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Good advice is what sticks with you and pops into your brain when it’s most needed. The best advice is often the simplest. Over the last 18 years I have had the opportunity and honor of being a teacher, vice principal, principal and assistant superintendent. Each position has opened up new and exciting experiences, and wonderful collegial relationships with educators within my district, state, country and world. As a result of these relationships I have received a lot of advice on being successful and given some. Of all the advice received the best was simply, “Remember where you came from”.

While teaching I was also an advisor to several clubs and a coach. As a coach you spend a tremendous amount of time with your fellow coaches. Early mornings, late nights, weekends, breakfast, lunch and dinner. They become family and family can tell you anything. So when I announced to my fellow coaches that I was hired as a vice principal the advice was given in a matter of fact way. It seemed so simple and obvious. But why say it? Why wouldn’t I remember where I came from? Here are the answers to those questions that have become clearer to me over the years:

  1. The tree is as important as the forest: As a teacher we are focused on our students and our class. This is the tree. The principal is focused on all the students and all the classes. This is the forest. What we need to remember as we become school leaders is that the tree is as important as the forest. We can not let a tree fall to save the forest because every tree has value and is worth saving.
  2. The horizon becomes hazy the further away you get: The further away a school leader gets from teaching the more difficult it may become to see what teachers truly do day in and day out. It is an educational leader’s responsibility to stay close to where the action happens and to stay in touch with true education. This means visiting classrooms, staying in the lunch room, doing bus duty, and going outside for recess.
  3. Decisions are best made when not in a vacuum: Educational leaders want to be innovative and improve instruction so students learn more. This can and should be done but with a full understanding of what is occurring in the classroom and the impact the innovation will have on the instructional environment. Talk with your staff, discuss the issues and ideas. Generate revisions on your idea based on the feedback you receive from your staff.
  4. Teachers were hired to teach: Keep the focus on instruction, students, and learning. With so much change happening in education educational leaders often forget that teachers need to teach.
  5. Never lose your passion: Of all the answers I have developed from this one simple piece of advice this one drives all the rest. We went into education for a reason and it should be our passion. No matter the years we accumulate, positions we hold, or responsibilities given we must always maintain that passion.

Unfortunately, my colleague and friend who gave me this advice has since past but his message still rings true more than a decade later and is passed on from me to others who are taking their first leadership steps in education. Join me and others as we lead in the educational field by remembering where we came from so that we can make well balanced and appropriate educational choices for our students, staff, parents, schools and communities. 

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