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