Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The first two lessons from six months as interim Principal

I am an oldest child. I have a habit of taking charge. In many respects this is a good trait for a Principal. There were times when a decision was needed...when everyone in a meeting was waiting for a sense of direction or an understanding of next steps. There were other times when I wish I had waited to step in or had asked a few more questions or sought out other's opinions before I waded in. Twice I know I muddied the water by responding and deciding rather than making sure I had the best information. In both cases, apologizing and working with all those involved helped to bring a good resolution.

In another instance, I didn't like the direction a faculty member was heading with a process to support students.
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Rather than meeting and asking the person to rethink and consider the implications of his assumptions, I sent an email and simply took over. Understandably, this person felt undermined and angry. In retrospect, I should have had the discussion first. I might still have had to intervene, but I would have given this person the opportunity to provide the solution himself.  We both wanted to support our students. As Principal I had a different perspective, that of parents and their expectations for what the school should provide, and what I thought was realistic. My colleague had concerns about job creep and increasing demands on teacher time.

Besides stepping in when I should wait, I found it all too tempting to send an email
rather than speak to someone in person--while I was Principal my inbox doubled over its previous volume. Opting for email was especially true when I anticipated meeting resistance or displeasure with what I had to say. So my second lesson from this six months is to choose face to face or a phone call (not voicemail!). This summer I have made a point of walking out of my office to find people to respond to their emails or to ask a question that needs more than a yes or no answer. I know that this won't always be possible in the crush of the school year, but if I practice now, it will be easier to do when its harder to do.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Freezing Green Beans and Reading Charles Wright

A week ago I finished reading Seamus Heaney's District and Circle (again), breaking my own rule that my first poet of the summer is someone I haven't read before. I found new poems to hold onto and visit again..."The Tollund Man in Springtime", "Planting the Alder", and "A Stove Lid for W. H. Auden" to name only those most present in my mind. The new poet for this summer is Charles Wright, named Poet Laureate in 2014. After a little research, I chose Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems. I think I chose it because it included his poems from his collection titled Chickamauga.  Many years ago I spent the summer reading Shelby Foote's Chickamuaga and Other Civil War Stories.  I have only read the first eleven of Wright's poems; I know I need to give him and his poems more time. But even the poems set in spring and summer such as "After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard" have an autumnal feel. I feel detached, held at a distance by this poet contemplating what it all means in the second half of his life. . . what it all means through the lens of LaoTzu and the poets influenced by him. (When I think of Lao Tzu, I tend to remember the sense of humor and for Chinese poets I gravitate to Li Po).  I remember having the same reaction to Don Delillo's White Noise, and anything by John Updike. The sense of detachment and emptiness as emptiness (rather than emptiness as receptivity) in these first poems is out of synch with where I am, when I am.
Perhaps, I shouldn't have started my day in my garden watching bumble bees gather pollen from the liatris. Perhaps I should have skipped counting how many new blooms were on the Magnolia tree. Perhaps I should have started the day with the New York Times and the fighting in the Middle East, the downed plane in the Ukraine, the man killed by the Staten Island police.

Perhaps, I shouldn't have spent my day in the kitchen. Maybe, I could have been more ready for Wright. On the one hand, of what use is it for me to clean, blanch and freeze green beans I bought at the West Chester Grower's Market yesterday? I can for much less money (and time) buy frozen beans at the Acme. Thoughts like these might have opened the way for Wright's lines from "Easter 1989."
On the other hand, I could have spent my day reading something from the piles of books I have throughout the house; I could have spent the time exercising or writing college letters of recommendation for my students. I could have started my reflection on being Interim Principal. If I had a third hand. . . I would say to the other two hands . . .I spent my morning at my kitchen sink, snapping beans and watching "my" humming bird sip nectar from the bee balm Sarah planted in her seventh grade butterfly garden. In between beans, I rolled out the flaky pie crust I had started the day before (and yes a store bought crust is faster and sort of good). Then the crust sat in the fridge for an hour to rest --for better flakiness. The peaches macerated in their own juices which were then boiled down to a third cup of syrup. Peach and blueberry pie and green beans, one for tonight, one for this winter. 

While I worked I thought about how much pleasure I take from looking out my window at the life right there, how much creativity I bring to creating meals for my family, and how much I will enjoy going down to my freezer next winter to get a bag of my frozen beans for one of our favorite winter soups. At that moment I will remember the hummingbird, the sound of the lawn mower, the rooster down the hill and the mockingbird at the top of the Crimson Maple. 

This day, which included cleaning two bathrooms as well as the cooking and baking, brings to mind how much I delight in the witch's stories in Terry Pratchett's disc world series. Unlike the wizards, who mainly eat and argue, the witches do what needs doing, they pay attention, they are woven into life --individual lives and the web of life. Perhaps that's why I savored every page of Michael Ondaatje's Divisidero and had such trouble even finishing Snow Falling on Cedars. (However,  a very good friend tells me to give David Guterson another try).  I want what I read to connect me to life, not hold me at arm's distance, not wallow about death or immortality or numbness or regret or anomie. With bumblebees drunk on nectar who has time to do anything but be alive?