After leaving a fulfilling job as principal of Pocomoke High School after six amazing years, I began to reminisce on the work that my team had accomplished together. I thought, what if we were to write a book on the work we had done? What would we entitle the book? What would be the theme of the book? And what would the focus of each chapter be?
We would call it Making a Difference Every Day, and the book would focus on instructional leadership strategies that work. Here is a preview of our would-be book:
Chapter 1: High Expectations for All
Our opening chapter would be jam-packed with examples of the rising tide that lifted all of our students. We would share examples of the strategies we used to raise the bar of student performance expectations—both behavioral and academically for our students. Instructionally, we implemented professional learning communities and utilized formative assessments in order to improve test scores. Behaviorally, we strengthened our school counseling office and expanded the services students could receive there, with collaboration from our local health department. Personalization was a strong force in this rising tide, and we made it a point to know each child by name. There would be many other examples in this chapter of our individualized approach to education and the regular data meetings we held to examine the progress of each and every child.
The second chapter would describe our commitment to building relationships with our students as well as our willingness to learn how to support them in better ways. We would show all the wonderful ways our staff cultivated strong ties with students from the opening days of freshmen year all the way through to congratulating our graduates on stage. The strong relationships we formed gave us the foundation we needed to support our students in a myriad of ways. This chapter would include examples of our relentless commitment to providing students with the support they need in order to reach these high expectations.
Chapter 3: Laughter is the Best Medicine
This chapter would remind readers that we never took ourselves too seriously; our humor helped make us real to our kids. The words in this chapter would also remind readers not to confuse humor with sarcasm. They are very different, and sarcasm does not motivate nor encourage impoverished students.
Chapter 4: It’s Worth It
Next, we would discuss the reality that these expectations, support, and attempts at humor take a lot of energy. This chapter would be focused on the fact that all that effort is worth it, and here we would write about our “why,” or our Ikigai, a Japanese word meaning “our reason for being.” The words would be all about the way our mission, passion, profession, and vocation meld together to create an amazing educational experience for our students.
Chapter 5: The Rest of the Story
Our book would end in Chapter 5 where we would share the rest of the story. Here we would discuss how after five years of steady growth, our scores declined a little. I would take responsibility in losing my laser focus on those individual data meetings. I would share honestly that I allowed distractions to get in the way of my work and sometimes my ability to laugh with our students. This chapter would be uncomfortable for me as a writer, because I would be reminded of all my shortcomings, all the things I didn’t accomplish while leading the most wonderful school in the world. The final paragraphs of the story would be an apology to my staff and students that I wasn’t the principal for them that I had wanted to be. But then in the final sentences I would hear an echo…
I would hear the voices of my staff and students saying, “If we are really being honest, our story never ends and this book is just the beginning. We all grow and learn together. We all grow and learn forever. Our story never ends!”
And I would close the book with these final words: This will be our vow to each other; We will keep learning and loving, forever and ever.
If you walked away from your job today, what would be the title of your book and its focus? What chapters would you include in your book? If you aren’t sure, it is never too late to pen a more authentic, more meaningful, and more rewarding story!
Annette Wallace, EdD, is the former principal of Pocomoke High School and the current Chief Operating Officer of Worcester County Public Schools. She is committed to a high-quality education for all students, equity, and minority achievement. Annette was the 2016 Maryland Secondary Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @Aewallace8.