Guest post by Brandon Mowinkel

From: Brandon Mowinkel
Date: Friday, March 25, 2016 at 12:03 AM
To: Brandon Mowinkel
Allow yourself to be a beginner again…

I was recently cleaning out my inbox and came across this email sent from me to me at three minutes past midnight. This isn’t necessarily odd as I send myself emails all the time of things I need to do or want to remember. However, I have no context for this email—the body of the email was blank. What was I watching or reading that I felt compelled enough to send these seven words? What was it that resonated with me at the time? As I ponder and reflect upon these words, I wonder when was the last time I was truly a beginner again.

Although being a beginner opens one up to fear, vulnerability, and the unknown, the payoff can be one of joy, excitement, accomplishment, and newfound passions. After being fired from Apple, Steve Jobs embraced the opportunity to become a beginner again and said, “[Being a beginner] freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Watch any toddler or young child play, and they aren’t afraid to try new things. Whether it is learning to swim, riding a bike, or shooting hoops, they try and fail over and over again until they finally get it right. There is a sense of excitement to what they are doing, and nothing will stop them from achieving their goal. But as we get older, this sense of excitement and wonder turns into fear and eventually a lack of trying new things altogether.

As educators, it is easy to become stuck in what we do and only tend to the needs of our jobs. Our routines follow a distinct calendar with the occasional disruption, but for the most part, we stick to the schedule and take on the ebbs and flows that come with being an administrator. This leaves little time to dabble in something new.

As school leaders we are constantly learning, whether it be attending professional development opportunities, reading, participating in discussions, or relying on our network and mentors for support and guidance. But what would happen if we took 30 minutes a day to learn a new skill, research a topic of interest, or explore an unfamiliar art form?

Recently, I had the opportunity to become a beginner again. As a former shop teacher, I love working with my hands and honing my shop skills. This school year we hired a new shop teacher who wanted to learn how to run the CNC plasma cutter. As neither of us had used this before, I told him I would work on getting it up and running. In less than five hours on a Saturday, with help from our tech department, our former shop teacher, and YouTube videos, I was able to program and run the CNC cutter. Not only had I learned a new skill, but I became energized by the process. Becoming a beginner forced me to problem-solve, engage with equipment I was not familiar with, and most importantly, learn a new skill from start to finish.

As an administrator, what is a skill, trade, or topic you have always wanted to explore? How can you find 30 minutes here and there to “become a beginner again”? Take time to invest in yourself and see what a difference it makes in your attitude. We all have something we want to learn—now go out and find it!

Brandon Mowinkel is the principal at Milford Jr./Sr. High School in Milford, NE, where he has spent his entire career, previously serving as the industrial technology teacher and an assistant principal. He is actively involved in the Nebraska Association of Secondary School Principals and is the current president of the organization. Follow him on Twitter @bmowinkel.


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