Exactly one month ago I took a new leap--in this case, from being an instructional coach at one school to being a vice principal at another. Can that be true? It is as if the past month proceeded at light speed; in a mere few days it will be time to welcome a new school year.
I have often thought that the first day of a new academic year is more powerful than New Year's Day for educators. It is the beginning of a new cycle of classes, meetings, lessons, and interactions that are the substance of our professional lives. And of course, my new role makes this time even more poignantly about new beginnings.
During the first days of my new job, I listened to The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman while commuting to and from work. The book had been recommended by a close friend; she thought it would be of benefit to me during those initial nervous days. She was right, I dare say even more than she realized.
"If you choose not to act, you have little chance of success. What's more, when you choose to act, you're able to succeed more frequently than you think. How often in life do we avoid doing something because we think we'll fail? Is failure really worse than doing nothing? And how often might we actually have triumphed if we had just decided to give it a try?" The Confidence Code, Kay & Shipman
These words could not have been more timely. Because of these words, I mustered the courage to share my opinions during meetings, to put my ideas for new programs into effect, and to engage in conversations with my new colleagues even when I felt awkward in doing so. When hesitation hovered, I sought new resolution to "give it a try." When the inevitable mistakes occurred, I reminded myself that we learn best from failure rather than success. I am first and foremost an educator, after all. If I don't live this truth, how can I expect my students or fellow educators to do so?
Holding fast to this belief will become even more important as faculty and staff return to school to begin a new academic year. Few other professions require the levels of energy, dedication, and generosity that education does. Research clearly establishes educators make thousands of decisions in a single day--more even than a neurosurgeon. (See synopsis of research in "Educator as Professional Decision-Maker" by Concordia University.)
This is hard, sometimes thankless work, and it can be easy to slip into the status-quo just to make life a little easier--to stick to the same curriculum, keep the same assignments, offer the same lectures, grade the same way, or refuse to incorporate new strategies or tools because of the energy that will require from an already-stretched brain.
And yet...and yet...this is what we simply cannot do. The work and content may be familiar to us, but for the students who walk into our classrooms this fall, it is all brand new. They are not the same students who walked in last year, or five and ten years ago. And now more than ever, they need to see us do what we ask of them: "give it a try."
I think Neil Gaiman's 2011 "My New Year Wish" puts this best; allow me to gratefully borrow his words as my wish for all of us in this new school year.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.