Stop Putting Out the Fires and Start Lighting One

As an assistant principal in a high school, I can easily spend much of my day being pulled in many different directions.  At any point during the day there will be students in my office, a teacher needing a meeting, my name being called on our building radios, and a scheduled meeting I may or may not be running five minutes late to at that point in the day.  In my office suite there are the three assistant principals and we put out fires.  We work as a team and we put out fires all day.   It was because of the strong team we have become that I could stop putting out the fires and start trying to light one of my own.  

When you hear the phrase, “being part of a team”, it means something different and usually very specific to different people.  Our administrative team was built five years ago and quickly gelled into a strong net of four individuals who challenged each other, listened to each other, problem solved together, argued a bit, laughed a lot, and put out fires together.  The first year we were together we learned one another’s strengths and weakness.  Over those first few months trust was built through the daily grind of administration.  Over the past three years, the team has changed, but we have kept the strong bond built on trust.  We have said goodbye to some team members, had others move into new positions in the district, and welcomed new team members into our Cardinal Nest, referencing both the physical space we may be meeting in at the time and the safety and support of the colleagues you were sitting with at the time.  We have taught our new members how to be a part of a team who can put out the fires while coming to work each day with not only excitement, but also passion.  Because of this team, I was able to take time each week to grow professionally through reading groups and book clubs.  

Ms. Yvette Panasowich (@ypanasowich) and Dr. Damian Bariexca (@_drdamian) and I began our professional reading group last winter once a month in which we jigsawed the Educational Leadership magazine from ASCD.  Before we began our reading group we had all admitted that the magazine would come month after month and we were not committed to reading it, yet knew there were useful articles inside.  For our a year now, the three of us has met monthly to take a an hour to discuss the new topics, skills, or theories in education.  It is an hour that sneaks up on a us through the month, but one that we all value and have continued to keep on our calendars.  We have found that we reference our articles in teacher pre or post observation meeting, high school administrative meetings, and professional development planning meetings.  The act of reading the articles doesn’t take much time and the benefit of sharing ideas and discussing the topics with colleagues has added to our educational toolkits.  

Damian took the initiative to invite me to join him for a book group.  I had admitted to my colleague that I wasn’t a lover of reading and therefore, he and his English teacher background kicked in and he picked the book (one I had recommended to me a couple of times), made the reading schedule, and even put the meetings on my calendar.  For the past two months, we have met every Friday afternoon to discuss, Friday afternoon to discuss, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too by Christopher Emdin. This means every Friday afternoon I have ended my week discussing teaching pedagogy, challenging the status quo, and becoming excited about learning.  What have I not done every Friday afternoon…put out fires.  I trusted my colleagues to protect my professional growth time and handle the fires for that last hour of the day…that last hour of the week.  Instead of sitting in the office discussing the crazy day, the busy week, the difficult teachers, and ongoing problems, I closed my week learning about myself and learning about teaching.  

So what’s the next step?  We have invited two others to join our next book club to bring more perspective and we chose the book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”.  Although the format is a different and I will need to challenge myself to read a bit more over a longer period of time, I look forward to one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had in administration.  Moving forward I will continue to put out fires in my building, but I will always create a team who supports me in lighting my own.   

And if you haven’t read the book…do so immediately!

2 thoughts on “Stop Putting Out the Fires and Start Lighting One

  1. So glad you feel this way about your team, your job as a whole, and the extra time you carve out to learn more.  How many more fires will you deal with in education – both putting out and lighting?  Proud of you!


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