I could sit and write (and write…and write!) for days about the many things I pulled away from my trip this past week to Philly for that National Principals Conference. To say that the trip far exceeded my expectations would be an epic understatement. How surreal it was to sit and have a drink with someone who pipes into your ears via Voxer or a podcast that I follow religiously each week. Here they were, looking to learn about and from me as well. Wild! In addition to learning more things to bring back to my practice in my building, the true magic of the trip was in the self-reflection and self-discovery I found during the five days away from the hustle and bustle of juggling all the things that await me at home.
About a week before leaving for Philly, I had a chance to read through the stack of leadership magazines that have accumulated in my office since spring break. One article, “Is Your School Better Because You Lead It?” stood out to me as something that I wanted to dive into with my leadership coach this summer. In the article, Baruti Kafele challenges leaders to consider their identity, their mission, and to really think on whether or not that propels the school in a direction that is good for all. I remember considering my mission and philosophy for how I lead each time I went in to interview for a principal position, but after having been an elementary school principal for six years I wondered what identity really drives my thinking and interactions with students, staff, and my community. The absence of that identity left me feeling a bit lost, but equally paranoid that this was something I should have solidified. What if I “picked” the wrong one? What if the one I chose wasn’t in line with how I live when I really look back? When I saw the speaker/session lineup included Principal Kafele, I knew that the stars had aligned and I need to be there — and he did not disappoint!
As I sat listening to Principal Kafele share that his identity was as motivator to those he encountered at school (and clearly now into his identity as a speaker for educators), I was struck by how obvious my identity at work should have been to me. Almost a year ago I joined a Voxer and Twitter group called Moms as Principals (MAPS) – a place where we talk about our lives at school and “balancing” them with our lives as parents and partners with other at home. I had always separated the two, however, despite the fact that I have always honored the impact that motherhood has had on my interactions with those at school. In that moment on Sunday morning, it occurred to me that my identity as a principal was actually that OF MOM. I even laughed when I recalled the many times I’ve shared with my students that I am their at-school mom. Duh! The very notion of being “mom” at school seem so simple, but embodies the complex needs of being a leaders and a mom.
With my students, I tell them that I will be their biggest cheerleader each and every day. Haircuts are “wowed…” loose teeth are celebrated…and hugs are given and accepted freely and wholeheartedly. I often find myself in the nurse’s office consoling a kiddo who needs nothing more in the moment than a mom – to rub his/her back, to smooth his/her hair, to make a silly joke about poop, or to just say an affectionate “Hang in there, honey. It’s going to be OK. We’ll take care of you.” Similarly, my students know that I give a wicked stink-eye and have the knack of hearing, sensing, and knowing when things are amiss. They also know that I will be quick to share my disappointment when the inevitable mistakes are made, but that I still love them and that tomorrow will be a fresh start. I hope to always make both the positive moments and the mistakes memorable and deeply rooted in the same hopes I have for my own kids at home.
My identity as a mom does not stop at the students. Upon reflection, I find that my hope to have an open door for staff to come in and talk about things also embodies that same identity. I can remember picking up the phone to call my own mom before she passed away to talk about the ins and outs of my day, my struggles, my celebrations, my relationships — just hoping to have someone on the other end who pauses and listens, prompting me with questions (even critical ones) when necessary and plenty of hugs to share when needed as well. I know that I naturally do this for many of my staff members and hope that me crystalizing this sense of “mom” at school will help me to nurture that side and to cultivate that relationship with all staff members. There is so much more to leading a school than what appears on the report card, and cultivating a family at school keeps us all feeling like working in education is our mission and not simply work.
I need to move forward and share this identity more purposefully with my parents as well. I often find myself sharing personal anecdotes to those families who feel like they’re screwing something up (Aren’t we all!?) and see the sense of relief when they know they’re not in the parenting game alone. I hope that articulating my identity as a mom will also come with some tenets that I hold to so that they know where I come from in my actions and my motivation for supporting their life’s treasure — their kids.
This articulation is the next step in my journey of self-reflection this summer, but it’s work that’s as important as writing the Title I plan for the year and making sure the master schedule is in place and ready to roll. Principal Kafele remarked that in sports, teams and coaches study films each and every day to learn how to be the most effective, but noted that we don’t often study ourselves. Similarly, self-reflection for self-reflection’s sake is not beneficial unless it is used to make adjustments in our practices to make ourselves better. I’m excited and renewed about how this discovery of my identity as mom will allow me to question my actions, interactions, and success is my building. Here’s to the exhale that comes with knowing that my two worlds and identities of home and school are not separate, but rather compliment one another!