Owning Mistakes…All of Them

In the past few days, months really, I’ve been faced with several ‘impossible’ tasks.  As a leader, I do my best to tackle these problems head on and I strive to make the best decisions possible.  Most of the time I do, and sometimes I don’t.  My saving grace has been that I always own my mistakes.  I’m quick to apologize and ask for grace when needed.  Most of the time, people are generally forgiving.  I end up being a lot harder on myself than anyone else.  This week, however, I found myself in a slightly different situation.

One of the aspects of being the leader of a team means that you cover them.  My Six Word Story coming into this school year was “We take risks; I take blame.” I meant every word of that. I was (and still am) fully prepared to take the blame for anything that could possible go wrong as we are working  to build an atmosphere where it is safe to try innovative things and safe to fail. It was important to me to let my entire team (both centrally and campus-based) know that I would cover them. I would own their mistakes. I wanted them to try so many new ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas that people would forget there ever was a box.  For the most part, I would consider this endeavor a success.  Are we 100% where we want to be? No, but we’re so much closer than we were when we started.

This past week, I was introduced to a new perspective on taking the blame for the team, and it caused me to pause and really reflect on what I needed to do and how I should respond. I was totally prepared to take the blame for my team, but was I prepared to take the blame for the previous team?? I mean, I was a part of it. And while I didn’t make certain decisions, as the new leader I am holding people to many of the same expectations.  So when I was approached this week with a new mistake, initially I didn’t know how to respond.  The accusatory tone in which the message was sandwiched immediately led me to want to become defensive.  And I’ll admit, in my initial response, I failed.  I failed pretty miserably.  I heard myself saying “I’m sorry if you feel like….” and even I was immediately appalled. I DESPISE FAKE APOLOGIES, and I couldn’t believe that I was standing there about to give one.  I did rebound though. Thanks to the ability to think on my feet, I was able to ‘clean that up’ and offer a real apology.  I revisited the same point of concern, and this time my words were “I apologize if our actions made you feel this way. It was not intentional, and was honestly just an oversight on my part. I will own this error, and we will fix it. While I can’t change the past, I can make sure that it doesn’t happen again going forward.”

I wish I could tell you that my words were able to change the mood of the offended party, but I don’t really know if they did.  I do know, however, that my ownership of that mistake changed my mood. I went from being defensive, to being proactive and solutions oriented…trying to prevent the same mistake from being repeated. I was able to think clearly, offer factual information that supported my statements about the previous leadership team’s decisions & actions. I was able to counter the negative influence of the instigator who felt that they could prove that we had intentionally kept information away from certain people.  At the end of the day, I feel good knowing that I handled the situation with integrity and honesty.

I know that leadership isn’t always fun or pretty. It’s definitely not all roses and sunshine. It’s perfectly imperfect. It’s messy and beautiful. It’s joyous and stress-inducing. And I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.  If I could leave you with anything as a big take-away or ‘aha’ moment it would be this:  When you operate in transparency, you build trust. And when you have earned trust, people will hear your heart, not just your words.

I’m thankful for each opportunity that I have to build and earn the trust of my team. I look forward to a continued trust relationship as we charge forward, working together to transform the lives of our students.

 

Leadership Lessons – March 2018

Sometimes being a leader isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.  There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it. And quite honestly, there are some days where I awaken so preoccupied with life that I do not want to lead.  Thankfully, I have a wonderful support system that helps me balance it all, because not leading is really NOT an option.  An entire team of people looks to me for direction & guidance, leadership & understanding, support & solutions.   There are 46,000+ students who are depending on me to make informed decisions that will positively impact their academic careers.  There are campus specialists what depend on me to communicate changes, updates, and next steps so that they can be productive in their roles.

None of these people care if my son had a rough morning or if I spilled hot tea all over myself 2 minutes before it was time to walk out the door. I don’t know how many of them will forgive my delayed responses because I was too overwhelmed by the sheer number of unread emails in my inbox.  They don’t keep track of how many times I’m interrupted to “answer a quick question” or “help think through something” in an hour.

They DO care about whether or not I am firing on all cylinders. They have a vested interest in whether or not I continue to learn, grow, & stay up-to-date on technology trends and practices. Their careers, both current and future, are directly connected to my ability to not sweat the small stuff and to stay focused on the tasks that will have meaningful impact on the classrooms that students enter each day.

That is a LOT of pressure and a pretty high bar that is set.  So how do I handle it?? That question has been at the forefront of my mind since I was confirmed at the board meeting on the evening of June 20, 2017.  There have been many lessons that I have learned since then.

  1. You can’t do it all. – Due to some pretty unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances (which I outline in this blog post), I lost two key team members within the first two months of school. Things still had to get done, and with not a lot of assistance available, I was determined to not let any of the spinning plates hit the ground.  Newsflash: I failed miserably AND I almost burned out in the process.  I had to learn that if you can’t delegate a task, you have to decide whether or not it should be on the priority list. And while somethings are non-negotiable, there are many others that can wait. Being honest with myself about what can actually wait has been the key to remaining healthy and keeping my sanity in the new year.
  2. You get what you get, and you don’t have a fit!  – This is a mantra that I have taught to all of my children, especially my presently 4 year old son.  Mommy is doing the best she can.  I can only cook one dinner, and you have to eat what is cooked.  Similarly, as coordinator I can only do the best that I can.  People with have to learn to be satisfied with my best.  There are many things that people would like to see change in my department, but I have to remind people that change does not happen overnight. Considering my first lesson learned was not to try to do it all, it was only fitting that this was my second lesson.  People will have to be satisfied with my best. As I pledge to continue to learn and grow, our mutual experiences can only get better.
  3. You can’t pour from an empty cup. – This one is a lesson that I’ve been living personally and professionally.  You have to take care of yourself. If you’ve ever been on a flight, you have heard the flight attendants tell you that if/when the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, you should put on your mask first and then assist anyone near you who may need help.  This is so true. How can you take care of anyone or anything else if you are falling apart?  You can’t!  One of my 2018 goals is related to self-care. Knowing and understanding what helps me to relax, unwind, and recharge is a huge component of self-care. As such, I have committed to prioritizing activities that will help me be the best version of Ashley that I can be.

One of my colleagues shared a graphic with me last week that I promptly printed out and hung in the direct line of sight on the wall in my office. It reminds me to only focus on the things that matter and that I can control in the present moment, whatever that may be. I’ve included it below just in case it can help you.

Things That Matter & Things You Can Control

I hope that as you read this blog you can learn from my missteps and mistakes.  Even those of us with the best intentions will sometimes fall, but what matters most is that we get back up each and every time.  Get up, reflect, learn a lesson, share, and keep going.  As we learn and grow as leaders, we share our lessons learned with others.  If we continue to help each other grow as a community, we will have the tools that we need to transform education and change the world (which is really what we all signed up for with our first teaching assignment anyway, right?).

What are some of your lessons learned? Please share in the comments below so that I can learn from you. Remember we are stronger together!!

Spring Reflections

Hey there! It’s been a while. What can I say…life comes at you fast, and you just have to roll with it. Despite experiencing several personal challenges, I’m happy to report that my professional experiences have been the highlight  of my journey.  It’s always nice to experience success at work.  Yet sometimes, the personal professional successes are what keep us motivated and moving forward.  I have had several in the last few weeks, and today I’m finally making time to reflect upon my experiences.

 

Let’s start in early March, when I delivered my first keynote address.  You read that right…it says KEYNOTE!! I know that to many it may seem a bit odd to celebrate something like that, but it has been a personal goal of mine since I made the decision to step out as an ed. tech. consultant.  And do you know what made it successful??  Well, in my opinion, it was the fact that even through that experience I still remained the same honest and transparent person that I am everyday. I didn’t speak to my audience about hypothetical solutions to the problems that we face as educators everyday. I spoke about my own personal experiences, both as an educator and as a parent.  I shared real examples of work my children have produced in response to the academic expectations that they have from school. I spoke from the heart about how leveraging technology has allowed my 9 year old son to take ownership of his learning. He even made a cameo during the presentation. We recorded an interview where he spoke candidly about how & why technology helps him as a learner.   It was a very humbling experience to say the least. I continue to be inspired by the reactions on twitter and the personal emails that were sent in response to my keynote session. I can only hope that I continue to to be an influence that positively impacts the classroom practices of educators everywhere.

 

Keynote Bio