I don’t remember where I heard or read this title but I do believe it and vividly remember how I learned this lesson.
I was a principal for 17 wonderful but challenging years. By the end of my career, I felt confident in not only what I was doing, but how I was doing it… unfortunately that’s not how it began. My first two years as a principal were rough. I felt like I was running in circles, fighting battles with my staff, and dealing with crisis after crisis. I was miserable and didn’t know how I could work any harder to solve all the problems coming my way. Many times, I even found myself trying to correct my own poor decisions; I was causing myself problems!
At the end of my second year as a principal, my supervisor put me on a professional growth plan at my summative evaluation conference. It was a gut punch… but in many ways I deserved it. To summarize his perspective: I had one year to get my act together, or else.
Immediately after that meeting, I reached out to one of my mentors to seek guidance. She directed me to call a veteran principal from the district to ask for help. I nervously picked up the phone and called, and this woman told me to be in her office the next day. This was the day my personal and professional life changed paths (for the better).
I’m not being dramatic! The experience of that meeting, coupled with the confidence that the principal had (and later imparted with me) changed my life. Over the next year I met with her regularly. She was incredibly gracious with her time and wisdom. She taught me systems for analyzing data, how she monitored classroom instruction, how she developed the culture of the school, and most valuable (to me)... how she led with confidence.
She felt assured that she was making the best decisions possible because she had analyzed the data and knew exactly what kids were learning and what they were not. She had her systems down and they worked for her. She once commented, “I know my data better than anyone; I am in my classrooms more than anyone. Therefore, there is no one who can tell me who, what, when or how to run my school. I tell others what I need, but they don’t tell me how to do so.”
This type of confidence is what I wanted! I had been second guessing myself every day for two years. I was an assistant principal for five before becoming a principal, but I was never working to be a principal; I was working to be the best assistant principal that I could be. With all honesty, I wasn’t really even paying attention to what the principal was doing; I wasn’t actively learning the skillset it took to be a great leader. I was fully under the impression that the role of a principal would be fairly similar to the role of an assistant principal, just with higher-stakes. (Spoiler: A principalship is a completely unique role needing a different skill set!)
As a result of opening myself up to meeting with this veteran principal and listening to her lessons and perspectives, I quickly worked my way off of the growth plan and changed course for the remainder of my principalship. Her confidence was contagious. I have tracked back the connection over the years to how confidence makes for better decision-making and here’s what I have come up with:
Knowing my data and being in classrooms to see the instruction helped me understand the data and the adjustments needed in the classroom for students to effectively learn the content. The more content my students learned, the better my data looked. The better my data looked, the better I was perceived by my peers and supervisors. The better I was perceived, the more confidence I had in my decision-making.
I know this post doesn’t fit the model of giving you three steps to take or great visuals. Some concepts just need to be thrown out there for you to take the information and make your own three steps. All I know is that when I began to have confidence in my decisions (based on objective or subjective data), my decisions became more clear and effective, and my problems began to lessen both in severity and frequency.
If you find yourself second-guessing your own decisions all day long (maybe even to the point where you’re afraid or anxious to continue making decisions), find someone who exudes confidence and ask to meet with them. One conversation may change your life.