Wildly Important Goals: Calm in the Chaos

This past Thursday I attended a training on evaluating administrators.  As much as I enjoyed talking with my peers and listening to the presenter, the part that was most meaningful was learning about a concept called, “Wildly Important Goals” from the book, The Four Disciplines of Execution by Covey, McChesney, & Huling.

The beginning of the year is hectic for educators, and it can make you feel like although you are working insanely hard and barely sitting every day, your ToDo List never seems to get any smaller.  When I was a teacher I had experience and routines in place that helped to counteract this, but as a new administrator I’m still figuring things out.  I’ve been questioning my ability to execute, much less ever be good at all of the tasks required of a principal.

So when the presenter played this video about the first discipline of the book, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm.  It was like someone had been reading my mind and had given me that plan of execution I had been experimenting with, but never really successfully accomplishing.

Like the title says, there are four disciplines that are key to exceptional leadership.  Discipline 1 is the Discipline of Focus.  Mastering it will make the whirlwind of tasks (expected or unexpected) that can be all-consuming to a leader (or teacher), become not only more manageable, but resulting in the achievement of our loftiest goals.   The authors argue that amazing results can only happen if we are clear on what matters most.

So how do we do this?

Start with creating a Wildly Important Goal (WIG).  Ask yourself, “If everything else remained, what one achievement would make everything else seem secondary?” It is way harder than you might think to come up with this goal, but once you do, you focus all of your effort on the tasks related to accomplishing it.  The other tasks you have to complete you are given permission to put forth minimal effort to complete.

I love the analogy given in the video of the jobs of an air traffic controller. It may seem like EVERYTHING is critical in this job, but really the laser focus must be on the plane that is trying to land so that it gets on the ground safely.  A much smaller amount of effort is spent on making sure the other planes do not crash.  As a lifelong perfectionist, this one analogy was the most calming and reassuring.

In creating my WIG, I thought about the goal we set as a staff on the first institute day this year of Unlimited Growth & Connection.  What was my role in this endeavor?  Where do I want to focus all of my efforts so that this goal is achieved by all stakeholders?  When I started breaking these two things down, I realized that in order for students & staff to have unlimited growth they need to know their strengths.  The only way this could happen was by me developing strong relationships with everyone involved in our school.

My Wildly Important Goal for this year is making sure that every learner (adult and child) in my school community ends the year knowing at least one strength they are incredibly talented at.  This is not going to be an effort that I can do alone.  It will definitely be a team effort including all staff members as well as our parent community.

To ensure that my WIG becomes a reality, I have the following action steps planned for the rest of the first trimester:

  1.  Unless I have a meeting, be outside talking with students both before and after school.  Be present at recess/lunch for the same reason.
  2. Block out time daily in my calendar to be in classrooms.  When I’m in classrooms give explicit feedback to students about what they are doing well.  When I leave, send a positive email to staff or tweet out their awesomeness.
  3. Create a lunch schedule where every student in the school is invited at some point throughout the year to eat lunch with the principal.
  4. Continue the “Positive Phone Calls Home” on Fridays where I call families to share with them the good news that their teacher nominated them to receive a phone call home based on something special they have done.
  5. Provide time for our staff during institute days and staff meetings to track how much they know about students both personally and academically and collaborate with their peers with action steps.  At our Late Arrival on Wednesday, teachers had time to fill out this template (or this one) and collaborate with peers to get the process started.
  6. Provide professional learning opportunities focused on giving feedback in both teacher to student and student to student.
  7. Before and after school walk around the building and check in with staff members to find out their successes, ideas and challenges that they may want assistance with.
  8. Ask for feedback from staff, students, and the community.  How well do they think I know them or their child?  How do they know?  What are suggestions for improvement?

The next three steps in the process involve tracking lead behaviors (action steps), making progress visible and having regular accountability talks.  For me, the lead behaviors I plan on tracking are how much I know about each staff member and how often have I given them positive feedback.  I also plan on keeping track of everything I know about students.  I have a dream of a giant wall in my office with a picture of each student and a place to record things I know, but I’m guessing a binder with a class list including pictures is more realistic.  At the end of each day, I’ll flip through the pages and jot a few notes.  For staff, I’m going to have a stapled packet of our staff list with one page for each week of school.  Every time I visit a classroom I’ll put a checkmark next to the staff members’ name followed by an email with positive feedback.  I have used this practice regularly in the past and it is a great tool to track how much I know about their strengths.

I recognize that this sounds like I have just given myself a TON of extra work to do, but what it has really done is prioritized what is important each day.  It’s not that I won’t do the other logistical things that are required to make the building work well or if a crisis arises I won’t help out, but I’m not going to expend the majority of my energy on them.

Prior to this training I used a methodology I learned from James Clear (check out his website here -it is awesome) where you prioritize three main tasks of the day and start each day putting forth all of your energy towards them.  I liked this approach because it helped me feel a sense of accomplishment each day.  However, many times I struggled with prioritizing what were the 3 most important things.

Layering in this new approach is going to elevate this process and give me the confidence I need to execute my Wildly Important Goal.  I look forward to sharing with you the progress along the way of every learner at Jefferson knowing his or her strength.  Thanks in advance for being my regular accountability check-in. 🙂