I was honored this past week by a district organization with their Big Heart Award. Part of the presentation referred to my "years of educational leadership". I also have a birthday coming up in a few days. I tell you these two things because I am aware that I am entering a new chapter in my career. It's not the Epilogue, but it's a chapter definitely nearer to the back than to the front of the book.
I'm feeling stuck somewhere between Wanting to Remain Relevant and Stayed Beyond His Effectiveness. I don't think Gail Sheehy had those exact chapters in her classic book Passages, but she should have.
I tried to locate a book that would make me feel better, but when I asked the saleslady at Barnes and Noble where the Self-Help section was located, she replied, "I could show you, but wouldn't that defeat the whole purpose?" [Sorry, old joke. (But thank you Stephen Wright.)]
Is there anything more ridiculous than watching an aging and once respected adult try to recapture their youth by dressing in the latest fashions, talking the current hip terms, and basically denying their age? Likewise, is there anything more frustrating than an elder employee who retires on the job and refuses to keep the momentum of any organization moving forward?
Remaining relevant is a challenge that many of us are (or soon will be) facing. How to deal gracefully with growing older while working in an field such as education is the food for comedy as well as serious reflection. The dotty old educator falling asleep in class or the stuffed shirt principal who lost all touch with students years ago are staples of education bashing a la Hollywood movies and TV sit-coms. But there's more than a grain of truth underlying those stereotypes. And it's precisely that grain of truth that I'm running from.
As an "elder employee" of a progressive district, I find myself sitting back in training sessions and admiring the energy of the new generation of "up and coming" administrators in our district. But I also strive not to be left behind while at the same time making sure I'm not forcing my opinions on others. It's a fine line that I'm only now beginning to recognize I must begin walking. I'm no longer counted among the fair-haired-up-and-comers...overnight I became a member of the gray-haired-over-the-hillers.
So here's the struggle: how do we "experienced" administrators continue to remain relevant? I believe it depends on a simple few things that I have observed over time:
Stay on Top of the Research. To me the quickest "tell" that an administrator is losing interest is when they stop reading professional articles and attending optional professional training sessions. "I'll let the younger ones attend those Saturday sessions" or "I've got better things to do than read those journals anymore...besides there's a great woodworking magazine I'm in the middle of." When my son - just starting out in his career as a teacher - asks me about the latest trends in education I want to immediately respond with my latest reading of James Paul Gee's work on video gaming, simulations, learning theory and communities of practice and affinity spaces. If you're not familiar with Senge, Wiggins, DuFour, Marzano, or McTighe...get busy!
Stay Innovative. Initiative is the one characteristic I prize the most in a teacher. Obviously the same applies to me. At a minimum, I strive to implement at least one innovation each year. For those who follow my posts, you know that this year's innovation has been a "Paperless Office." I'm not talking about new programs to mandate to a staff, I'm talking about INNOVATIONS that I can implement and demonstrate and encourage my staff to try. Whenever I heard a principal say "we don't need to change it, there's nothing wrong with how we do things", I knew another administrator would be relaxing on his boat and fishing for bass when the next September rolled around.
Communicate. Whether it's blogging, a web site, a daily newsletter, or regular staff meetings, it's important that as an administrator I communicate with my staff on a regular basis. I have noticed with past supervisors that once their efforts to keep their staffs informed started to become inconsistent, haphazard, and boring...it wasn't long before they were retired and tending their gardens or woodworking out in their garage.
Energize. Yes, this one will never change...one of the best ways to remain relevant to your school community: BE VISIBLE. When I'm the only administrator to show up at a Robotics Competition on a Saturday morning, it gets noticed. I cannot be at every event, but I will always look over the calendar and make sure I'm present at a fair representation of all the extracurricular activities that take place. You have to keep up the energy level - and desire - to attend as many student events as possible. I would never want to hear that my kids or parents were looking around at an event and wondering, "Whatever happened to Mr. Farr?"
So there's my quick list. Thanks for letting me share it here. Confession: I wrote it as much for myself as for anyone else. It's a self-indulgent look in the mirror, but it does help me know that when I no longer care about cutting edge developments in education; when I no longer care to try anything new; when I don't feel like communicating with the staff; and when I'd rather skip the football game and stay home...I'll know I've lost my relevance and that it's time to step aside.
But until then, watch out all you young Wunderkind Newbies, I can still hunt with the big dogs. And besides that, if you treat me with respect, I can show you where the pitfalls, land mines, and skeletons are all hidden.
[cross posted on LeaderTalk as monthly post for Februray]