(Originally posted on Servant Principal.)

By Walter A. Kozlowski


bystockimagesWe all makes mistakes. When utilized properly our errors become learning opportunities. What’s better than making our own mistakes and learning from them is learning from other people’s mistakes. It gets us to our next mistake – our next learning opportunity – more quickly.

I have made my share of mistakes as an educational leader. Here I share a few, so you don’t have to experience them yourself.

Biting off more than I could chew
I still have work to do in this area, but I now begin each day by culling my “to do” list to a manageable set of tasks. I also continue to strive for a sharper focus on the things that matter most.

I can admit, there have been times when I have put off returning a call I anticipate will be unpleasant. However, doing this keeps that interaction at the front of my mind and clouds my ability to focus on other tasks. I, now, try to “eat the frog” as soon as I can get to it, meaning I get the day’s least desirable task out of the way first.

Assuming people will respond to emails or phone calls
As a professional, I believe it is my responsibility to communicate with others in a timely fashion. If I am contacted by anybody not trying to sell me something, I respond within twenty-four hours if at all possible. Not everybody operates with the same philosophy. In fact, some people will not answer at all. I have learned who some of these people are and keep track of my sent messages, so that I can follow up if I have not heard back in a reasonable amount of time. A “follow up” folder in my email helps me keep track of this.

Believing everybody brings the same passion to their job
For some of us, education is a calling. For others it is a career. Unfortunately, for some it is just a job – a means to pay the bills. Identifying others who strive for excellence, has helped me to connect with people who help me improve.

Over communicating
I like my team to be “in the know”, but there are times when information is better left unshared (at least temporarily). There is little use in causing somebody to worry over something that may not happen and we all have an overabundance of information coming our way each day. I work to be mindful of the amount I share with our staff in such a way that they have the information they need to be successful, but do not have to spend an inordinate amount of their time catching up on emails and reading memos (at least not from me).

Under communicating
We cannot assume everybody will hear and understand each message the first time it is communicated. We have to consider what is most important and be sure to deliver that message several times and in several ways. Our mission and vision fall into this category.

Thinking I will remember
So much comes at us and at such a fast pace that it is nearly impossible to remember everything. An organization system for keeping track of tasks, documenting conversations, and establishing reminders is essential. Increasingly, I am finding OneNote to be a great tool for keeping track of annual events and have developed the habit of always having my mobile phone or a pen available to record new ideas or tasks.

Believing all classrooms and all prep hours are created equally
Until I encountered it, I had never considered that due to location or size, some classrooms are more coveted than others. I also thought all prep hours were equal. I have learned that assigning either of these commodities is best done with an explanation.

Hanging on to “sacred cows”
As things change we have to be able to objectively assess the current situation and determine when it is time to let go of things. I have developed a philosophy that everything is on the table for dialogue and that if things we are doing are not aligned to our current purpose and goals, we have to be willing to adjust.

Believing I have to know the answer
The operation of a school is multi-faceted and complex and I trust our team to make decisions in the best interest of children. There are times when I do not have an immediate answer to a question about an event or policy. When this happens, however, I make it my job to either seek the information or point the person inquiring in the right direction.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was that it is okay to allow myself time. It was explained to me that a person coming to me with an issue has, generally, had some time to think about it. It’s okay to give myself time to develop an appropriate response. This allows me to think through all aspects of a situation and develop a third solution, when necessary.

I continue to learn every day and hope I maintain the ability to do so until my last days on Earth. As much as I appreciate the opportunity to learn from mistakes, I also like getting a “head start” on learning from the mistakes of others. I hope sharing some of mine, will help somebody else start out a little further ahead.

What mistakes have you made as an educator from which others may be able to learn?


Walter A. Kozlowski, Ed.S is Middle School Principal. He shares his insights on his website, Servant Principal. Follow Walter on Twitter at @ServantPrincipl.

Image courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net.