Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cultured Pearls - #28daysofwriting

Many people equate pearls with value.  We see this in fashion and in wisdom.  Originally pearls were found by chance, created in the amazing biology of the oyster as it organically responded to injury by excreting a substance known as nacre.  In the modern day, pearls are now grown in farms.  The process is still organic as farmers insert a ’seed’ particle into the oyster to start the nacre secreting process.  Pearl production has dramatically increased with this infusion tactic.
  Like the oyster and the pearl, many schools in the past were magical when opened; people found beauty inside an amazing school culture. Unfortunately, like the oyster and the pearl, some schools were opened to find nothing of value.
School culture is a hot topic in the Twitterverse these days. Many connected educators are posting their thoughts and feelings, their practices and wishes.  While I agree that school culture is a multifaceted gem, reflecting off students, teachers, support staff, and families, today I will write about the role of the principal.  It is the role I am most familiar with.
The principal is like the pearl farmer in that s/he is the person with the power to insert the ‘seed’ into the school in which they work, the team that they lead,  the community they support.
I suggest two ‘culturing’ tools for principals.   They are fairly simple to use and yet can create remarkable pearls of value. I like to call this creating the conditions.
The first tool is called TALK and LISTEN.  Too often we enter a new setting and do one or the other!  I like to think that we need to sit and hear from all team members while we determine what the needs of the school are.  By ASKING QUESTIONS and LISTENING THROUGH THE ANSWERS we can assess the real needs that our teams, students and families tell us.  Let people have a voice but don’t be afraid to direct what you are talking about.  Ask questions, direct conversations, drive the direction of the talking.  A few ways this can be done might include common professional development, book studies, or posting a discussion topic for the day.  Develop a practice of engaging at least one conversation a day with the team...but don’t talk to the same people every time, if you want to harvest many pearls you need to seed many oysters!
The second tool is also a basic one called WALK THE TALK.  As the principal it is imperative that modelling happens.  People need to see you outside of your office, in a different hallway, and at different times of the day.  This can be very challenging when you are inundated with demands from the Board Office or professional organizations.  Staff also need to see that you are investing in the same things that you expect of them.  Read the book for the book study, participate in a PLC, develop and connect with a global PLN.
I had the fortune this past week of having a principal from another school ask if he could tour the school I am at.  He heard me speak in the fall.  I gladly accepted his request, even joked that he was coming to see that I was being honest with my stories and examples of school culture!  What happened was really encouraging and rewarding.  In a blog post about his visit @csgamble made note of little things that our team does - things that I hadn’t really thought of but reflect the richness of a strong school culture.  You can read his blog here.  I left Chris with a comment about time.  This cool, amazing, high powered team didn’t develop overnight.  We have worked together for seven years now and as the principal I have tried my best to insert small practices into the environment that  are reaping pearls of great value today.  
My 28 minutes are up - thanks for reading.

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