Fired-up, transparent, crazy, a little unpredictable...not always the list of traits that you walk into an education interview with to describe yourself when you are wanting to result to be a new job, but after ten plus years in the school leadership, these are adjectives that I wear with pride. They are the things that I lose when I am out of balance, stressed out or have lost focus on kids. Most importantly though, they are the things that let me walk in the door each day with an energy for life and learning. Here's a bit more about how each of these look on a daily basis.
Fired-up- Energy isn't default setting for middle school students. They don't wake up early to get to school to change the world, so it is my role to bring this energy to the table in the morning. One of the best examples of this is French Toast Friday. The first Friday of every month is a morning feast for my teachers and students. Though it was originally designed to be a teacher breakfast, the benefits are incredible for my students. They will rush from their morning spaces to the middle school commons just to get the last piece of French toast, a banana, or a plate of raspberries. It is amazing how cooking a little morning meal for student gets them in the right frame of mind to start the day.
Transparent- One of the best compliments that a teacher gave me was to tell me how much they appreciate my transparency. He said there is no guessing with you. You are totally out there. People know you as a person, a friend, and as a leader. This means working really hard to let me know when I'm upset, tired, angry, happiness or excited. Most would say that I am an awful poker player because my emotions are at the forefront of my leadership. Early in my career this meant comments that were truth, but not placed timely, but as I have honed my passion-based leadership, it means a genuine leader who can leverage change because everyone around me can trust an honest, straight forward answer.
Crazy- "You must be a little crazy to work at a middle school." This comment has been echoed over and over throughout my time as a middle school principal, but in some ways, it is correct. The crazy piece though isn't for doing the work that I do because I love every minute of shaping and caring for middle school aged kids, but the crazy comes from a place of pure joy. It isn't rare to hear me singing as I stroll down the hall or to see me running around the field playing soccer with the kids. The best example though is my announcer voice. I see a student in the hall, and in my best public address announcer voice, I introduce them as loud as I can. "Jennifer Martin everyone...Jennifer Martin." Student say why do you do that. I tell them that everyone likes to hear their name announced. They shake their head thinking he's just a little crazy.
A Little Unpredictable- The routine of school has moments that feel like hamster running on a hamster wheel, and I believe that it is the passion of the leader ignited in the greater school that helps to break this routine for true learning and gains. This starts for me by modeling the positive risk taking behaviors that I want my teachers and students to embrace everyday in the name of learning. This year, I agreed to let my adventure club students climb in the 100 ft oak tree on our campus. I unleashed our math teachers to teach without addressing all of our state standards because it brought greater learning for kids. I hooked our eighth graders to some incredible expeditionary learning that allowed them to be scientists on Mississippi River. It would be easy to set a routine that work, play only the hand that you are dealt each year, but it feels great for our system to be a bit unpredictable and pull a few cards from up my sleeve.
Certainly, these aren't the only traits of a passion-based leader, but for me, they are the ones that bring a joy to my calling. They are the way that I can operate in the world of education has so many negative stories, and yes, there are times when each of these things get me in some trouble, but I wouldn't have it any other way.