photo 1 (29)The prompt was a simple question: “What is the best thing you do in your job?” and like some simple questions, it brought an unexpected depth.

As a middle school principal, I like to think that I do many things, and do some of them well. I want to believe that my day to day work is important and that I have a positive impact on the students, teachers, staff, and parents I work with. I really, really care about my school and the people in our Diegueño family, and coming up with a “best” struck me as a tall order.

I’ve learned to breathe a bit, my wife (who is much, much wiser than me) encouraging me to slow down and find my equilibrium in this rough and tumble world of educating teens and tweens, so faced with this topic I let myself relax, fingers poised above my keyboard, and let my thoughts quiet before an answer came to mind. Listen.

Listening is not a skill I’m the best at, but it is something that I’m at my best when I do well.

I love the line from Robert Frost: “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” He could have been a middle school principal.

I know that I’m at my best when I really hear what those around me are saying.

Sometimes it’s positive: The teacher who catches me out on campus to talk with me about her concerns for a student. The student who sets an appointment to come to my office to engage in meaningful dialogue about the kind of homework given at the school. The parent who goes out of her way after a Coffee with the Principal to tell me about the way her son loves school.

photo 3 (22)Other times it’s tougher: The parent whose son is experimenting with bad decisions. The teacher who is struggling to work with a contentious student in class. The student who feels disrespected by someone who just a year before was one of her best friends.

As a principal I have the opportunity to listen to many voices. Sometimes they’re in opposition, unable to see each other’s point of view. Sometimes a little patience can help everyone know they’re heard, and emotions can cool as we all listen to each other.

Some of the voices come to me laughing, others are filled with pain. Some are uncertain, others single mindedly opinionated. Some agree, or come to understand, my point of view; some leave calling me names.

When it’s all said and done, if I can keep my center, and listen without losing my temper or self-confidence, then maybe I’ve really learned something. Moreover, I’m better able to make a difference, a positive difference, in the work I do with and for my school.

So without saying I’m the best at doing it, and with a nod to my own impatience and occasional self-doubt, I’ll go with listening as my “best thing.”

Those I work with might agree. Then again, they might not. Either way, if they come to me with an opinion, I’ll listen.

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