New Beginnings, Perseverance, and a Blog Reborn

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    As I write this blog post, I do it as a newly appointed elementary principal. I couldn’t be more excited about this transition and the opportunities for learning new things, building relationships with new people, and growing as a leader, educator, and person.

    In reflecting on the last few months, and trying to make sense of the millions of thoughts and questions I have, I can’t help but come back to the idea that you never really know where circumstances and situations may take you. I’m not going to lie, I interviewed a lot this spring. Multiple positions, multiple rounds, as many different formats as you can imagine, and it was a grueling rollercoaster of emotions in the Sellenheim household. I was living what Randy Pausch writes, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” However, the gamut of interviews was also a time of great growth for me on a number of levels, and I feel like I have come out the other side understanding more about my ability to persevere and focus.

    There is one particular moment that stands out to me in this season of job search. At the conclusion of a dinner interview (which I thought went very well), we were walking to our cars to go home and an interview committee member told me they appreciated how genuine I was, that they really enjoyed getting to know me, and that I gave the interview committee a lot to think about. Now, at this point, I was thinking, “well that sounds like a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ if I’ve ever heard one,” but as my wife pointed out, “That’s a really nice thing for them to say, and it’s true. You are genuine.

    Now, unfortunately I might have been right about their comments because I didn’t get that job, but my wife’s better way of thinking helped me see that oftentimes you have to understand and accept that as long as you are doing your best, you don’t have to apologize or feel bad for being who you are (even if being rejected by, say, an interview committee). Take compliments when they come to you, and also realize that eventually the right opportunity (something even bigger and better) is going to come along.  From our failures we learn and will find success.

    The idea of genuineness or authenticity also leads me to a few other reflections on the past few months.

  1. Authenticity has always resonated with me. I don’t appreciate people who fake being nice. I am a firm believer in being true to who you are, authentic in what you do, and I genuinely care about the well-being and growth of those around me (my staff and students). I value relationships, and it has always been my desire to be a building principal so that I can help teachers help kids.

2. Authentic learning is a bit of a buzz word, and ever since my graduate studies, Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) has shaped my philosophy of education. I truly believe staff and students should be engaged in learning that allows them to construct knowledge, engage in disciplined inquiry (critical questions), and see the value of their learning beyond a classroom.

3. Sometimes the most authentic thing you can observe in a person is how they respond in adverse situations. As previously stated, I learned a lot about myself through the interview processes and am proud of my ability to persevere, focus, and take the next leap forward professionally. Bless my wife again when she said, “If nothing else, you lasted the longest,and wore everyone else down so they’d hire you.”

    So here is where I end this post: The explanation of the blog’s new title and focus. To quote George Couros, “I am blogging to learn, not to share learning. There is a difference.  Part of the reasoning why I do this is to see my own evolution of thought over time.”  Personally, I, Joe Sellenheim, am at a time where each day will contain a “first” and experiences of something new. I am excited to use this blog as a way to view my growth throughout my first year as a principal (and the subsequent years hereafter). I am, and will continue to be, genuine, or AUTHENTIC, in what I say, what I do, and what I write because that is who I am.

From this point forward, I can call proudly myself, a Principal of Authenticity – which is something that I have wanted (being a principal that is) to do for a very, very long time.

 

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Oh, take me back to the start…

As administrators, we all started somewhere.

While I searched (endlessly!) for my first administrative position, I discussed what it would take to make that leap from band teacher to administrator with my superintendent. He understood my frustration with the fruitless efforts of applying and interviewing and told me something truly great. He said, “When you make that leap, and it will happen, remember that when things are tough, or you wonder why you decided to make this career choice, how you felt when they offered you the job.”

And I do! I remember driving in my car the day after the final round of interviews thinking I had struck out again because it was taking so long for them to call (it was 9:00AM). My phone rang (oh brother, hear we go again)! I answered and I heard the words “we’d like you to be our next Director of Student Services.” Though I remained conscious for the rest of the conversation, I only being told I could take time discuss it with my family. After hanging up, I fumbled to dial my wife (1 touch speed dial) and vividly remember being overcome with tears of joy as my wife said to me, “You did it, [Joe], you did it!” (She used her pet name for me).

This moment, though, comes well before what we face in out job every day: Reality.

  • It comes before the reality that if you don’t like something, you can’t just fix it in a day because you don’t just have a classroom. Change now requires a lather of shared vision, patience, relationship building, data collection, and carefully crafted professional development. (Rinse and repeat…rinse and repeat…has it changed yet?)
  • It comes before the reality that you have to document and organize dozens of observational artifacts and complete a written narrative at 9:00PM in bed before you can do what you love (and in my opinion matters) the most: the coaching conversation with the teacher who is on the cusp of going from good to great. (aMAZing!)
  • It comes before the reality that you will receive phone calls from an upset parent wondering why you haven’t done anything stop their child’s classmate from tormenting them every day for the past two weeks. Keep in mind, you knew nothing about this until right now (Have they informed to the teacher yet?…No.).
  • It comes before the reality that you want to bang your head against the wall because no matter what you do or say to students about bus behavior (PBIS is legit!), students can’t still seem to sit and stay in their seat, talk quietly, keep hands to themselves, and eat the food when they get OFF the bus. (It sounds simple to me!)

Sure, the reality of school leadership can be harsh, but what was described above is just a day in the life of someone with a job they love. I maintain a  good sense of humor, I am a bit of an eternal optimist, and, maybe, just maybe, I am a bit of a glutton for punishment.

It is a privilege to lead teachers and impact students each day, and their successes are  motivating and inspiring. That being said, after a super tough day when success. motivation, and inspiration may be scarce, I push my own reset button and remember how I felt when I was offered this job. It helps me visualize that greater success with staff, bigger smiles from students, and deeper appreciation from families will surely come.

Coldplay: The Scientist

Nobody said it was easy,
No one ever said it would be this hard.

Oh, take me back to the start.

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