Tip #5 from @KaraKnollmeyer says to Be a Sponge.

When you are a brand new administrator, your energy and enthusiasm are sky high. It is similar to when you start teaching, you are ready to take on the world and you’re going to win every time.

When I was in my second year of teaching I learned about Standard Based Grading (SBG) at a SolutionTree conference. Because I was the “leader” of my classroom I came back and almost immediately implemented it into all of my classes. I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm about it and I was ready to rock-n-roll.

However, Kara’s advice is to

“learn, listen, and take in as much as you can so you will eventually learn when to leap, build slowly or table an initiative for another time.”

This truly applies to all educators. Not just administrators.

There were rough patches in my initial implementation of SBG. Starting at midway through the year I had to re-create and go over all new disclosures and documentation for students and parents. In addition, there were no other teachers currently doing it at my school so there was no historical knowledge from the students about what it was. I think I would’ve benefited greatly had I done it in a slower more methodical way. However, there were lessons learned by jumping into the deep end. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. There may have just been more gains sooner had I implemented it in a more methodical way.

In fact, my first parental interaction in regards to my implementation of SBG was one that called me out and required me to think deeply about how and why I was doing it. The email from the concerned parent is below (names have been changed to protect the innocent).

From the student’s mom:

I also understand that this is a new grading system that you are trying out this semester.  This has me worried because not having used the system before you will not know how successful or unsuccessful it will be until after the semester is over and by then it will be too late for Audrey. I’d like to know your thoughts about what it will take for her to get an A in your class.

At this point, anything less than an A will jeopardize her future and put 1000’s of dollars on the line in scholarships.  She explained to me that you shared with the class that getting an A in your class is extremely difficult.  This, for obvious reasons concerns me.  If Audrey was not already a 4.0 student then an A- might not be a big deal but it will be for her.  She has told me she is willing to work extra hard to receive an A in your class but I’m concerned about how much extra effort it will take. 

If I wasn’t sure why I was doing it before, I better figure it out quick! I now needed to explain myself to a parent who felt I was putting her sophomore daughter’s academic and scholarship future at risk. Luckily though, I had spent many hours reading about it during Winter Break and it was something I was passionate about. I crafted a reply, copied my principal on it, and sent it to the mom. I waited for a reply but never received one, so I’m assuming my answer satisfied her worries.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson. If I am going to try and implement something new, I need to make sure I know the why and how of the process. Not only that but I needed to be able to articulate it to whoever asked. If you haven’t seen comedian Michael Jr’s bit where he describes the power of knowing your why, you need to!

I find myself in a similar situation in my new position as assistant principal. Even though I am full of ideas, I am trying to learn from my previous experiences and take a more methodical and intentional approach. Learning the difference between proper timing and fear of failure is hard. I want these ideas to work, but I also don’t want to become the administrator that throws everything at the wall and hopes it sticks.

I am not far removed from the classroom so I know what it’s like to be asked to do one more thing. My hope is that I always remember that.

I want my teachers to continually ask their students to take risks in their classrooms. The best way to encourage students to do that is to show that you are willing to take risks as a teacher. The same thing applies to leadership. If I am not willing to take risks as an administrator, how can I ask my teachers to take risks? I want to continually model that mindset of risk-taking. But that doesn’t mean we have to do crazy, hair-brained ideas. The thought and pre-work needs to be done in order to ensure success. We need to lay the right foundation but then take the leap of faith. If we are always planning but never executing, we will never achieve anything.

I believe that when there is clarity of vision and purpose it is easier to make the correct decisions for our classrooms and our schools. We can hold up the new idea or initiative and if it doesn’t match up with our vision, then we can put it aside.

Employees crave clarity; they want to know precisely what they can do to be most effective —and then not be distracted from that. The highest priorities —the core —must be clarified incessantly. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety … if you do nothing else as a leader, be clear. —Marcus Buckingham, The One Thing You Need to Know

In Lead Like A Pirate (a book I highly recommend), there is a couple of quotes that I feel really applies here.

The real path to greatness, it turns out, requires simplicity and diligence. It requires clarity, not instant illumination. It demands each of us to focus on what is vital —and to eliminate all of the extraneous distractions. —Jim Collins, Good to Great

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage —pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically —to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.” —Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

By being that sponge as Kara suggests, we are able to learn what the vision of our building is, and then using or clarifying that vision we can make informed decisions moving forward.