Guest post by Steve Carlson
This year, the Carlson family finally all takes the same path in the morning. Now that my youngest is in kindergarten, my wife, three children, and I spend our days in the Sandusky Community School District. I know that many others have enjoyed this experience, but having it happen in our family has given me a new perspective. For starters, it is nice to know that the long hours I put in as Sandusky Junior/Senior High School principal have a direct impact on my family. More than this, having my entire family under the same “school roof” has motivated me to lead our school to benefit all families and taught me some valuable lessons.
My wife Erin is (in my biased opinion) one of the greatest teachers that a student could have. Her classroom experiences give me a constant reminder of what I need to do to lead our teachers. Great teachers need administrators who support them taking risks. They need us to remove obstacles in order to allow them to focus more on their students and less on distractions. Most important, they need us to never forget what a complex and taxing job that teachers have. As principal, I want our teachers to feel valued, supported, and served. This is not easy work and I worry often that I’m not doing enough in these areas. As a result, I constantly tweak my approach, trying to make things better for the staff. It’s not easy but the hard work is made even more meaningful knowing that my wife is one of the beneficiaries of the effort.
Gaining Perspective on the Student Experience
My oldest son, Matthew, is now a freshman and in his third year of having me as a principal. Despite occasional challenges, being the principal of my son’s school has allowed me to view the student experience through his eyes. I think that I’m pretty good at identifying areas of curriculum and instruction for improvement but getting a sense of the student experience has not yet been a particularly strong suit of mine. Through conversations with Matthew, I get a greater sense of what works and what doesn’t, what engages and what merely leads to compliance, and what inspires compared to what simply bores as a student at SHS. As a result, I can better direct feedback to teachers but, more important, I can better work on the climate and culture of our school to make the student experience more memorable in ways that go beyond our teachers’ lessons.
Designing for the Future
I don’t yet get to lead David’s or Rachel’s educational experiences. I certainly hope to someday, but the reality is David is four years away from SHS and Rachel is seven years away. But I try to be an architect as an educational leader. It’s a high benchmark to try to hit, and I don’t claim that I’m there. However, I try to maintain a long-range outlook to make sure that the work I do now—work that too often keeps me away from them and their earlier bedtimes—does in fact have a meaningful impact on their secondary education no matter who their principal might be.
Advocating for the “School Family”
I hope to not make this sound like my work is self-serving and I only do it for my family’s benefit. The truth is I’m blessed; I would love the work that I do no matter where Erin taught and no matter where my children went to school. Having my family benefit from my work is merely an added bonus. My main takeaway from all of this is that as educators and as educational leaders, we must always act with the guiding question of, “Is this what I would want for my family?” In my position, I get to advocate directly for my wife’s teaching experience and my children’s educational experiences. Obviously, not every teacher can have their spouse as a building leader and not all students can have their parent trying to shape the climate of their school. But even in the toughest hours of our jobs, we have to advocate for teachers and students as though they are part of our family.
As the pressures mount and the deadlines creep in, such a perspective keeps me focused on why I do what I do and why I am blessed to be doing it not just for my family, but our entire school community.
What personal and professional relationships could you draw on more to enhance your perspective on teacher and student experiences?
Steve Carlson is the principal of Sandusky Junior/Senior High School in Sandusky, MI. He is the 2016 Michigan Principal of the Year and the current MASSP President-Elect. Follow him on Twitter @MrCarlsonSHS.
This post is adapted from Steve Carlson’s blog, Sharing My Learning.