By: Aaron S. Marvel (PhD – 2018)
We learn and are shaped by our reflections. For this reason, I wish to share with you some of mine.
When I think about my three years as a leader in education administration and reflect on the things I did well and the things I truly regret, a few things come to mind, but in this blog I want to focus on one of each–one thing I’m proud of, and one I would just rather forget.
My first year as an administrator was interesting to say the least. We were charged with hiring almost a completely new staff, creating a school day schedule from scratch, instilling a positive school culture, establishing a discipline plan, developing a teaching philosophy, and much more. As a new instructional coach, my job was to help teachers become the educators they envisioned, to help teachers create a classroom environment that would spark joy and curiosity in students.
I had lots of ideas, but I lacked an approach that made sense. There was no long term plan, little follow up, poor consistency, and I lacked confidence. This made for a mediocre year with mediocre growth at best. By the end of the year, I knew this–that I had a lot to learn, so I did the one thing I actually can now be proud of for that year.
I invited each teacher on campus to provide me with personalized feedback through a short survey, and followed up with each teacher through a brief meeting to provide an opportunity to elaborate on their feedback.
Through these meetings I was affirmed in many of my actions, given ideas on how to improve, and advised on some things that I just shouldn’t do anymore. More than anything, though, I showed the teachers that I was willing to grow as well. If my teachers were going to take a growth mindset for themselves, and if they were going to trust me, I had to reciprocate with that trust. I had to show them that I could entrust them with my inadequacies, that I needed feedback as well, that I’m far from perfect and I know it.
Most importantly, I needed to show them that I believed I could take their feedback and improve. The following year was a great improvement, although still not perfect. I did feel the consequences from those meetings, however. Teachers came to me more freely with their issues. They trusted that I would not judge their mistakes, but would walk alongside them as we grew together. My relationship with each teacher had reached a new level, I believe partly because of our end of the year meetings.
I wish I could say all my decisions were as reflective, wise, and proactive as the latter, but I would be lying. In fact, some of my decisions exposed doubt, and fear, and pessimism. At the beginning of my third year as an administrator (my second as an assistant principal), I wanted to provide my teachers an opportunity for a year long professional development opportunity, a cohort of sorts that would learn, and fail, and practice together.
Our goal was to improve our use of formative assessment in the classroom. I had done much study on the subject and felt ready to present the idea to the staff. On our very first staff meeting I presented my idea to the teachers through a short presentation. The presentation went over very well as fourteen teachers out of forty-four registered for my training. I excitedly sent out information to each teacher explaining how the training would work throughout the year and how they should complete their first task.
My first job was to arrive to each of their classes and randomly choose six students to record what they felt the learning objective was for the day. I then uploaded each of these videos and shared them with the teachers. They immediately saw that the majority of their students struggled to explain what they were trying to learn. This was the first lesson I wanted the teachers to understand–that to begin a learning process, a student must have some understanding of their learning goals.
This assignment was followed up with a face to face meeting where we discussed what we found and how we would address the issue of helping students understand learning objectives. As we met, I began to feel a shift in the room, whether real or an illusion in my mind, I can’t say for sure, but it immediately instilled fear in me.
The conversation turned to excuses.
“We don’t have enough time in the classroom.” “Our students aren’t ready for this.” “My kids are too young.”
I struggled in this conversation; I took on the responsibility of solving their problems, of invalidating their excuses. Little was accomplished in the meeting, and as our time ran short, I felt that we had accomplished little. I felt that a light had exposed me as unrealistic, my ideas as impractical and unnecessary. As the meeting closed I felt that we had left the meeting on a rather sour note. Instead of the teachers being empowered and motivated, I felt that we had somehow constructed new barriers.
The meeting followed with one final assignment that had some promising results, but my year long professional development training soon faded into the whirlwind of daily responsibilities. Occasionally someone would ask, “Hey, whatever happened to that training we were doing? Are we going to meet again?” I would apologize, explain that time had gotten away with me, but I wouldn’t dare admit, not even to myself, that I didn’t intend to continue.
I felt inadequate. I thought I was wasting everyone’s time. I just imagined the size of the meetings dwindling each week until not even I was showing up.
The fear of failure paralyzed me, so I did nothing.
I now regret allowing my idea to die. I regret not even giving myself the chance to fail, because in that failure I would have learned something, something that would have prepared me to improve upon my endeavors to grow our campus.
Instead, I didn’t just fail my teachers, but I failed myself. I allowed doubt and fear to dictate my future.
I know that no excellent thing has ever come from taking the safe route.
Creating something extraordinary takes a risk. It takes a willingness to fail, even publicly. I can only now redeem my mistake by learning from it. My future endeavors must take form regardless of my doubts, for my doubts are not reality. They are nothing but a fantasy.
I encourage you, and myself, to take courage in your ventures! A pastor friend once told me, “Aaron, you have all you have ever needed to fulfill God’s plan inside of you.”
These words have many times bolstered me in times of fear, and I leave you with the same message:
You lack nothing.
You have the time.
You have the skills.
You have the knowledge.
You have what it takes.