The Words You Want to Hear: I Have An Idea

Ideas are incredible, and they are literally everywhere around your school this very minute.  The problem with a lot of those ideas is this:  their owners aren’t going to share them with you.

Your school is either a fountain or a drain.  It’s either a place where ideas are appreciated, encouraged, and valued or a place where people learn to keep their ideas to themselves.  So much of the climate for ideas, or lack of one,  begins with the principal and administration.

What do you do when someone has an idea?  Do you make things easier for them or more difficult?  Are you an idea accelerator or are you the brakes?

I know that you are called upon to be the leader of a safe, orderly school.  That is important and shouldn’t be taken for granted or lightly. Orderly can be good if used in the right measure. Order is easier to administer than freedom, and that’s why most schools lean towards a more structured, policy-driven model of administration.  The problem is this:  if you lean too far in that direction, you’ll end up with a place where the rules outweigh the ideas.  If it’s hard to get permission to move forward with an idea, the ideas will stop showing up.  The converse is true as well; if ideas are welcomed, you’ll have more and more of them.

At our school and at most schools everywhere, people have great ideas.  Teachers, students, and staff have great ideas and innovations just waiting to be heard.  At Morgan County High School where I was principal, we were having our annual “Club Fair” for our organizations to showcase who they are, what they do,  and solicit members.  One of our people had a great idea:  let’s do it outside and set it up with tables, music, food much like a festival.

That idea turned out to be a great one; the students enjoyed being outside, it was during our lunch periods so the clubs had a great turnout at their booths, and everyone had a chance to be creative in showing their wares.

Friday Alive .JPG

While at this inaugural Club Fair, a student started talking to me.  I asked him what he thought about the Club Fair and he said that it was good.  He said that it was so good that we ought to do it every week!  I asked him “what would that look like?”   He said, “we don’t need to advertise clubs every week, but we could have bands.  Students who play guitar and sing can do it out here.  And we can have a snow cone booth.  And it’ll be awesome.”

From that conversation was born a tradition at our school.  “Friday Alive,” a mostly-weekly (weather-dependent on whether it was weekly) celebration of creativity, fun, and student talent.  We’ll take a deeper dive on Friday Alive in a future post, but it was a place for student performers to share their work; we had poetry jams; the marching band was a guest performer; the step team; the cheerleaders; even our versions of “The Voice” and on occasion Karaoke Friday.  Friday Alive was, as the student described it to me to begin with, awesome.

Here’s the thing:  that idea probably never rises up unless he was a part of a climate and culture where ideas matter.  Here are a few reminders to the principal and assistant principal about making your school an idea factory:

  • Make it easier to get to ‘yes’ than to get to ‘no’.   This one is straight-forward and plain.  If the school’s administration is always going to say ‘no’, you can expect that people will stop asking.  If you’re someone who will listen and try to figure out how it can happen rather how it might go wrong, then you’ll have more ideas than you’ve ever had.  It really does begin with you.
  • Support other’s ideas without becoming their new owner.   When students and teachers came to me with ideas, I worked to get to yes.  That didn’t mean that I became the person to carry out their idea.  My questions were always “what will that look like?”  and “how can I support you in your idea?” 
  • Make your school a laboratory for learning.  Don’t squash an idea just because it may not work.  Sometimes the best ideas need a few runs before they fly.  (See “The Wright Brothers” and “Thomas Edison”)

As the principal, you are in a privileged position.  You literally have a creative team filling the classrooms around you.  You can do awesome things at your school if you embrace the idea and idea maker.  Whenever you hear those words, “I have an idea,” be ready to be what they need to make those ideas reality.

#Leadership365   /76

Success Takes Time and Hard Work: Lessons from “Hamilton”

Lin-Manuel Miranda brought history and hip-hop together in the masterpiece Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” the story of Alexander Hamilton and his under-appreciated contributions to our nation.

The production’s diverse cast reflects who we are as a nation today, while telling the story of Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington.  The show resonates with many people, but particularly students, connecting history in a way that makes the struggles of the Founding Fathers understandable and real.

…I create works of art that take years and years to finish.  So, it’s an enormous act of faith to start a project.

In addition to the relevance to young people, Miranda’s masterpiece is something to behold in its own right. By any estimate, it has been an unprecedented success.

  • The show has been sold-out since it’s debut on Broadway last August with no end in sight to the demand for tickets for the New York home of the franchise;
  • A permanent show is scheduled to open in Chicago in September, with traveling performances scheduled in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and other cities;
  • Miranda won a Grammy for the Best Musical and the show earned a record number of Tony nominations, winning eleven.
  • Financially (A. Hamilton would have been proud) the associated revenues from recordings, books, and other revenue producers make Hamilton: The Musical a billion dollar entity.
  • How about this for influence?  The current Treasury Department retracted at 2015 announcement that it would be removing A. Hamilton from the ten-dollar bill due to the enormous public interest in our nation’s first Treasury Secretary.

SO, here’s the lesson.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, who not only wrote the musical but played Alexander Hamilton (last night was his final performance in this production) reached great success that to some people seemed overnight.  It wasn’t.

Miranda worked on the musical for over six years before it went into production. 

Success doesn’t just happen.  It follows hard work, inspiration, and struggles.  Miranda recently spoke about the commitment it takes to work on a project like this.  “I’m very well aware that an asteroid could kill us all tomorrow.  But I create works of art that take years and years to finish.  So, it’s an enormous act of faith to start a project.”

Such is the work of the principal.  Whether you would like it to be this way or not, you are creating something that takes years and years to finish.  Often, school leaders try to make a five-year “piece of art” in a year or less.  It doesn’t turn out to be a masterpiece.

Building a strong school is a creation.  There is science in it’s creation, but there is at least as much art.  Both take time.  Success takes time.  Do the right things with intent for an extended time and you are on the road to success.



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