Notes from the New Head: Week One in the Books

After one week in a new school, in a new position, working with people I had not even met until a week prior to the school year, it is safe to say that I am entering a trial by fire according to any definition of the phrase. From working with students on academic probation in need of immediate tutoring to developing parent teacher conferences for the first time ever, I am creating and developing programs from the ground floor up.

And I said I wouldn’t be changing anything during year one. To think I could sit back and “observe” for a school year; I laugh at my own idealism. What have I discovered in these past 8 days of classes? The list is growing in real time. Here are a few observations:

I Walked into a Team of Surgeons
There are some FUN teachers here who LOVE their students. All are teachers who are great at their individual jobs but there are some who never had to play for a team. Like a surgeon, each teacher is master of his/her classroom. They have run their personal sandbox with thriving success; yet, there is so much room to grow by stepping out of their room and into a personal learning network…or (again, for some) even attend a conference. The teachers are great instructors, but we have to remember that we are learners first. That is why we love to teach (…because we love to learn). So it will be my job to inspire teachers here to do more. “It’s not what we know; it’s what we do with what we know.” (Will Richardson)

We are a Community in Need of (but Fear) Change
As I took to my desk for the first time, I had many visitors coming into my office to chat about the school they love. And let me be firm: the community here LOVES their school, which is a wonderful characteristic (they have 92% family participation in our Annual Fund…wow!). However, there are some phrases I feared to hear as I entered into a new community with my own ideas:

“Well, let me tell you, we have done something like that in the past, but…”

“I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but…”

“I know you have your own plans about _________, but just let me tell you…”

I was VERY relieved to hear only remnants of these phrases. Most likely because my job (head of middle school) is new to my school. That’s right: they have never had a full-time head of middle school. It’s been a true delight to get to know the faculty and staff here. They are willing to wade into the deep end of the pool with me…no jumping. And that is fantastic. Considering the new programs I have built into the days ahead, they are surprisingly willing and eager to try something new.

All We do is Win
Listen, boasting has never been a part of my “game,” so I’m not going to start now. However, I am quite humbled at the enormous positivity I have received with the plans I have made in just this first week. In that this position is new, all I do seems to be inventive. But it’s the willingness by the teachers to try something new (as I spoke about before) that makes these new programs look so great. My own creativity appears to know no bounds; however, I am merely duplicating the programs and policies that I have seen work in previous schools. Hopping from one school to the next these past 10 years has finally paid off: I have personal and professional experiences that have aligned perfectly with my new school. They embrace my thoughts and ideas, and I look like the Wizard coming to save the day in the land of Oz. I wouldn’t say my efforts are illusions, but just like the Wizard…there is a lot more behind the curtain.

Traditional, Phenominal Learning
Today I made a couple of “pop-in” observations in some classes. One class I went into was a small, intimate French class. Sixth graders are working with their teacher (who teaches all levels in middle school). They weren’t using technology, and they weren’t reciting verb forms or the week’s vocabulary. They were conversing in French! Sure, there were a lot of responses in English by the students, but they were able to understand and participate…which they all did without hesitation. Boys and girls, speaking with each other and with smiles on their faces. A great sight to see in what I hope is a typical French class. The best part happened after class: the teacher, walking to her next class, stopped by my office and sheepishly knocked on the door.

“Were we being too loud?” she asked.
“No…why do you ask?” I responded.
“Well, do you need to talk to me? I haven’t had anyone visit my classroom before.”
“No,” I said. “I am simply popping in to see how French class is going.”
“Oh, how nice! Come by any time!”

…and another win.

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