Have you ever heard that advice “Just be yourself” and ever actually really do it?
We try so hard in leadership positions to be what we think others want us to be, remembering the many, many leadership ‘characteristics’ that are apparently so vital for success. We read, try to imitate, fail, and then go back to reading more to find the ‘answer’ to how we should be.
What if it’s ok to just be yourself? Really. To…just…be…you.
As two principals from across the country connecting and reflecting, we realize that it’s ok to be different! It’s ok to be weird! In fact, you will have a lot more fun and it actually works for your students, staff, and community!
Recently my AP and I decided to prove a point with our teachers that every day we can and should try to make special moments for our students. Just like parents do with Elf on the Shelf, even when exhausted and have a million other things to do, moving the elf and putting it into some funny situation just so their kids wake up and have a special moment and laugh. We should think of our school days as just that. What special moment and surprise can we offer our students when they arrive to school? How we can we create a sense of wonder and excitement to the normal routine? Do this and you will have them running in the door, curious, and looking forward to the day in school.
It is 8 am and the temp outside is right around 8..degrees…below zero. I (Jessica) head out with more layers than I can count with my portable stereo and start dancing and greeting parents and students for the next thirty minutes as they walk into school for morning indoor recess. During the year I greet families dancing, ringing the Salvation Army bell, or with Pink hair after our school raises money for our local “Pennies for Pink” Cancer Rally. Being visible is a lot like being vulnerable and putting your best self out there-no matter what it looks like.
Every year, I’m (Andy) lucky enough to participate in our school’s musical. Last year I even had a death scene as Mufasa in Lion King! I feel it’s important for my students to see that we can be fearless and involved. Last year, we had few boys be part of the musical, but after seeing our performance last year, we have many more boys this year in our current production. And on a side note, how can I preach to my staff about taking risks and doing things differently if I don’t model that myself? We have to walk the walk if we are going to talk the talk!
I’ve come to realize that I have no shame and will do anything to motivate my students and staff! My closet is now overflowing with costumes and my heart is full of amazing memories laughing with my team as we put these special moments together.
As the principal of a kindergarten center I (Jessica) have only one year (174 days) to make an impact for students and families. My motto-go BIG or go home. I work to ensure we are making a foundation of positive (and sometimes risk taking) experiences for all learnings. From dressing up at Halloween, teaching and leading/conducting 360 students at our Holiday program, to racing the Instructional Coach in the obstacle course as the end of the year I work really hard to make sure I am doing whatever it takes to reach every learner at Woodson.
And sometimes our WHOLE staff buys in to our weirdness! At Woodson each year we create an end of the year video featuring all the staff and students dancing and celebrating the big and small wins of the year-and creating memories to last a lifetime.
We’ve even started making our own commercials and shows. These have been a huge hit and have let my goofy (weird) personality shine through. I’ve been blessed with an amazing team that jumps right into the nonsense as well!
Video I can embed later…
I vital aspect of leadership is being genuine. In order to be genuine, you have to be yourself. I’ve had much more of a positive relationship with my community, students, and staff once I let go of what I thought a principal was supposed to be and just decided to be myself, weird as I am!
I (Jessica) gave an interview in regards to the importance of Professional Learning Communities…. while wearing SPAM® Pajamas.
We are admittedly….weird. We lead to the beat of a drummer no one else hears. Our own families shake their heads at times when we walk out the door in the am. We rarely get looks anymore with our antics as the teachers and staff around us have learned our ‘normal’.
Our weirdness, well it works. Kids are smiling at the ways in which we work to engage them and get them to start their day with a smile. Parents are more comfortable with our ‘un-formalness’ at times as it shows the human side leaders at time are afraid to share. Weirdness isn’t weakness-it is a way to celebrate the unique ways we can engage our school community-by any means possible.
We recognize we don’t look the part of the traditional principal-but we also know that isn’t what our school needs from us. They need someone to take risks, lead by example, and by all means possible give 110% everyday.
Jessica Cabeen continues her 5th year as the principal of the Happiest Place in Southeastern Minnesota-otherwise known as the Woodson Kindergarten Center. Andy knows she loves ‘fancy ice cream’ and that she isn’t afraid to make snow angels in her dress pants for her students.