The Principal's Office
Leadership. Collaboration. Innovation.
Every student....Every Day...Whatever It Takes. It is a powerful mantra that should live in the hearts and minds of every educator who sets foot inside a school. It is a philosophy that can change the climate and culture of a school and it's community. It is a lifestyle that encourages commitment, desire and responsibility. It is a mindset that promotes growth and a constant pursuit of excellence. Three distinct phrases, put together into one message of hope, encouragement and motivation has sparked a flame that is burning inside me that has set my soul on fire.
Our district had the opportunity to hear from Jimmy Casas, co-author of the book Start. Right Now. and What Connected Educators Do Differently on our first day back to school this September. He provided a motivating, inspiring message that challenged all educators, not just those in our district, to make students the priority, to cultivate a culture of excellence and not settle for being "average." As I reflected on the message, I thought about my role as a school Principal. Do I make the students the priority in EVERY decision I make? As a staff are we creating a culture of excellence together in everything we do? Am I accepting "average" as a standard for my staff, my students, and myself. Am I doing whatever it takes?
In seventeen years of education it is my hope that I have been doing whatever it takes every day for every student. However, I also must be realist. Giving "whatever it takes" every day for every student is a daunting task. What does it mean to do "whatever it takes?" "Whatever it takes" looks different for everyone. How do you know if you have given "whatever it takes?" As Jimmy said, "if we are to create a culture of excellence, we have to know what "Whatever it takes" looks like in our schools. As I reflect on my day to day responsibilities that I have had as a teacher, coach, adviser, mentor and administrator I think back to the many opportunities I have had to "give whatever it takes." It makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it gives me joy, it moves me to tears. Those times have helped forge positive relationships with my students that I hope have meant as much to them as they have to me. Whether it is getting a student to see their potential in the classroom, or simply just to get them to smile or laugh through a difficult time, there are opportunities to do "whatever it takes" all the time. We should celebrate those times, recognize them and continue to search for ways to cultivate excellence. There are students who walk into your school or classroom every day looking for someone to motivate them, inspire them, believe in them. We have a responsibility to do "Whatever it takes" to help them succeed. After all, we were all that student once.
I'd love to hear your "whatever it takes" moment. Share them below! Let's continue to build a culture of excellence together.
As summer draws to a close and another school year is about to begin, the anticipation and excitement are at an all time high. Labor Day weekend signals the end of the summer for everyone. It is a day that recognizes the labor movement and the contributions that workers have made for the strength and prosperity of our country. For teachers, it also means the start of another school year, going back to work and educating the eager minds of tomorrow. At a recent gathering of family and friends I got into a conversation about why I wanted to go into education. As an administrator or a teacher that is certainly, "the million dollar question." I believe that working in education is a calling. It requires a certain desire, passion and commitment to the youth of our country and to the future that will exist for all of us. In answering the question "Why did I go into education," the answer is simple.... "I am on a mission."
In business, in school and in life, it is important to have a mission statement. It is "the" phrase that people use to rally around, to garner support, energy, and excitement. Some mission statements are long, explaining the purpose of the organization. For example, Barnes and Noble's mission statement is four sentences, describing everything they do. The Ted (Ted Talks) mission statement is short and sweet, "Spreading Ideas." John Maxwell minds us that the difficulty is that sometimes mission statements are written reminders of what the company ought to do, rather than a reflection of what the company actually does.
There is no greater mission than the one we have as educators. The future of our country depends on us as teachers and administrators every day. My personal and professional mission statements have blended throughout the years because I believe so strongly in what we do in our profession. The statements have evolved because I have evolved as a person, we have evolved as a school. The mission statement of our school has become a tagline...easy to remember and can be interpreted in many ways....."Knowledge. Spirit. Promise." Every day, I want to live a life filled with Knowledge, Spirit and Promise." I desire the same for my staff and for my school. We want to provide an education that fills students with Knowledge, Spirit and Promise...every day.
In the book Start. Right Now. by Jeff Zoul, Todd Whitaker and Jimmy Casas they discuss the importance of "Knowing the Way" as a leader and the value of a mission statement to help "Know the Way" for your classroom or school. In discussing mission statements, they quote Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey says, "writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully and to align your behavior with your beliefs."
As we enter another school year ask yourself these questions:
1) What is your purpose?
2) What is your belief?
3) Why do you get out of bed every morning?
4) What influence do you want to have on others?
5) How can you contribute to the collective "mission" of your school or business?
In a few short days I am going to have students that will enter our building thirsting for Knowledge and wanting to impart theirs....every day. I will have students ready to become part of the Spirit of the school by showing off theirs....every day. I will have students full of Promise ready to shine their light on this world.....every day. I believe it. Time for me to wake up! School is starting! My mission continues. What is yours?
Live out your mission statement. Our students are counting on you! Have a great year!
The first week of every August my family and I vacation at the Jersey Shore. It is a wonderful time together relaxing, enjoying the beauty and splendor of the ocean. However, it also signals for me, as a building Principal, what lies ahead in the upcoming weeks. Very shortly the staff and students will be coming back for what will be another exciting year at Pequannock Valley School, filled with endless opportunities for growth and success.
Every morning after I finish my run I take a walk up to the beach and just sit and look out at the ocean. It stretches as far as the eye can see, appearing to meet up with the sky. My curiosity and imagination run wild as I think about what could possibly be out there....beyond the horizon. Of course, my young kids ask me "Dad are there sharks out there?" "Is that where the ocean stops?" "Those ships out there, where are they going?" To them, it simply looks like a line that has formed between the ocean and the sky and like in "The Truman Show" it just ends if you were to get to the end of it.
To me, the horizon represents opportunity. It represents possibilities. It represents hope. As we head into a new school year it is a symbol of encouragement. It is something I am going to keep my eye on as I prepare for my students and staff to arrive. Sailors use the term "keep your eye on the horizon" to steady their ships for a long journey. In finance, it means keeping an eye on your long term goals and results. In education, I feel that keeping your eye on the horizon means reaching beyond what may seem unreachable to bring your school/students to places they have never been. When you realize the goals that you have for your school/students are possible, that horizon can extend further than you imagined and new horizons that may have seemed unattainable now become clearer.
What is beyond your horizon? What goals do you have as you begin your journey into a new school year? Are you ready to explore new opportunities with your students? Are you prepared to push your school/or students beyond what they think is attainable? If so, how are you going to do it? What course have your charted? Each day there is a new horizon and every day we have the chance to make our goals and dreams a reality....not just for us but for our students and our schools. As Captain Jack Sparrow said in Pirates of the Caribbean, "Bring me that horizon!"
I had the opportunity to go to Disney World with my family when school ended this year. Watching the joy on my kids' faces as they saw the Disney characters and went on the rides and saw the shows was nothing short of amazing. As a parent, I will never forget it. Seeing Disney World for the first time as an adult I was amazed at the innovation on display, the teamwork and the culture that had been created. Everyone that worked there was always happy, friendly, caring, and genuinely interested in ensuring we were enjoying ourselves. Walt Disney was a true innovator. The vision he had to create such a "magical" place is extraordinary. Everyone that worked there played a key role in the overall success of the park. As I walked around and took it all in I couldn't wait to see what was next. There were quotes from Walt Disney throughout the park that highlighted Walt Disney's vision. One that really stuck with me....
As an educational leader or a teacher, isn't this what we want for our students when they enter our school too? Can you imagine if they walked into your school and felt like they were in another world? A place where they are in awe, filled with anticipation and wonder? Don't we want them walk into a place where they feel cared for, appreciated, supported and the people there go out of their way to make sure that the students' needs are being met? There are many students that come to school to experience the "magic" that can happen and the excitement that awaits them. In order for the "magic" to happen, it begins with creating a climate and culture that breeds success.
I just finished reading the book "Lead Like a Pirate" by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. It is a thought-providing, motivating book that provides various examples on how to create a positive climate and culture for your students and staff. As administrators, Burgess and Houf share practical real world examples of how they utilized their own leadership skills, and the leadership of others to make their schools places where students didn't want to leave. Leading requires Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Asking/Analyzing, Transformation and Enthusiasm.
"Making school a place where students don't want to leave." Wow. It is such a powerful thought and one that as an administrator or teacher we should strive to do for our students each day. I have been fortunate to work with some amazing educators throughout my career that have been able to make their classrooms and their schools such a place. Their classrooms have been based on trust, relationships, common goals, enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence. They immerse themselves in what they do and when they say "I do what is best for kids" they truly mean it.
George Couros in "The Innovator's Mindset" said it best when he stated, "If we want to make meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind." The summer time gives me an opportunity to do much more reflection and to spend time preparing for the upcoming year. As we prepare to set sail on a new voyage, I look forward to seeing my "crew." I know that as we chart the course to "another world" for our students, every second we are with them we have the chance to make a positive difference in their day and maybe even in the rest of their lives. It starts with building meaningful relationships, creating a nurturing environment and showing students that anything is possible when you believe. Now that is "magic!" Yo ho, Yo ho, a Pirate's life for me!
"Administration is a lonely profession." This is something I hear over and over again from people when I tell them I am a school administrator. While ultimately as Principal I am the instructional leader and final decision maker in the building, I find my job to be far from lonely. Meeting with teachers, talking with students, getting out into the community, observing classes, facilitating workshops, going to after school events, and attending committee meetings have me in the middle of many engaging conversations and collaborating with dozens of people. Each meaningful conversation reminds me of why I love doing what I do every day.
As I reflect more on why people think the job of an administrator can be lonely, for me it is more about how often I have time to grow professionally with others rather than the day to day responsibilities of the job. It is true that it is very difficult as an administrator to find time to grow yourself professionally when the expectations are that you help others grow. Single day workshops and mini-conferences are beneficial but the lasting impact they have can be difficult when there is little time to collaborate with others. This is when I made an effort to join Twitter and establish my PLN (personalized learning network.) It has become a game-changer for me in my professional growth.
A PLN, when searched in Google, is a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communcate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time. For more information on how to establish a PLN and why it is beneficial I would encourage you to read the following article in Edutopia, https://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-do-i-get-a-pln-tom-whitby
Establishing my PLN began for me when I heard a keynote address by Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) at a Google Summit I attended at High Point Regional High School in 2013. He talked about the power of social media and how he used it to help his students and his school achieve success. As I experimented with Twitter and began networking with fellow educators I was enlightened with hundreds of ideas. It was a 24 hour professional development resource. We started our own Technology Summit in the Pequannock School District which has afforded me the opportunity to meet and talk with educational experts like Will Richardson (@willrich45), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Rich Kiker (@rkiker) and Denis Sheeran (@MathDenisNJ), among others. Most recently I have been talking with Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) who is a Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education. He will be our opening keynote speaker for our first day of school this year. I am looking forward to the positive impact he will have on all of our staff members in the district. These are just a few of the hundreds of educators I follow on a daily basis. Participating in Twitter chats such as #satchat, #makeitreal, #tlap and #leadlap just to name a few, have provided the opportunity to share ideas, hear educational theories and put into practice new instructional techniques that has reinvigorated my passion for the work we do together in our school. I am never alone in my office. Even during the time when administrative paperwork is inevitable, I know I can always reach out to learn from someone simply by reaching out to my PLN.
My PLN has re-established my love for reading. Hearing about books like Lead Like a Pirate, Teach Like a Pirate, Shift This, The Innovator's Mindset, Instant Relevance, Kids Deserve It and Digital Leadership has transformed me as a building leader and has re-defined the climate and culture in our school and in our community. Watching some of my teachers creating their own PLNs on Twitter and incorporating new techniques into their classrooms has only made us stronger together.
I encourage any educator to establish a PLN. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, media specialist, nurse, school counselor, or someone who is just looking to grow professionally, give Twitter a try, read a blog, write a blog (yes, I'm a first timer), follow educators on LinkedIn and Google+. It will open your eyes to the endless opportunities that await you. My job is far from lonely. In fact, I have never had more people to rely on! Let us continue to grow together and help prepare a new generation of learners and educators! Happy Learning!
Follow me on Twitter @RichHayzler