Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the National Principals Conference in Chicago. I was a little nervous attending as this was my first national conference. Luckily, my friend Allyson was attending, so I would have at least one person I knew there there. Actually, I knew MANY of the people that would be attending, but had only connected with the others online. Some, like Jennifer Hogan for several years through the #CompelledTribe of Ed Bloggers and others only a short time. As I was standing in the registration line, wondering how to navigate my way through the conference, I heard a shout of “Hey Jon!”. It was Jimmy Casas and Bobby Dodd calling to me as they came over and shook my hand like we had met many times before and instantly I knew I was among friends.
Within a few minutes I had met up with Allyson and Jennifer and we saw the inspirational Dr. Adolph Brown in the first general session. Jennifer was just as positive & energetic in person as she had been online and I could see right away why she was being honored as the Assistant Principal of the Year from Alabama. At lunch time, I was invited to eat pizza with Jethro Jones, who I had only met online, since he resides in Alaska. Over a deep dish Chicago pizza, we talked about education, our previous work together on his #TransformativePrincipal podcast, and our families. My interactions with other educators, was similar. They were simple, real, and genuine. For the next three days, I attended inspirational sessions, met with charismatic educators from all across the country, and most importantly, developed friendships with people that are literally changing the world of education. As I reflected on the conference, there were three big takeaways from my experiences.
We Can’t Do It Alone: For several days, I met the movers and shakers of the education world. Authors, speakers, and innovators who I openly admit that I felt some hero worship for. However, they all treated me as a fellow educator and I felt that we were all on the same “team”. There were no egos or claiming to have all the answers. Quite the contrary, these leaders were asking to hear stories from others and looking for ways to improve their craft by connecting with others just as I was. I heard time and again, we need to lift each other up, support one another, and celebrate our profession. From chatting with people at the conference about finding the unicorn of work/life balance, to conversations at dinner about the emotional night the Chicago Cubs won the world series, to singing songs with new friends at karaoke, the message was clear: We can’t do this alone and we are better together!
Just Do It: When I asked many of the innovative leaders how they got started with a podcast, or authored a book, or became a speaker they often gave me the same answer: “I just started doing it.” One thing about leaders is that they don’t wait for someone else to do it. When they see a need, they do something to address it. If they have an idea, they share it. If they want to get educators together, they create a podcast or start an online group. Those presenting were people who didn’t just have good ideas, they acted on those ideas and learned from their mistakes just as much or more than they did from their successes. Leaders need to listen, reflect, and continually learn, but they also need to take action. I’m glad my partner Allyson Apsey encouraged me (told me:) to do the #PrincipalsPlayhouse with her. It became another great way to connect with educators at the conference and beyond!
We Are Here To Serve: The phrase that kept ringing in my ears long after the conference was from Dr. Adolph Brown who said “If service is beneath you, then leadership will always be above you.” As educators, we serve our students, our staff, and our community. Maybe that’s why all the leaders that I connected with and admire so much were so humble. They know we are not in it for recognition or self-gain. They are driven by a desire to make a difference in the lives of their students and to make their schools and staff the best that they can be!
As I reflect on the National Principals Conference, I measure its impact by one simple question. Did I leave the conference a better educator than I came in as? Yes, I did, and what’s more, I gained some friends along the way. Friends that will continue to inspire me and help me become a better educator and hopefully I can do the same for others!
“Don’t just talk about excellence…Live your excellence!” – Jimmy Casas
“It all comes down to relationships. Without relationships no real learning occurs.” – Eric Sheninger
“If service is beneath you, leadership will always be above you.” – Dr. Adolph Brown