Sunday, July 10, 2016

Learning from my (Many) Mistakes

This month, our Compelled Tribe blogging group took on the challenge of sharing out mistakes we have made as educators and how we learned from them. The challenge was inspired by Jon Harper's  interview with Starr Sackstein  on the BAM Radio Network called #MyBad.  Many of the stories that I've heard were from the first years in the classroom, but I didn't need to look back very far to find a mistake to write about. This was a difficult post to write, not in that I had to search hard for mistakes, but because it was still fresh and a bit raw.  It deals with focus and balance (or lack of both).

One of my greatest strengths has often been one of my biggest weaknesses. I'm passionate about everything. I love trying new things, taking on new projects, and even biting off more than I can chew at times. This year, I really branched out on many new projects in education. I went from being an active member in MEMSPA (Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association) to serving on the Board of Directors. I also joined the MEMSPA Leadership Matters cohort that meets for 8 weekends to develop leadership skills. I went from being a member of the Compelled Tribe to leading a group of my own. I joined the Michigan Ed Voice Fellowship and advocated for educators in our state capitol. I attended several conferences, met with speakers and authors, and I also did more professional reading this year than in any other year as principal. I exposed my staff to concepts like Genius Hour and Instructional Rounds. When asked by one of my teachers mid year how many committees most principals served on, I proudly said that the average was three, but I was on six. I didn't realize at the time that she was politely pointing out to me that I was not in the school as much as I had been in the past. Luckily for me, my secretary realized that I needed a more direct approach and told me bluntly (but politely) that the staff was suffering from my absence in the classrooms and even from the school. The same message came through in the staff surveys. While I scored very high in trust, respect, and integrity (the three most important things for me), I scored lower in dealing with things in a timely manner and providing support. This was a huge blow to me.

With all of my "initiatives" and activities designed to become a better leader, I had lost focus on my staff and our building. I had a new teacher that was really struggling with her classroom. There were discipline issues that were growing into real problems, because I had not worked closer with the teachers and the families. I had focused more on being a leader than actually leading and helping others. Luckily, I was able to heed the advice given and redoubled my efforts to support those who needed it and "Be There" for all my staff and students as we came back from spring break and finished the year on a good note.

Now, it wasn't all bad this year. We did some amazing things this year like flipping staff meetings to turn them into mini PD sessions. We implemented Celebrate Monday assemblies to start each week on a positive note. There was also more innovation in the classrooms this year than ever before, due to teachers taking chances and trying new things with technology. Overall, it was a good year, but I learned an important lesson. My focus needs to be on the students, staff, and building needs and not on me. Yes, I want to be a better leader and continue to grow, but I need to remember to find balance and how to prioritize. In the end, I'm only successful when my students and my teachers are successful.

photo credit:


"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything." - John Wooden

"Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them." - Bruce Lee

"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road of truth; not going all the way, and not starting." - Buddha

Learning from Mistakes Video (3 minutes)


  1. Thank you for your courage in sharing this post, Jon! It sounds like your lesson is learned, and you will work to be a LOCAL & GLOBAL leader. Thank you for your transparency and for sharing. We can all learn from this.

  2. As a teacher, I'm so glad that you learned this lesson. When principals are absent, it affects the whole school culture of learning. Thank you for being so open, honest, and willing to learn from your mistakes. Be passionate with focus on who/what really matters! :)

  3. Knowing that someone as accomplished as you feels this frustration at trying to do too much is actually reassuring to me. Like you, I'm excited by everything, want to try everything, feels as if I must be the one to take on the new challenge. I never want to let this to interfere with my responsibility to my kids. Thanks for your openness, Jonathan. I can't think of anything more vital to us as educators than the willingness to examine our practices and make adjustments to benefit our students. Your message really speaks to me.

  4. I couldn't wait to read this post Jon because I knew you would be open and honest and that I would be inspired by your reflections. That is just what happened! That balance is so hard to find, and I am so proud of you for your local leadership and that you share and learn globally too!