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June 1, 2008
Vol. 65
No. 9

The Principal Connection / Summertime Reflections

Although much is written about "reflective leadership," principals' hectic schedules rarely yield time to ponder the underlying issues of our professional lives or to engage in meaningful conversation with teachers.
I know the busyness saps my reflective self. An honest work-friend once told me, "Your frenetic pace causes you to miss what's going on here; you run right past it." She added, "But in those rare moments when you are present to those around you, you do your best work." Her advice hit home.
In summer, doors to reflection unlock. We have time to rummage around in our heads, unearthing deep-rooted beliefs about students and schools. We can ponder fundamental questions: Why am I in this business? How can I focus my time and energy on that which is truly central to the interests of students and teachers?
As a principal, during the school year I had to carve out time for such questions during the week—and convince myself that I was not wasting time or being self-absorbed. But summer offered spontaneous reflective time. It still does.

Reflection: A Frame of Mind

Reflection is more a frame of mind than an arranged event. When I immerse myself in these activities, I ease into that frame of mind:
  • Praying. My prayer is not specifically religious and doesn't always happen in a church. When I pray, I am not actively thinking or speaking. I sit quietly and go inward, emptying my attention-disordered mind and inviting peacefulness to join me.
  • Being near water. I live near Chicago, so I often visit Lake Michigan. I also call on the ocean whenever possible. I find that being present around great bodies of water reminds me of the peace and constancy in the universe and fills me with awe.
  • Traveling to the mountains. Living in the Midwest forces me to travel a long way to see the majesty of the Rockies. But being in these mountains always reminds me that I am just a minute piece in the puzzle of the universe. If my professional position ever entices me to value power or status, standing before the splendor of mountains eliminates this temptation.
  • Walking. Walking allows me to see things that I ordinarily race past. In warm weather, flowers and the spectrum of summer greens become visible. Even in Chicago's winter bluster, walking invigorates my body and renews my spirit. I return to work more intact physically and spiritually.
  • Spending time with my children and grandchildren. Weeks spent delighting in the young people in my family renew my conviction that schools must be created to serve children—and only children. This time reminds me that most parents and grandparents want for their kids the same things I want for mine: large doses of unconditional love, affirmation, and liberation of the myriad talents within each child.
  • Talking with close friends. I have friends with whom I can think deeply. We might discuss a book, or we might canoe on a quiet lake. Even when we are silent together, friends' presence reminds me of who I really am—without title, office, or duties. Humility is an uncommon virtue, and my friends are the custodians of mine! I need access to humility to remember that I can work only with and through others.

Taking the Tonic

Each of us will develop our own prescription for reflection. But all of us—whether we are seasoned administrators or new to the job—need this tonic to achieve the balance it requires. For our mental and spiritual well-being, we need to carve out time to look inside and rediscover for ourselves that our profession is essentially a sacred work because it is about caring for children.
Summer is here. Let's allow unscheduled hours to lead us into inner rooms that we rarely visit. If we can draw from those hours the strength, hope, and energy we need, we will return to our jobs renewed and better equipped to tackle whatever the new school year brings.

Joanne Rooney has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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