“When you base your life on principles, most of your decisions are made before you ever encounter them.”
Not long ago, I read that the most underlined sentence in all of Kindle is the following, from the wildly popular book, The Hunger Games:
“Because sometimes things happen to people and they are not ready for it.”
What might it look like to be ready? One way we can look forward proactively is by looking backward reflectively, learning from our past experiences, including both our successes and failures. Another way we can “be ready” even when we have no idea what is about to happen is by basing our lives on principles, as the above quote suggests. In our book, The Principled Principal, Anthony McConnell and I make the case that educators, including all school leaders, are more apt to respond well to the unexpected when the way they operate professionally is guided by core values, or principles.
Spontaneity can be a good thing, especially in schools and classrooms. Over the course of a long school year, it is important for both teachers and administrators to find ways to break from routine and allow for spontaneous joy. Surprising our kids--or our staff members--with lessons, meetings, celebrations, and events that break with tradition or the daily grind is an excellent way to keep teaching and learning exciting and of reigniting passions. Yet, there is also something to be said for predictability. The word--at least in my mind--carries with it connotations of boring and dull. Yet, at least in certain ways, being a ‘predictable” teacher or administrator can be quite comforting to those we teach and lead.
Last year, I served as an interim school administrator for a few months. Something happened on my second day working at the school that was, honestly, the most elevated situation I have come across in over 35 years of public school service. I walked into the office from morning bus duty and was confronted with a potentially explosive and dangerous situation involving a disturbed and distraught adult. To be honest, I was taken by surprise and for just a moment could not even comprehend what was happening. In a way it was like the line from The Hunger Games: Something was happening and I was not ready for it. Yet, in another way, I was prepared even though the situation was completely unexpected and quite unsettling. I was prepared (as were the few colleagues who were also there) because I had already adopted principles which guided the way I behaved whenever coming across such situations and we immediately acted according to these principles (de-escalate, try to connect, enact all emergency procedures, stay calm, etc.) once we realized what was happening. Although it took awhile, everyone involved behaved based on core principles and eventually the situation was resolved as smoothly as humanly possible.
Schools, on the whole, are some of the most joyful places on Planet