Hindsight is 20/20, or so the saying goes. I’m not sure if it was a clever optometrist who originally coined the phrase, but I’m certain every school principal can relate. Personally, I’ve had many moments in my 10 years as principal I’d like to redo. And with the blank canvas of a new year ahead, I can’t help but wonder what the next year has in store.
So here we are in 2020, and with the ever-increasing demands on school leaders, we are called to provide the direction that only perfect vision can help us achieve. But how can we continue to hone our skills with all the demands to improve? We principals often focus our sights so heavily on what’s next that we forget to take advantage of one of the best tools in our toolbox: personal reflection.
When used appropriately, personal reflection can be a powerful means to grow as a leader. As I strive to make 2020 the best year yet, my resolution is to create the space to critically analyze my craft and make plans for improvement. Here are four tips to make reflection a purposeful priority in your routine:
- Carve Out Time
If you find yourself not having time for reflection, schedule it. Put it on your calendar as part of your daily or weekly routine. Let the rhythm of your weeks be your guide. I like to take time on Friday afternoons after students leave to pause, look back on the week, and set some goals for moving forward. It also allows me to have time for myself before heading home for the weekend.
- Hold Yourself Accountable
Synonymous with carving out time is holding yourself accountable. It’s okay to admit that you might get overwhelmed. With all the demands on both our personal and professional lives, it is easy to allow distractions to consume us. What is not okay is to neglect yourself. Make a plan and stick to it. You have to take care of yourself in order to be at your best for others.
- Make it Purposeful
Reflection shouldn’t be self-defeating. It is an opportunity to gain insight on how you can improve. If you find yourself starting to become discouraged, be sure to pause, take a breath, and remember that there are always lessons that can be learned in even the most difficult situations. Sometimes it’s the most challenging events that give us the best perspective as we move forward.
- Set Realistic Expectations
It’s easy to be discouraged when things don’t go our way. The principalship is ripe for both criticism and regret. The true measure of our self-reflection is our ability to turn these feelings into action. Set goals that are attainable yet stretch you as a leader. Don’t make comparisons to others and be kind to yourself along the way.
As you consider your school goals for the new year, don’t forget to build in time to focus on your own growth. Some of the best educators I’ve worked with not only have a passion for learning, they also take the time to use their experiences to get better. Having a perfect vision is not just about knowing where you’re going, but also acknowledging where you’ve been. Take time this year to pause, reflect, and appreciate the opportunities life gives you to get better.
Think about the lessons learned in 2019. How have they shaped you as a leader? Be grateful for those experiences and use them to fuel your continuous improvement efforts.
Ross Ricenbaw is principal at Waverly Middle School in Waverly, NE. He is the 2019 Nebraska Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@jugglnprincipal).