Sometimes you can really shock yourself.
While I wasn't a new teacher, I was a new teacher to my school. I was the youngest teacher on my grade team of four teachers and I was still trying to figure things out. At that time of my teaching career I would say that I was a good "ideas man", as in I had all the ideas of things that could make effective, engaging lessons for my students, but I wasn't a great implementer. Most of these good ideas got left on the cutting room floor partially because of my lack of follow-through, but also because I was overruled by my more experienced teammates.
Thankfully, I had a great, inspiring team partner who helped me work through this awkwardness. She believed in my ideas (as I trusted hers) and throughout the year, helped me put them into action. I remained quite reserved in our grade team meetings however, often deferring to my more experienced partner to lay out our plans. As the year went on, the team split into two different camps with one content to deliver content in a more traditional way, and the other intent on doing things a bit differently. While we were all very friendly with one another, we accepted that we were operating under different pedagogical frameworks. Our grade team meetings quickly faded away and we only met to organize bigger events such as Outdoor School.
A meeting about starting a new club was one of the reasons we came together as a grade team. One of the things I was very passionate about was providing clubs and extra-curricular opportunities for our students, particularly in the area of athletics. This meeting became very frustrating for me, because I was told time and again by the other members of the team (not my team partner) why clubs were not always workable at the school. As a new teacher to the building, I didn't have any history, so I trusted them and just went along, focusing on my teaching. The interest in running clubs faded to the background for a few months.
The groundswell of student grumbling started once the snow hit the ground and outlets like the recess soccer game became less available. The behaviour incidences picked up, and everyone became a bit more edgy. I remember talking to one of my students and asking him why things were so off the rails and his immediate response was "recess is so boring". Recess boring? If recess was boring, we definitely had a problem.
I decided that I was going to start a Floor Hockey Club. I checked in with my school admin, and they were supportive. I checked in with our PE specialist, and she was supportive too. I checked in with my students, and we had 4 in 5 commit to a floor hockey club. Things were rolling fast, and my idea was on the way to becoming a reality. Then, I met one of my grade team partners in the hallway. The exchange went like this:
Him: What's this I hear you're going to be starting up a floor hockey club?
Me: Yep, hoping to start after the Christmas break. The kids are excited!
Him: You can't do that. It won't work.
Me: What are you talking about? I already asked around and everyone agrees.
Him: Listen, we have a lot of things on the go in January. It's the start of our big push toward exam prep, and we need to focus on our curriculum. The students get very distracted by clubs, and especially sports clubs. They don't focus well when their mind is on these things. Trust me, we've tried it before.
Me: Well, I think it would be helpful to them to blow off some steam and run around a bit.
Him: What about the kids who can't play after school? You know we have a lot of kids that have other obligations.
Me: I talked to the kids and they don' t think it will be a problem.
Him: I didn't really want to say this, but some of the other teachers on staff don't like the way you're changing things up here. If you start a club, then we're all going to have to do a club. Maybe just slow things down. Take a year to get to know the school.
Me: WHY DON'T YOU TRY TO STOP THINKING OF ALL THE REASONS THIS CAN'T HAPPEN, AND START TO FIGURE OUT JUST ONE WAY TO HELP MAKE IT HAPPEN?
Wow! I surprised myself with that. It was very much out of character for me. I didn't want to be disrespectful, but I was passionate about what I wanted to do because I thought it was the right thing to do for the students.
Today when I look back on that little outburst I call it a career defining moment. From then on I started to gain the confidence that my ideas, good or bad, were worth exploring. I started to trust my gut instincts, but more importantly I started to listen to my students. Their voice became more prominent in my planning, and I didn't (and don't) hesitate to run something by them first.
The Floor Hockey Club was an instant success, and the benefit extended well beyond the students. Other teachers who had wanted to do clubs of their own started to put things together for other students in the school and a prominent change in culture began. Ultimately, I was most happy when my grade team partner (the one who I had the disagreement with) when he told me he wanted to start a soccer club in the spring. We planned it out together, and he began a great run as the teacher lead of our leadership club of older students who would referee and organize our younger ones on the soccer fields at recess. A couple years later at his retirement, he told me that taking on that leadership club had been one of the most rewarding parts of his career.
I wonder what would have happened if I had just backed down that day in the hallway. I wonder if I would have found my confidence to pursue my passions. I do know that that key phrase that came blurting out of my mouth that day has become one of my leadeship mantras. As we start a new calendar year, I want to resolve to keep that at the fore of who I am as a leader. I want to always try to find a way to make things happen.
(and for those of you that look at this blog post graphic and get a little song in your head, send me a comment and let me know what it is)
I am an elementary school principal, passionate about engagement, innovation, and learning from the unique skills and interests of students and fellow educators.