The lightness of being a beginner

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So, how was my first week at a new school? I’ve been asked this plenty of times over the last few days, and I keep coming back to one particular metaphor. I think the influx of new information has been like trying to drink from a fire hose – you end up all wet, but still thirsty! (Actually, for the record I think that’s a simile – but who’s keeping score anyway?) Since Tuesday I have lost count of how many occasions I did something “for the first time”. That’s been exhausting, but it’s also been refreshing – in a way that reminds me of the Stanford commencement address delivered by the late Steve Jobs back in 2005. Describing how he was fired from the company that he himself had founded, he said:

stevejobs

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

The crucial phrases are there in the middle, where Steve talks about how he experienced “the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything”. When you first start teaching, you aren’t sure about anything you’re doing – whether it will work or not – because you’ve never done it before. So you repeatedly try new things because you have no other choice!

In theory, you can fall back on the methods that you remember of how you yourself were taught (and research suggests that many people unintentionally incline themselves this way). However, the truth is that there is no guarantee that these ways will be effective for you anyway, because you are not exactly the same kind of person as any of your teachers was, so the way they taught may not fit your personality or skills. The early days consist of the journey to discover who you are as a teacher, how you will structure things to fit your own idiosyncrasies, how you will discipline students in a way that’s consistent with your character and how you will explain things to most clearly convey your particular ways of thinking.

I am going through that experience all over again, but this time as a head teacher. I’m not sure about anything, and that frees me to form new habits and create new structures. How will I interact with parents? With the rest of the executive? What kind of relationship will I form with my own faculty members?

(Interestingly enough, I had a conversation on the weekend that reminded me one of the benefits of starting out as a head teacher at a whole new school rather than becoming head teacher at the school you’re already at. It’s true that there is a steeper operational learning curve due to your lack of familiarity with the new school’s people, policies and procedures. However one of the major benefits is that you don’t need to awkwardly transition from being someone’s friend to being their boss. Of course these aren’t concrete mutually exclusive categories, but it’s really hard to take the hard line and make judgement calls with people who used to be your mates.)

So in summary, it’s a time when I get that wonderful and rare opportunity to remake myself. To question everything I once took for granted. To reassess the ways I do things and turn over a new leaf where I need to. I don’t know what I’ll keep doing and what I’ll ditch – but one thing’s for sure, when I come out the other end I’ll be a very different person to who I am now!

P.S. I haven’t forgotten about that post which I started but didn’t finish. It’s on its way. Just wanted to write about a few more urgent things first!

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