Yesterday I spent the day at another elementary school in my district as part of our district's Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for principals. The five of us spent the morning identifying a problem of practice and visiting classrooms, and spent the afternoon debriefing and identifying implications for our work.
It's always stimulating to talk with other principals and learn how they lead their schools. I got great ideas for what I could do in my school.
At the end of the day, though, I was exhausted by possibility. There is so much I could be doing, and so much I'm not doing, yet I don't seem to have much room to add more to my plate.
This leads to a painful question: Am I doing the right work?
I always stay busy, but is it with the right things? Should I be ignoring some of what I'm currently paying attention to, in order to focus on something else? How can I decide?
One obvious way to decide what to focus on is to listen to others. What issues are urgent to teachers, parents, students?
The problem with allowing the squeaky wheel to get the grease, though, is that it's not always the right wheel. Perhaps the issues that are coming up are not really the most important.
Learning from my peers (other elementary principals) forces me to ask the question "What am I not addressing in my school?" If an issue will require uncomfortable discussion or serious change, perhaps no one will bring it up. Perhaps it's up to me.
Part of a leader's job is to create and uphold a vision for the organization. This means speaking boldly, bringing up the important issues that we might not otherwise face, and making sure they get the attention they deserve.
How do you decide what deserves your time and attention? How you identify the "right" work?
Justin Baeder (@eduleadership) is a public school principal in Seattle, Washington. He speaks and writes about principal performance and productivity, and is a doctoral student at the University of Washington in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies.