CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user esti

He who has seen everything empty itself is close to knowing what everything is filled with.
Antonio Porchia

The classrooms are empty. Our hallways are vacant. When I walk in cafeteria, no little hands pass me their milk containers to open. No whistles, shouts, or cheers can be heard on the playground. No one is inquiring, “Are you busy?” while peering inside my office. The flood of emails in my inbox has ceased. No calls from the office letting me know a parent has stopped by to see me.

Empty.

I sat with one of my teachers in an end-of-the-year conference after students’ final dismissal on Monday, and our conversation continued on into its twentieth minute and beyond. Her eyes were clearly glossy and she seemed quite overwhelmed with the idea of going back into her classroom, knowing the students wouldn’t be there.

“It’s not the same without them. I don’t like it in there.”

Empty.

The last month of school was quite the learning experience for me. Wrapping up my third year as principal, I figured I could stick with my same routines and timelines and finish off the year at a relatively low stress level. I was mistaken. It made me consider how very different each year of teaching is as well. No teacher and no administrator can be satisfied doing things the way they’ve always been done. Our roles encompass the ever-changing, spontaneous, magical, surprising, evolving world of personal learning. No two days are the same, and that’s why I love this role so much. For a few different reasons, I wasn’t quite prepared for the changes this year brought. Too bogged down playing “catch up” to appreciate my role. Unable to make connections between the tasks I was fervently completing and student learning. Unable to articulate and find time to share with others. This is very overwhelming place for an administrator to be, but I am certain every one of us has felt this way.

Empty.

Many administrators are twelve-month employees and therefore find themselves in need of a shift in motivation throughout the summer months. The children and teachers that inspire and excite us for work each day aren’t present when we arrive at our school buildings, and it’s easy to get bogged down with menial tasks: checking things off lists; tidying up files and paperwork; finalizing schedules; budgeting, ordering, etc. My former principal used to tell me how torturous the summer months were for him, and that he’d purposely schedule time to drive to other elementary schools within the district where summer school classes were hosted so he could visit with students! He felt empty otherwise.

Another source of emptiness may derive from the necessary reflection that occurs once the hustle and bustle of school days has passed. I don’t know about you, but I have made mistakes this year. Others have made mistakes as well. These mistakes have caused strain in our organizations and lives. While it is very hard to do, I am trying to forgive myself for these mistakes, and not forget, but rather learn from, the decisions I’ve made. It’s imperative to look ahead with a positive outlook. It’s essential as a leader to reflect critically and use that newfound knowledge to make wiser decisions in the future. It’s never healthy to hold grudges against oneself or others, or carry over negativity from one school year to the next. Clean slates. Fresh starts. Opportunities for growth. Forgive and learn.

Admittedly, there are definite positives to completing managerial tasks over the summer. Doing so ensures you’re not missing any action in the classroom. It helps you become more prepared for the year ahead. The more things you “cross off the list” over the summer means the less time you have to devote to those tasks in the fall.

So while I accept that there are many tasks I need to complete this summer – sitting in all-day data analysis meetings, tweaking master schedules, developing an improved system of school communications, working on our elementary technology integration matrix, etc., I plan to do so from a perspective that requires me to consider, “How will this positively impact learning for my students and/or teachers?” If the answer is, “It won’t,” then, quite simply, I’m not going to do it.

Ryan Bretag shared a great piece recently called Bringing Ideas to Life. He shares that while many educators talk about the innovative and wonderful things they’re planning to do in schools, where we fall short is with the action and implementation of those goals. This summer I want to focus on making sure my actions match my shared philosophies. That the ideas we brainstormed together as a faculty this year are brought to fruition. With each summer brings amazing opportunities for learning. People to meet. Books to read. Ideas to share.

I’m going to fill the empty. But only with the good stuff.

10 comments on “Fill the empty.

  • Great post Lyn! I think whether you are an administrator or a teacher the summer time definitely has an effect on your emotions. I totally agree that without the kids a school or classroom just aren’t the same and they do feel empty. In fact, I would argue kids are what make a school a school; without the kids you just have walls. On the positive side, the summer provides the much needed time to further our own growth and development, while also the opportunity to take care of some of the “not so fun things” that just have to be done.

    Keeping our focus on doing things that are going to have a positive impact on kids once the kids return is key, and if there is extra time try to get to those more mundane and “managerial” tasks 🙂

    Have a great summer!

    • Thanks for your comments, Justin! I am looking forward to working on the many summer tasks in order to better prepare for our students’ return in the fall!

  • Empty is so right. At the end of this school year, I remarked how I felt like a little child, watching their balloon float away. It’s so bittersweet to see kids leave, moving on to another grade, and knowing that, for a while, everything will be quiet. It is a time for clean slates and accomplishing tasks, but just not the same as working directly with the kids. Great post.

    • Krissy, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I agree, there is important work to be done, but it’s never quite as fun without the kiddos around!

  • You are so right, Lyn. I head to school each day but walk into a way-too-quiet place. I miss the smiles, the hugs and their potential to be awesome. While I am getting organized and making plans for next year, the days are different. A bit slower pace and different. Two teachers stopped by school today and I realized how hungry I was for conversation. Each came in separately but stopped by my office to chat. They were great conversations that lifted my spirit and ignited by excitement for the new year that will be here soon. It was a bright spot in my day.

    I think those of us in education rely on our conversations and interactions with others. When that is missing our days are so very different. Instead of counting the days until my badly need vacation I am counting the days until school begins. I want those kids and teachers back in the building!

    • Adult interaction during the summer months is also important! Great point! I have a teacher coming in this week to meet with me and explore Twitter and other social media tools… really looking forward to that visit! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Great post. You did a nice job capturing what an empty building feels like and how you were going to use that feeling for something positive. I especially like your thoughts on starting fresh. I’m often the first one in my building, besides our ‘lunch lady’, and the empty feeling that the halls have is disquieting. They soon fill with my purpose and the corollary laughter and excitement of learning. It’s good that you are maximizing your time now with the ‘stuff’, so that you can fully experience the things that matter in the Fall.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Eric! To save energy, our hallways are dark, too. Talk about disquieting. 🙂

  • Well put…I especially liked what you shared when it comes to our shortfalls and lack of implementation. Can you imagine how incredible our systems would be if everything we talked about implementing came to fruition…WOW! Thanks for the reminder of how important it is for me to fill the “empty” this summer and make the learning and ideas I have for the new year ahead come alive!

    • Thanks for your comments! Can you also imagine how incredible our systems would be if we ONLY implementing programs/policies that truly impacting learning?! So many times things get “piled on”… no wonder we find ourselves drowning in the mess of follow-through. Enjoy your summer!

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