The Whole Leader

As I reflect on my learning from the Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA) Annual Conference, there are four ideas/lessons that really stand out to me. They stand out to me, because I am guilty of failing at all of them. Not because I don’t agree with them, but because I have felt too busy or have been too focused on myself and not others. Here are my four “Aha!” moments from this year’s conference.

Fail #1 Take the Time to Listen: After my session on building relationships, a participant came up to me and shared his perspective as a retired principal. He told me that one of his bad habits as a principal was to motion with his hands while teachers were talking to “hurry up“. Ironically, I was picturing that motion in my head, because as he was talking, I was thinking that I needed to set up for my next presentation. He then told me that he would often tell people to “walk and talk” with him as he hurried down the hall for another appointment. This stopped me in my tracks, because I have done this many times. He said he thought he was being productive with his time, but in reality he was telling the other person they weren’t important enough to stop and have a conversation with or at least ask them to come when he could give them his full attention. A principal of many years, and this was his biggest regret…not listening to others. I felt enlightened and guilty all at the same time.

Fail #2 Feedback is the number way to produce growth: Prior to attending the conference, I had been patting myself on the back for getting through so many observations. I had checked off the boxes, visited the rooms, and was on track. I had skipped many of the face to face meetings and had failed to ask probing questions. Teachers are busy…I was doing them a favor. Or was I doing myself a favor? Was I helping teachers with their thinking and offering a chance to reflect, share goals, and grow? No, I was following the mechanical requirements of evaluations and forgetting the purpose. To listen, to discuss, to give feedback and praise in ways that help teachers grow.

Fail #3 Leaders focus on Solutions not Problems: Yes, we need to identify problems, but that’s not where our focus should be. How often have I lamented on policies and practices that I don’t agree with and kept my focus on complaining about them? More times than I like to admit! I have even been guilty of making lists of problems and thinking, “No wonder we aren’t performing where we should be?” What if instead, I named a problem and made a list of potential solutions? Where would my head and heart be then? Not wallowing in negatives, but focusing on positives.

Fail #4 If we don’t laugh at ourselves, we leave the job to others: These words of wisdom were shared in the closing keynote session, which blended inspiration and humor. How often do we take ourselves so seriously that we can’t risk failure or admit when we are wrong? The nice thing about this is that when we take a moment to admit our failings and even laugh at ourselves, it takes a weight off our shoulders and makes it much easier to rise above our situation or our problems.

Looking at failure as a chance to grow or the “First Attempt In Learning“, I am using all of these lessons as my road map for the remainder of this year. When I talk with teachers, will I be hurrying them along or taking the time to listen and connect? When I conduct observations, will I take the time to help them reflect, ask questions, and set goals? When I am faced with issues, will I focus on the problem or solutions? When I am feeling self-important and the need to be right, will I have the courage to laugh at myself and take my job seriously, but not myself? I’m sure I’ll continue to fail at these from time to time, but I make the promise to keep working at them and to keep working at myself. This conference focused on helping the whole leader and the whole learner…in this case, the learner is me! 



“It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop!” – Confucius

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” – Phillip C. McGraw


Livonia Administrators learning together at #MEMSPA17 


  • Monday, December 18: Student of the Month Assembly (Empathy) 9:05 AM, Principal Collaborative Time at Roosevelt 1:30-4:00 PM
  • Tuesday, December 19: Achievement Team (Pisko) 8:15 AM, AT Meeting with Angie about homebound student 9:15 AM, Parent Meeting (Williams & AT) 2:30 PM
  • Thursday, December 21: Staff Breakfast & Gift Exchange 8:05 AM, 3rd Grade in Gym for Polar Express 1:15 PM, 3rd/4th Concert 6:00-8:00 PM (rescheduled)
  • Friday, December 22: All school sing-along in gym 3:15 PM, Winter Break begins after school!


  • Monday, January 8: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM followed by Battle of the Books informational meeting (grades 3&4)
  • Tuesday, January 9: Achievement Team Meeting 8:15, DATA DIVE meetings to discuss Interventions & Progress Monitoring
  • Wednesday, January 10: Elementary Principals Meeting @ Riley 1:00-4:30 PM, PTA Board Meeting 2:30 PM
  • Thursday, January 11: Staff Meeting with Cindy Scott & Phil Francis 8:05 AM, Reflections Ceremony at Stevenson High School 5:30 PM
  • Friday, January 12: IRIP Updates with Progress Monitoring go home with designated students.

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