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Taking A Break From Comfort

Just about a year ago I decided to start blogging.  In that year I’ve written a total of two blog posts.  Not exactly what I was planning.  But, life happened and my job as a new assistant principal kept me busy.  My wife and I were trying to get pregnant through IVF, plus I was finishing my masters program at the University of Texas and put most of my focus on those areas.  These are all excuses, of course, since writing a blog post takes barely any time at all.

But, I want to focus on one of those things “keeping me from blogging” for a second…my job.  The 2012-2013 school year was my first year as an assistant principal, and it was a great one.  I split time my first year between two campuses.  One in North Austin and one in South Austin.  Both campuses were amazing and when I was at one I missed being at the other.  The students, parents, and teachers at both campuses were incredible and I enjoyed working and learning under the principals at each campus.  The only downside was the travel between the two campuses and how draining it could be at times when you are trying to be a 100% assistant principal on two campuses that you’re only physically at 50% of the time.  One of the perks of being on the two campuses was that they didn’t really have any “behavior problems.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, issues would come up at each campus, but discipline problems were few and far between.  The perk of this setup is the fact that since I didn’t have to deal with a lot of referrals or behavior issues, I had time to focus on other things like instructional leadership, cultural proficiency, etc.  I also had a lot of autonomy in my schools and could attend education conferences or speaking engagements when I wanted because me being off campus for a little while wouldn’t put the campus at risk.  We had strong leadership and strong teachers that could take care of things in my absence.

This school year, 2013-2014, I was offered a full-time position at one of the campuses I was splitting time at last year.  This was great since I could devote all of my time to one campus, a campus I was familiar with and loved, and I was finished with my masters program.  The only downside was that I would no longer be at the other campus that I had come to love.  I accepted the position and began the school year in a great place.  I had a great job, just finished a great masters program at a great university, and my amazing wife was pregnant.  The plan was to work at my school until I had the opportunity to take on being a head principal at a school one day.  Then something unexpected happened.  A vacancy opened up at a different school.  A COMPLETELY different school.  A middle school in East Austin.  I was asked, in mid-December, to consider helping that school finish out the 2013-2014 school year by being their 6th grade assistant principal.  I wasn’t looking to leave my campus to be an AP on another campus and this would mean leaving the comfort of my elementary world where I was able to focus on and work on the things I wanted to work on because I was at a place that allowed that to happen.  No major “problems” or “distractions” to get in my way.  I could leave work at a decent time everyday if I wanted to.  I had extra time to devote to hanging out with my pregnant wife, to running, to reading, to attending conferences, etc.  This new position wouldn’t allow as much freedom as before.  This new campus had a history of low performance on state tests and a high number of “discipline problems.”  This new campus would take up a lot more of my time and would require a lot more from me each day.  This new campus was a middle school and the only middle school experience I had before this year was being the assistant principal at a middle school for summer school last summer.  It would be a leap of faith and would mean leaving a school I loved, even if it would only be for a semester.  Oh, and don’t forget the whole pregnant wife thing.  She is due in late March.

Well, as you can guess, I accepted the new position.  Otherwise, this would be a waste of a post and bit of a lame story.  I accepted the position for a few reasons.  One, it would be a challenge, and I love challenges.  I think change is good and moving into a position at a different level in the middle of the year is a pretty big change and a big challenge.  Two, I knew my campus would be fine without me for a semester.  As I said before, the leadership and staff at that campus are great and I knew they wouldn’t miss a beat in my absence.  Plus, they have great leaders filling in for me while I’m gone.  Three, my new position would be in an area of town that I have a passion for.  East Austin is where I started my teaching career.  Many of my former students are actually currently enrolled at my new campus.  My passion is education and I strive to be a social justice and anti-racist leader everyday.  This job would allow me to work in an environment where those two things are needed a lot more than my last school.  And lastly, when you’re called upon to help students and a school in need, you say yes.  None of us in education should feel married to our current campuses.  We should do everything we can for the campuses we work at currently and be fully devoted to their success, but we should never lose sight of the fact that we work for the larger district and that each and every kid in that district is our responsibility.  When you are called upon to help students, and you feel like you can make a difference, I believe you answer that call.

I only have a week under my belt at my new campus, and it is DEFINITELY different from my last position (I’ll save the details for another post).  I feel good about my decision and definitely don’t regret it, even when, at times, I feel I’m in over my head.  I’m taking a leap of faith.  I’m giving it all I have.  I’m taking a break from comfort.  And so far, I’m loving it.

A post I read today by Eric Sheninger on the NASSP website got me thinking.  The post is here.  He talks about the importance of leaders in education to be connected and the need for a PLN (Personal Learning Network).  I couldn’t agree more.  As a first year public school administrator, I am always looking for new information on the topics of education, educational leadership, and social justice.  This might seem weird though coming from a guy who doesn’t have a facebook account.  Let me explain…I got rid of my facebook profile years ago when I was applying for grad school for 2 reasons.  One, I didn’t want some friend from high school or college posting some stupid comment or pic that might keep me from being considered for a spot in the principalship program at The University of Texas (we all have those friends and we all have done stupid things in the past).  Two, I didn’t want facebook to take up my time if I did get in the program.  After not having facebook for almost 3 years I can honestly say I don’t miss it.

But, in the process of deleting my facebook profile (which never really goes away) I signed up for a social networking site that was new to me…twitter.  My first few experiences with twitter were awkward as I tried to figure out exactly what you were supposed to do with it.  I followed athletes and sports accounts and waited for them to post some really cool picture of something that wasn’t really that cool and definitely wasn’t that important.  I dabbled with posting updates myself.  You know the ones…”Sitting in my living room watching football” or “Check out this pic of the food I’m eating!”  Because we all know that everyone on twitter is interested in that!

Over time though I started figuring this whole twitter thing out and began to follow people that actually had something to say…and what they were saying was really  good!  I drew back from posting so many insignificant updates about my food (although once in a while the food is really worth it!) And, I was really learning a lot about topics that I cared about.  Again, topics like education, educational leadership, and social justice.  But I ran into a problem.  The more people you follow on twitter the quicker your timeline fills up!  I couldn’t keep up.  There were so many links to so many good articles, but if I spent my time reading all of them and trying to keep up with them I would never actually get any work done!

So, I discovered another site that has now become my best friend…instapaper.  Instapaper is great because it allows you to save links to articles straight from your twitter timeline.  And it works with twitter apps as well.  So now, as I’m scrolling through a cluttered timeline at some point during the day, if I see a link to an article that sounds interesting, I just save it to my instapaper account.  Then, when I get home, I have a whole list of links to articles that I wanted to read, that were posted by people I follow on twitter.  If it ended up being an article I didn’t care about, I delete it.  If it ended up being a really good article that I might want to reference later, I archive it.  I am constantly reading and learning from some of the great leaders in education and I’m able to do it in real time and can organize it in a way that allows me to not miss an article and not get fired! (Because I would be spending all day trying to read the articles in my timeline instead of molding young minds.)

This, along with many other reasons, is why I think it’s important for anyone working in education to have a twitter account.  We have to be consumers of information.  Constant consumers of information.  Information that is current and important.  If we aren’t doing this then we become stagnant in our work and complacent in our profession.  Twitter and instapaper allow me to stay up to date and I don’t have to wade through all the boring pictures and status updates on facebook (sorry facebook users) or search the internet for great articles. And it also allows you to communicate with these great educational leaders as well, which I hope to do through this blog and my twitter account. (@brianpaulhill)

So, thank you Eric Sheninger for your great post and for helping to add to my educational knowledge bank.  I hope other educators are encouraged to set up their own PLN’s as well.

You can follow Eric Sheninger on twitter at @NMHS_Principal