Cameroon 2009

Cameroon 2009

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tough decisions (and Nelson Mandela)

I've read a number of accounts of how many decisions a teacher makes in a day - hundreds? thousands?  No question, it's a lot.  You can't get them all right, and if you care, you lose some sleep when you get them wrong.

Now as a principal, it strikes me that the decisions are perhaps fewer (okay, I'm pretty sure they're fewer, simply by virtue of interacting with fewer people over shorter periods of time).  But they're tougher, and sometimes really tough.

Just in the last week or so:

  • intervene with a long term staff member to address concerns?  This is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect, and I daresay I care about a lot.  Nevertheless, it's not doing the job if you give free passes.  So far it's not gone where I'd hoped, but it was still the right (and hard) thing to do.
  • does a camping trip go ahead, after a staffer in the park where the trip is to take place let us know that moose hunting is going on in the park?  This trip has been planned for a long time, is important to the course goals and is in many ways a celebration of the learning to date.  Still... talk about a risk/reward scenario that will scare the heck out of you.  (The trip went ahead, and was a great success in the bitter cold.)
  • press ahead with a whole school personnel development initiative that will cost up to $100 000, and which brings no guarantees of success?  No one else in the province is doing it, and we'll need to fundraise for the vast majority of the money.  Nonetheless, there is no realistic downside to the initiative; reservations are tied entirely to the cost, and so if it's good for us and our kids, we'll go ahead in faith.
  • every day, knowing that single decisions on how to react to student misbehaviour can potentially end their school careers, with all that implies.  Further, it's not as simple as erring on the side of being less "strict".  Some students need that firm hand, and some need a hug (real or metaphorical), and they don't carry a sign to tell us which it is.  
And this is where I've been thinking about Nelson Mandela.  I read his autobiography a couple of years ago, and he was quick to acknowledge his failings, and the difficulty he had in making hard decisions.  And how about that decision to come out of prison preaching reconciliation rather than retaliation?  Not  an awful lot of precedents for that, huh?  He changed the world, this man described by both his widow and himself as profoundly ordinary.  There's hope for all of us, and we need to accept that we all change the world, for better or worse, with every decision we make.