So I read a very good book recently that has forced me to take a deep look at how I spend my days…I looked at the routines and the habits that are so engrained in my day to day approach to my work that I don’t even give them a second thought anymore. The book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, has thankfully stopped me in my tracks, and has pushed me to think critically about whether or not there are some habits in my life that need to be changed, and some default decision-making routines that need to be questioned. After about a week of reflecting, I’ve decided to make a couple of changes, and to form a new habit or two…these small but powerful shifts have already changed my days for the better, and have allowed me to more clearly focus on what’s really important to me in my job.
The first habit that I’ve broken and changed has to do with how I spend the first 30 minutes of my day. Before last week, the first half hour was all about meetings, or trouble shooting the issues and emails that had come my way the day or night before…the first 30 minutes was all about looking at fixing problems and putting out fires, and it didn’t allow me to really notice or appreciate the absolute magic that is the beginning of a new day. I was missing all the smiles and all the joy that comes along with the excitement and the promise of a new day at school, and I was not starting my days in the right frame of mind. So last week, I decided to spend the first 30 minutes of every day being a smile hunter…looking and listening for joy, and beauty, and laughter, and excitement, and smiles, which as it turns out, are everywhere, all the time, and screaming out to be noticed. I decided to count the number of times that a child or a child’s actions made me smile as they arrived off of the buses, and I’m sure it’s not surprising to you that I lost count before the first minute of class even started. It was overwhelming to see kids literally skipping to class, and holding hands with their friends, and excited to show off their science projects, and talking about how well they played in their soccer game the day before, and completely prepared to crush a summative assessment that was coming their way, and genuinely thrilled to get started on another day of learning. I walked back to my office after touring my division for 30 minutes and I was smiling from ear to ear…my new first 30 minute routine or habit has now become the best part of my day, and I’ve found that the belly laughs that I inevitably find on my smile tour stay with me, and keep me constantly searching for the small and beautiful moments that make up my day at work. It reminds me of one of my favorite Paul Simon lyrics, which goes, “All I have to do today is smile”, from the song, The only Living Boy in New York…and if you get down to the core of it, what else do you really have to do with your days? I’m wondering how many of you are in routines that have you focusing on something else besides the beauty of your kids, and if you’re starting your days without feeling overwhelmed by it all, then maybe it’s time for you to change your habits as well.
The next shift that I made had to do with the association that students have with being sent to the Principals office. From as long as I can remember, being sent to the Principal’s office has been a negative experience in the eyes and minds of kids, and used as a source of consequence and punishment by teachers. Teachers have traditionally sent students to the office for bad behavior, or for disciplinary reasons, and it has been no different in the schools where I’ve been a Principal. I’m usually sitting at my desk when student walks through the door and I’m immediately put in a position of bad guy…ask a kid if he wants to be sent to the office and you know the answer that you’ll get. Well, that all changed last week and it’s been amazing! I told my faculty to stop sending kids to my office for bad behavior, and to start sending kids to my office to be celebrated. On Thursday and Friday of last week I had over 20 kids walk through my door with huge smiles on their faces, and super proud to be sent to the office…I celebrated them, and I hugged them, and I sent them back to class with a feeling of pride and accomplishment…now kids are clamoring to be sent to the Principal’s office, and it’s become a badge of honor instead of a badge of shame. I still deal with disciplinary issues of course, but I do it in a different venue, and outside the confines of my office walls. I’m challenging you all to help me with this important shift…send kids my way to be celebrated, and if you’re at other schools around the world, surprise your Principal by sending celebrations through his or her door…If you’re a Principal reading this, then think about your own habits and routines in your school…this is a shift that will change your days for the better I promise.
I was a very happy person before I read this book, and it was rare that you’d find me without a smile on my face because I love, love, love what I do…but these two shifts have truly allowed me to focus on what I find most important in my work, which is to seek out the beauty of our students and to celebrate them for being the amazing young people that they are. There is so much beauty in the run of a school day that it will make your head spin…change your habits so you allow yourself the opportunity to revel in it…schools are the most beautiful places on earth if you open your eyes, and get in the habit of smile hunting. What do you have to do today? All I have to do today is smile! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week….
I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.
—Leonardo da Vinci
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg
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