What I mean is that it’s easy to let my job, both the obligations that come with it and the passion to make a difference that I carry with me every day, take over my view of the world. I tend to get to work early, writing with a pot of coffee at my elbow, and stay late, finishing up the work I’ve left in my office all day while I was out on campus and in classrooms. My patient and understanding wife allows me get away with it, to a point, and my kids let me know when I should be more present with them, usually with a smile and the invitation to play a game, go to the park, or bake something.
Reading to the kids last night, a wonderful book by Sharon Creech found its way into the stack on the nightstand: A Fine, Fine School, the story of an overzealous principal who confuses his own love of his school with the notion that more is always better. I think my wife might have slipped it into the mix to teach me a lesson. She’s always right when she sets about doing something like that, even if it takes me a while sometimes to listen.
Reading it aloud to my six year old son, I thought to myself: A Fine, Fine School should be required reading for all site administrators.
The story is simple: Mr. Keene, the principal at this fine, fine school, loves his school and the learning he sees so much, that he decrees more and more time in classes. Weekends disappear. Holidays slip away. The school days get longer. The summers get shorter. The kids… the kids, who are fantastic, as kids are, wave goodbye to their dogs and baby siblings, put sticky notes on their backpacks to remind them of the flood of work and dates for the swarms of tests. They eat school lunches in a cafeteria festooned with the sign: “Why not study while you chew?” Bags appear beneath their eyes, and stacks of books fill their lockers, backpacks, and arms (all with witty titles slipped in by the illustrator to make parents reading the book smile).
It’s a student, of course, who helps Mr. Keene see the light. Her question leads him to consider the difference between school and learning, a lesson that we all, as educators, do well to reflect upon. This ultimately prompts a revelation, and Mr. Keene to tell his school: “You, all of you -children and teachers- you need to learn how to climb a tree and sit in it for an hour.” The important stuff: family, play, and reflection have a place in education too. A Fine, Fine School reminded me of that with humor, kindness, and great illustrations by Harry Bliss.
Reading the book comes on the heels of a conversation I had with a teacher. She’d been at a district meeting and talked with a principal who told her: “The best teachers teach from a full life.” What a beautiful thing to say. It’s a line I’ll pirate and use with my teachers.
Dedication isn’t something most educators have trouble with; balance sometimes is.
As a principal part of my job is to help my school be a place that recognizes that dinner with family is more important that any homework assignment that a student gets (or a teacher later grades). Living a full life means learning in classes and learning beyond classroom walls. Life teaches us all when we’re at the park, on a team, in a play, or baking a pie. Our best teachers are sometimes our parents, our kids, or our friends. School is important; learning is essential.
I want my students and my teachers to love what they do at school and love what they do outside of school.
Do I love what I do? Yes. Do I have a fine, fine school? Indeed I do. And do I need to encourage balance, perspective, and full lives? Yep. And with the help of my own kids, and a copy of A Fine, Fine School for bedtime reading, I’m optimistic that this year will be …just fine.