In Sum(mative)

It’s that time of year, friends.

An unholy confluence of nerves, anticipation, and judgment comes in the form of a Google calendar invite or an automated email from Genesis. Egos and relationships hang in the balance, planks are walked, single shafts of light descend from on high upon the chosen ones.

‘Tis summative season.

Let us all reflect before we click “sign and submit” on the 2018-2019 school year.

Please be seated.

As a first-year principal, I made it clear to our staff that I had a lot to learn. In fact, I admitted early on that I would have more questions than answers. Graciously, they allowed me to grow alongside them. But such transparency could make for imbalanced summative discussions during which I’m reminded of just how little I know, of how far I have to go.

And I’m the one handing out the scores.

The first, and arguably most important, thing I ask teachers to do is reflect on their year through a very specific lens: their most profound student success. In what has become very spooky, in sync timing, my friend Jon Harper wrote about something similar last week. In education, it’s so easy to focus on that which we didn’t accomplish, a series of near misses and if-I-only-had-more-times congealing into a messy mosaic of failure.

So, in my school, we are focusing on the opposite.

Teachers had two distinct reactions to that first question: a faraway smile as they immediately and confidently named their kid or pained conflict as they considered not whom but which because there were so many.

In a few short minutes, the summative nerves went to the back of the line. By putting a face and name to their year, teachers were reminded of their why. And, I assure you, it had nothing to do with a score.

Later, after discussing goals for next year, I told teachers they would never know what comments my superintendent makes during my own summative, and I don’t think that’s fair. Preaching transparency while my own suggestions for growth are “under audit,” as it were, seems snake oil salesman of me, and I’ve never been a good faker.

Part Brene Brown and part Jennifer Gonzalez, I need to be as vulnerable as I ask my staff to be.

So I steadied myself for responses to the next question: how can I get better?

In and among the powerful, thoughtful feedback about communication, discipline, and culture, a funny thing happened.

Can I tell you what you did that I really liked?

I had started to close my laptop when one of my teachers began to tick off parts of my leadership that she really appreciated: providing extra staff meeting time, treating us like professionals, honest feedback, listening to our needs, meaningful PD.

For this, I was not prepared.

Sometimes I have trouble making eye contact when people say and do kind things in my general direction. In this case, I may have blacked out a little.

The summative discussion needs to be just that. A two-way street with a mindful ebb and flow combined with active listening and human connection. As leaders, if we check the boxes and drone on using edu-catch phrases that only apply to the listener, then we deserve what we get in return: mediocrity, stagnation, and resentment.

Leaders are part of every teacher’s equation, so we must be a part of their sum(mative).

2 Replies to “In Sum(mative)”

  1. Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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