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How to Get Better: Is "Good Enough" Good Enough?

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I recently prepared introductory remarks for our winter concert.  I used the same Microsoft Word document named “concert introductions” that I’ve used since I became a principal.  There are elements of these introductions that need to be repeated every year:  turn off your cell phone, don’t yell out your kids name, stay until the end of the concert, thanks to our dignitaries for attending.  So I cut and paste the previous year’s speech and then make revisions.   

Despite the “canned reminders” noted above, I always make different remarks as part of my introductions for a concert.  At this event I referenced a study done by the renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks about the effects on the brain that learning to play a musical instrument has.  Did you know that Duke Ellington’s brain looked completely different than Albert Einstein’s, but that Einstein’s brain probably looked mostly like yours and mine?  People who play a musical instrument have brains that are physically different than those who do not play.   My mentor taught me that any time you address a large gathering of people in your role as principal it is an opportunity to reinforce the vision and mission of the school.  This reference to Sacks’s research allowed me to remind the audience that everything we do at our school is about LEARNING.

Because there’s no podium in front of the stage, and it’s often dark, I make sure my remarks do not exceed a single page with large font.   When I pressed the button to print the speech, I made the mistake of not selecting the particular page that had my remarks for “Winter Concert 2017”.   Over 60 pages began streaming out of my printer.  That’s how many concert introductions I’ve done since I became principal.  I am in my 12th year as principal at my present school.  Add to that the five years I was principal at another school, that’s a lot of concerts.   

If you’re going to have a single job for a long time, the two jobs you would do well to consider are classroom teacher and middle school school principal.  Both of these are dynamic roles that are constantly challenging, you can never be bored.  The jobs of the principal or the teacher are wildly unpredictable.  It’s important to have a plan but don’t expect that you’ll be able to follow it. Because of the chaotic dynamism of these roles, there’s a tendency for some people to cling to consistency.   If it went okay last year, let’s just do it the same way again this year,  “Here comes Parent Teacher Conferences, Meet the Teacher Night, Graduation, or a Concert again, let’s trot out the same plan from last year.”   I call this attitude, “Good enough is good enough”.  I wrote about this in a previous post, and it’s not okay. 

Good enough is simply not good enough.  Despite how long we may have been doing our jobs, complacency will not help us to improve.   With the new year approaching, like many people, I have sought the one word that will represent my intention to grow.  I am committed to looking at every single thing I do with the purpose of improving and getting better.  To do this, I am going to focus on an important factor.   My one word resolution for the 2018 year is Feedback.  We cannot grow unless we hold up the mirror to our personal and professional practice.   

Ways to do this:

Crucial conversations 

It’s easy for people to tell you when you’ve done a good job; I love giving people good news, being a ‘bucket filler”.  To have a growth mindset is to invite constructive feedback that will help us improve.  I’m going to push those conversations to make sure that I invite the kind of advice that will help make me better and make the school better. 

#ObserveMe Flyer 

I have a flyer on my door inspired by the #ObserveMe movement.  There is a QR code that you can scan that will bring you to a Google form to give me feedback.  Many of the teachers have their own versions of this flyer on their classroom doors.    Here’s the link.  Through the use of this instrument, I invite everyone with whom I interact to give me feedback.  I welcome any and all feedback.

Surveys 

Student, staff, and parents should have opportunities to offer feedback after essential meetings, workshops, and school events.  Google forms make this easier than ever.  Survey hack:  Place flyers with a QR code link to the survey on the exit doors of the school, if it’s a workshop in the auditorium place the flyers on the exit doors.  Participants will scan the QR code with their phones and complete the survey on their way to their cars.  

I hope you’ll give me feedback, on this and on everything else I do or that goes on at my school.  I really want you to help me get better!

 

What’s your one word for 2018?  How are you trying to get BETTER?

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Donald Gately Ed.D. is the principal at Jericho Middle School on Long Island. J.M.S. is a high performing middle school that has a comprehensive school-wide program to develop social emotional literacy; the school was named a New York State/National School to Watch in 2009, 2012 and 2015. Don was a middle school principal in Plainview-Old Bethpage, the assistant principal at Memorial Junior High School in Valley Stream and a teacher of English Language Arts in the New York City public schools. He is the former p resident of the Nassau County Middle Level Principals Association and active in a number of organizations that leverage support for innovative middle school practice. Don is a middle level leader with a singular passion and commitment to the intellectual and social/emotional development of adolescent learners. He was a BAMMY Award nominee for Middle School Principal of the Year in 2014 and 2015. He was named New York State Principal of the Year in 2016.  Along with his wife Danielle (@dmgately) and an incredible PLN of committed Long Island educators Don cofounded EdCamp Long Island (@EdCampLI) in 2014.

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