by Jake Donze, Plainview-Elgin-Millville PreK-3 Principal, @PrincipalDonze
Last week I attended ‘open gym’ at one of our school buildings to play some basketball. I expected to find a bunch of middle-aged people like myself who wanted an evening of gentle exercise, lots of rest time, and mostly self-deprecating camaraderie. What I found was a gym full of twenty-somethings (many of whom were former students) all looking like they turned down a night with the NBA to show off for the locals.
I halfway decided I wasn’t going to stay, but my friend convinced me otherwise and told me “our wisdom will be our advantage.” Wisdom. I knew it was just a code word for Old, and on this night I wasn’t sure how that would help us. But hey — I was wearing my “vintage” 90s basketball shoes, so I might as well get some use out of them. It’d been a long time since the glory days.
Speaking of the glory days, mine were less than glorious, athletically speaking. I can spin a basketball on my finger exceedingly well, which is not actually a move that anyone on the court uses, unless you’re a Harlem Globetrotter. This “talent” was the direct result of spending a lot of time on the bench, needing an activity to keep me occupied. (It has proven to be very impressive for the elementary kids — an unexpected perk for all that lack of playing time!)
After the ritual of shooting free throws to decide teams — Who will be shirts and who will be skins (Why does this still exist?) — I took to the court, hoping my overly-wise self wouldn’t get maimed in the midst of these behemoths.
This is when things got surprising.
No — I didn’t play out of my mind and shoot the lights out. No — I didn’t become the de facto leader of this athletically-inclined dunk squad, though that would make for a cooler story.
What was surprising was that I wasn’t entirely embarrassed or even particularly outmatched. I was certainly out-sized and out-youthed… but I soon discovered that thinking a little quicker might be the key.
So I began anticipating runs to get a little distance on the surrounding cheetahs. I kept running, all the time — even slowly — and it turned out that most of these guys didn’t like being in constant motion to keep up with me.
Granted when I got the ball, even a lay-up was no guarantee… but I did get the ball. I even got some points. And some assists. And some weird cracking noise in my knee whenever I turned too fast.
So why this extended sports anecdote in a principals’ blog? Because our experience as principals is not far off from this evening on the court. Our job as principal is not to be better at everything than everyone else. We’re not — so be okay with it. You spend your day surrounded by experts doing what they do best. It is our job to anticipate, think fast and stay ahead of the game. It’s our job to go to the people who can get the job done right, and then let them enjoy the glory that comes with it. And yes, we’re also always running — certainly metaphorically and sometimes literally — and that’s all part of the game. You might not end up with a trophy, but we all know trophies aren’t why we chose this profession.
So I invite you to take a moment to reflect on your practice during this busiest time of year. Think about what you’re good at and where you shine. Consider what a great team you have at your school. Revel in your wiseness, even if for a moment.
The best part is, even after a little reflection, you’ll still be able to walk the next day without being sore.
Have a safe and relaxing winter break, everyone.
Plainview-Elgin-Millville PreK-3 Principal