My name is Matt Arend. I am an elementary principal and I have high expectations. It sounds like a confession. It sounds like I am an addict. It feels like a weight of bricks. Being responsible for over four hundred students on a daily basis, it not one I take lightly. I recognize my high expectations and the pressure I put upon myself to meet and exceed them. Each day I leave the house to go to work I feel it. During my commute to work I feel it. The moment I walk into the building that is my home away from home I feel it. Daily, as I stare at my reflection in the mirror in my office where I have posted these reflective questions, I feel it.
Who are you?
What are you about?
What is your most recent evidence?
These three questions help me focus my high expectations and the pressure I put on myself to meet & strive beyond the expectations I have set. The pressure of being an elementary school principal is real. The pressure to empower teachers. The pressure to create an environment where teachers enjoy working and students have opportunities to embrace new experiences. The pressure to meet state expectations. The pressure to be your absolute best for everyone, all of the time. I accept this pressure. I signed up for this. I can handle it. I embrace it! The pressure I really feel, is the pressure I place upon myself. The pressure to be successful. It reminds me of a quote designed during my last Texas Principal Visioning Institute with the amazing Kristen Eriksen the principal at Keller Harvel Elementary in Keller ISD. “Be willing & encourage others to set the bar high with the mindset to strive beyond.” There it is. This is the pressure I feel. The bar is set. I see it. I acknowledge that I will not meet or strive beyond it, on my own. I must encourage others to join me. It is a team effort. So what happens when I fall short? What happens we feel fall short? What happens when we do not meet those high expectations. How do I respond as a leader when the teachers I have empowered to take risks, who are willing to be at their best everyday, who are pouring their life’s work into the students we serve, realize we’ve collectively…come up short?
I. Show. Grace.
Do not confuse my grace as a free pass. Do not confuse my grace as a lessening of expectations or a refusal to reflect and improve. Rather, I extend grace because I know we have hired and retained the very best teachers. Our teachers plan, Our teachers prepare. Our teachers collaborate. Our teachers reflect. When we have hired the very best, they are hard on themselves. Teachers understand the pressure. They signed up for this. They embrace it. The pressure they feel is pressure placed upon themselves. A pressure of wanting the best for their students. The last thing teachers need is a building administrator critiquing, criticizing, & reminding them of the expectations. Reminding them of where we have set the bar. Asking them, why we did not exceed expectations.
I openly challenge all building leaders, as we close out the first semester and students complete benchmarks and mid year assessments, to extend grace. I challenge building leaders to realize our teachers carry the same pressures we feel. I challenge building leaders to realize it is a team effort. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Courage is grace under pressure.” I challenge leaders to be courageous. Ultimately, I challenge all building leaders and teachers to work with one another and be willing and encourage others to set the bar high with the mindset to strive beyond.
With grace and courage, we WILL strive beyond and our students will be successful.