I was recently inspired by Jimmy Casas' new book Culturize. His words and shared stories throughout the entire book allowed me to reflect upon the past six years of my own principalship at Union Middle. Mr. Casas had a way to put my goals, my vision, and my hopes onto the printed page.
As a first year and first time principal, I had what I felt was a very clear vision for what I wanted my time at Union Middle School to look like. However, as a first year and first time principal, I'm not sure how well I was able to communicate these goals to our staff, students, and school community. Given that I viewed some days a success simply based on mere survival, I'm guessing I wasn't able to share my vision as well as I would have like.
Now however, absent a time machine but with the gift of hindsight and reading Culturize, I'd suggest that the following five goals were the foundation of my original vision on how to improve Union Middle School.
My first goal was to improve our school culture. Union Middle already had a positive school culture, especially compared to some of the schools I've worked at previously. Still, in moving from good to great, there was some work to do. I wanted our teachers to have a stronger voice on building (and rebuilding) the school culture. We introduced a school hashtag (#teamUMS). We held Twitter Bingo contests amongst the staff to showcase the amazing work at UMS. As Mr. Casas notes, the creation and support of a school culture cannot remain on the shoulders alone of the administration; all school educators need to work to build a positive school culture.
My second goal, intentionally intertwined with my first goal, was a focus on hiring the very best educators. Hiring educators can be a tricky thing. You create a master schedule that puts students first with the adults in the best growth opportunity possible. From there, you post the available positions and hope to attract the best candidates possible. Relying on advice from the previous principal, I always tried to find eligible candidates through word of mouth and built in professional friendships to encourage to apply and join our staff. Sometimes, during the early days of August at the very last minute before school starts or perhaps during the middle of the year, you just get lucky with amazing hires who become future linch-pins of your school community. We've been extremely blessed over the past six years to add to our already-talented staff with a positive mix of compassionate educators with passion for their profession and the knowledge to curate curiosity in the classroom.
The third goal, after adding the very best to our staff, would be to continue to build our teachers into site instructional leaders and district teacher leaders as well. There was a huge push to provide professional development to all staff members. A dozen #teamUMS educators attended an Ed Tech Summit. We brought another dozen to the Fall #CUE event in Napa (it's really Vallejo). Our district office instituted tech leadership opportunities throughout our elementary and middle schools. Some of the most talented, edu-famous educators joined our staff for learning opportunities year round. At our school site, I intentionally would invite different staff members to attend classroom walkthroughs and to join for various professional development opportunities. One teacher mentioned that I hadn't invited them to be on an interview committee yet; they were added to the very next interviewing committee. Just today I shared that an overwhelming majority of our current staff would be one of the most innovative educators at any other school; we just all happen to be working alongside each other as part of the #teamUMS team.
My fourth goal was personal: stay. I've seen schools suffer through multiple principals over a short few years. Frequent turnover at the administrator level can be a culture killer for a school. There becomes a "well, I'll just outlast this guy like I did the last five" mentality amongst the staff as they cycle through new principal initiatives, expectations, and idiosyncrasies. My expectation was that I'd commit to our school, staff, students, and community for at least five years. I've read that the average administrator lasts around two and a half years at their site. Smile year one, talk change year two, update your resume for year three. That's the cycle. I wanted the school community to know that I was committed to staying put and enjoying our time together as well.
The fifth and final main goal is a bit different: I want to build a school community where I'm no longer needed. To clarify, I don't want to force myself out of a job (I'm actually quite happy) but instead reach a place where the school is functional and moving forward without the principal's needling or, in some cases, meddling. We've worked hard to clearly establish protocols, expectations, and routines for our school community, all replicable aspects to keep things moving forward in my absence. I've actually even written my "goodbye letter" to my school community, even though I have no intention of leaving any time soon!
I feel like we've accomplished our made-in-hindsight five year goals. The school culture has drastically improved. It is in no doubt to the most welcome additions to our staff. The staff has made great growth in becoming leaders within the school community. I'm glad that I've stuck around to see it all happen. And yes, we have a school community where there are days where I feel like I'm not needed, as if the entire Union Middle ecosystem is running quite well in my absence.
This isn't about having to leave, but actually why I want to stay: I've been blessed to be a part of an incredibly wonderful school community over the past eight years and look forward to many, many more as a member of the #teamUMS community.