When You Can’t Be Certain, Be Positive

I’m about to wrap up my first year as a public school administrator.  While there have been many incredible challenges to overcome, a multitude of remarkable moments to celebrate, and seemingly limitless opportunities for reflective growth, in many ways, I feel as though the school year began about ten minutes ago.  As with any job in education, mine is filled with long and fast-paced workdays, that are chalk full of excitement.  Sometimes that fast pace is energizing, and other times it’s exhausting.  At all times (energized and exhausted), I feel truly fortunate to get to do this work!

One of the more delightful confirmations I’ve been repeatedly reminded of this year is that we in K-12 public education are doing good work for children!  We are helping them grow.  We are keeping them safe.  We are providing joyful spaces in which they are poised to thrive, and we are offering abundant opportunities for positive learning and growth.  We are not perfect.  I am certainly not perfect.  However, a building administrator’s lens has been an incredible and rewarding perspective from which to witness this outstanding process.  Furthermore, the “not perfect” part is the part that has been most valuable in my ability to build capacity.  For me, there is always something to learn, and always some direction in which to grow.

Coming in this past fall, I understood that the middle age learner experiences unreal development over the course of a relatively short period of time.  I knew (as has now been substantiated with sharp clarity) that children in the fall of their sixth-grade year are all but completely different people from who they become by the spring of their eight-grade year.  Essentially, they arrive as elementary students and leave as high school students.  It’s truly an amazing transformation!  What I didn’t fully understand at the onset was the magnitude of transformative growth that takes place over the duration of just one middle school year.

I am awed by the development that gets packed into ten and a half months of each of these amazing children’s lives.  What a remarkable test for them and for us.  It’s a wonderful, but confusing time to say the least.  Among the many positive aspects of engaging from a new perspective has been that all year long I’ve felt a heightened connectedness, due in large part to the fact that, like the students I serve, I’ve been growing at an accelerated rate too.  I’ve needed to.  My learning curve was quite steep (still climbing).  Like the students, I had to take what I knew of myself and actively transform with each step along a critical and challenging path.

It’s been an exhilarating and sometimes frightening course of action, and here’s some learning that hit me hard: during intense periods of growth it is not always possible to be certain.  Here’s a suggestion that’s been invaluable to me in the light of that learning:  even (and arguably – especially) when you can’t be certain, be positive!  The bad news (which technically doesn’t need to be articulated because of its obviousness) is that I am still not able to remain positive during every situation.  Ironically, I’m close to certain that I never will be.  Being a flawed human being isn’t always easy.  However, I am getting better with each moment that I actively put my mind to the task and reflect on my progress.  I’ve found success at building capacity through that mindfulness and reflection.

Possibly even more ironically, one situation that really pushes me to the limit is when others insist that they can’t, or don’t want to see though positive lenses.  Even worse (for my ability to remain positive) is when people actively decide not to grow (though they know we all do, whether we like it or not).  Just the other day someone looked at me and insisted, “I’m doing the best I can…this is who I am, and that’s what I’ve got to work with” with reference to a situation that’s negatively impacting a child.  It really didn’t sit well with me, so I insisted, “Well, you’re going to have to do better!”  That didn’t sit well with either of us.  For the person I was talking to, it probably sounded presumptuous (actually, probably not probably…but actually).  For me, I know there’s a better path to fostering understanding and growth than a short, frustrated outburst.

I appreciate the essence though.  The “doing the best I can,” part seems positive when it’s looked at in any given moment.  What gets me piqued is the “this is who I am, and that’s what I’ve got to work with” part.  People are living things.  All living things are constantly growing, changing, developing, and building capacity for new and augmented competencies all the time.  Especially when it comes to the wellbeing of the children we serve, we have to believe that our enhanced ability to serve them has a coaxial relationship with our consistent building of capacity.

We’ve got think positively about it.  Why not believe that we are each becoming something we might not be able to imagine?  I don’t exactly remember, but I would guess that as an incoming sixth grader I couldn’t have imagined what I would will be/feel/know, or what capacity I would have developed upon becoming an outgoing eighth grader.  Likewise, I couldn’t have known how this first year would transform me as an administrator, and I certainly don’t know what capacity I might build/access in the upcoming years of my career in educational leadership.  Because I can’t be certain, I’m going to be positive.  I am going to put myself out there, stretch my comfort zone, remain committed to reflective growth, and believe that the possibilities are limitless.  For me, it feels right, and so far…it’s proven at least a decent way to live, learn, serve, and lead.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

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