Full Plates And Empty Cups

We are off and running with a new year.  Our schools are a buzz with the energy, hopes and dreams that accompany each and every new beginning.  After a short respite of quiet and calm…our campuses and hallways are once again a frenzy of activity, alive with the hustle and bustle of students and learning.  The energy and excitement that accompanies the start of a new year is infectious.  It is a time of fresh new starts…with new classes, new teachers, new schools, and very often a new set of clothes to start it off right.

Our students arrive energized and excited on that first day.  Ready or not, here we are is the theme.  And ready we are.  While we hide it well, we show up with the same nervous energy and anticipation of what is to come as our students.  And in similar fashion as our students…often finding it difficult to sleep the night before.  The night before the first day of school brings out almost as much anticipation as the night before Christmas.  We can’t wait for the big day.

Many a teacher and administrator spent hours upon hours preparing for this day, this new year…and they want everything to go right.  The break has been less about lazy days at the beach and more about enhancing their teacher tool bag.  Giving of their own time to increase personal learning…searching out strategies to improve their professional practice.  Now, anxiously ready to roll out these new learnings and strategies…eager to improve their instruction and try out these new tools and technologies acquired over the hot summer months. Yes, eager to enhance the learning experience of each and every student in their classroom.

And the same will be true of our many school administrators.  Countless hours spent over the break preparing schedules, reviewing and analyzing data, reflecting on the effectiveness of the instructional program, and reviewing commitments to goals and objectives from the previous year.  Endless questions rolling around in their heads.  What interventions will be needed to support struggling students?  How can we improve the effectiveness of our grade-level PLCs?  How will we highlight our strengths while supporting our weaknesses as a staff and a school?  Time spent revisiting the mission and vision statements…determining the level of alignment.  What changes will be necessary and required if we are to continue to grow as a learning organization?  So that we can better serve all of our students.

For most educators, teachers and administrators alike, the summer is more about increasing professional capacity and less about lazy days off.  And that is because educators enter the profession to serve…they are passionate and caring about the learning and the success of our children.  It is not a job.  It is a calling.

And now that the students are here and the year is off and running…we turn our attention to calendaring and preparing for the events of the year…from Back to School night extravaganzas to the variety of professional development opportunities and trainings we will provide for our staff.  As we prepare to pull our staff and leadership teams together for our initial meetings…we must acknowledge that these meetings will we set the tone and direction for the year to come.  It will serve as a time to renew and reset goals and commitments for our students…and for us as a staff and as a school.

This time of year also sets the tone for our leadership.  Making it a pivotal and key time to reflect upon and measure our leadership effectiveness and how we will approach our staff for the new year.  That is why reflection is such a vital part of leading and leadership…if we are to continually improve.

As educational leaders,  we must continue to find ways to increase leadership capacity across our campus each year…building leaders at all levels.  Which is not an easy proposition.  We have a tendency to rely year after year solely what I call our ‘go-to’ people.  Those who we know we can count on to get the job done.  We need to acknowledge that we often put too heavy a load on those ‘go-to’ people.  And our ‘go-to’ people unfortunately, for all of their hard work and dedication, often end up holding the full plate while many around them coast along with an empty cup.

When we go to the well too often as they say…when we continue to pile it on the plates of our ‘go-to’ people, it limits our leadership and the leadership of the organization.

First…by continually overloading the plates of our ‘go-to’ people, we run the risk of wearing them down and burning them out.  We can ultimately crush their effectiveness.  While most of our ‘go-to’ people are positive go-getters…too heavy a load can lead to frustration and even bitterness in the long run as they compare and reflect upon their workload in comparison to the workload, or lack thereof of other members of the team or staff.

Second…putting too much on the plates of a few can also cause frustration and bitterness with others on the staff and in the organization.  They can feel left out, not needed, and or unappreciated.  They look on as all of the special assignments, duties, and accolades are doled out to those few…those ‘go-to’ people.  Rather, too build a strong team and organization, we need to find ways to increase the leadership capacity and strength of all staff members.  When we do…we level out the workload, lightening the load of our ‘go-to’ people and creating capacity in others.  Creating a culture of leaders.

Third…when we don’t take the time to build up the leadership capacity of others we leave our team and organization vulnerable.  Relying solely on a few ‘go-to’ people, instead of creating capacity across the team and organization, means everyone may ultimately suffer if they ever leave or quit.  Oftentimes, disrupting or even halting progress altogether.  And at the same time asking others that are not prepared to now fill the void, to carry the load.  Many of which may not be ready…asking them to now face a full plate after long periods of holding an empty cup.

So as you reflect on your leadership for the new year…this is a great time and opportunity to determine how you will build the leadership capacity and strength of your overall team and organization.  While it may cause some growing pains and lead to a few let downs and failures along the way…it will ultimately strengthen the staff and your ability to lead the organization to higher levels of success and excellence.  So determine not to overfill the plates of your ‘go-to’ people this year.  Especially if you want them to remain effective and to keep doing great work.  Look for opportunities to build the leadership capacity of the entire organization.  Give time and thought to your delegation processes…and in the end you will have added more strength and depth to your teams and organization.

Choose not to pile it on the plates of a few while giving empty cups to the others.  And you will be a better leader for it in the end.

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2 thoughts on “Full Plates And Empty Cups

  1. You nailed it David! There are so many districts that struggle with this concept. Sure I have seen it happen in a building here or there, but that is usually due to the building leaders that know of its importance. This should be a district initiative that Superintendents should harping on Principals to employ in their schools. I know of districts that will not reimburse or move the teacher on the salary scale, if the degree they are working on is in Administration?!?! The belief is that an Educational Leadership degree will not help them improve their teaching, so why pay them for that type of professional development. I am so tired of battling that type of ignorance. I guess that is why I have decided to start working on my Superintendents degree (among other educational changes I see as a need). I am torn though, I still love interacting with staff and students. I love being the Lead Learner of a learning community, but there are changes that need to take place in education, and apparently you need to be in the head chair to make that happen.

    It would be so easy to take a little off the plate of teachers, while filling their cup with opportunities. Give teachers a sense of fulfillment by letting staff know of their importance, provide them with leadership experiences, allow them their “voice” in the development of the learning environment, support them by providing new experiences and new learning. Yes, we need to pat them on the back for the great things they do, but even more importantly, they will feel that pat, if it shows in the growth you allow them to make but not placing obstacles in their path. Thanks again for sharing David…..I continue to learn from you. Thanks for filling my cup!

  2. David – How were you able to locate that photo of me carrying the load of boxes? Sometimes it is a burden, but I am always proud of the work ethic and “doer” mentality. I echo your sentiments in this post. Thanks for the thoughts. Ironic how you gain from giving of yourself. – Mitch White

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