all.

I finally made an appointment to meet the superintendent in quest of some feedback and any advice he might possess and offer. Following some chit-chat, I posed the question,
"Mr. Fairchild, how am I performing as a principal?"
He paused a moment before replying with a question. "Mike, did you get paid last Friday?"
"Yes, I did" was my answer.
"Well then" he offered, "Do you think we'd pay someone if they weren't doing a good job?"
"I guess not" was all I could muster in response.

End of discussion. It was as simple as that. Such was the state of assessing school leaders back then.

Work and Non-Work time

It's been said that people generally pursue opportunities during their leisure, non-work hours, that are quite different from their workplace environments and roles. For example, someone who operates in a work climate that is rich in human interactions (intense traffic with people on work teams or in a human service agency serving countless people) is likely to invest their time out of work on solitary or more relaxed activities, like hiking, gardening, relaxing and listening to music, photography.... Conversely, someone who spends eight hours confined at work in a cubicle laboring on paperwork, phone calls and individual tasks may spend their off-work hours in a group oriented activity, like team sports or group recreational experiences, or social gatherings, like book clubs or church groups.

Naturally, this Blog perspective was intended as a general observation that is certainly not universal. However, as I examine how my work time and leisure time I have found one explanation that may support the distinctions between the two points.

Most of my decisions as a superintendent are based on long-term issues. For instance, selecting a textbook series or developing an operating budget or hiring a staff member are all decisions that represent long-term investments and do not produce immediate results. It will be years before we can categorically state that the new texts have improved achievement or the budget will further our pursuit of our mission or the staff member will positively impact performance levels of others.

On the other hand, I find myself choosing to immerse myself, or prefer to immerse myself, in activities outside of work that are much more short term, which also provide more immediate feedback. That is, there is no question after a sporting event whether you or your team were successful or not. Likewise, at the end of an exhausting day of work around the house (painting the exterior of the house, planting shrubs, fixing a broken item) you can readily assess and quantify your progress and realize a sense of achievement without having to wait months and years to determine outcomes. It's rewarding to be able to check off tasks from a to-do list and realize closure - all in one day instead of waiting on and wondering about the outcomes of decisions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Buying Education

Here are two articles that present alarming concerns about the nature and future of public schools in our country. Please read them both and think about the potential consequences of this massive intervention by corporations in shaping educational policies and, subsequently, instructional practices.