I used to get teased when I was a kid by family members because of how much I loved September. Once August rolled around, my thoughts turned towards school. The newness of September was so exciting. I still get that feeling as a principal today. I am in a unique situation as an administrator. I am principal in the school where I began my teaching career. Starting two different phases of my career in the same building has been a great opportunity for reflection. I look back at the passion that I had with that first class and it pushes me to maintain that passion as an administrator. Walking into my first classroom on a regular basis is great motivation to keep a “beginner’s mindset”.
Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind“. It’s all about having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions about a subject, even when studying at an advanced level or experiencing something repeatedly, just as a beginner in that subject would. As a principal I work hard to remember that even though I have had MANY first months’ of school, my students have not. Approaching each new school year from the perspective of a beginner helps me to keep things fresh but it also helps me to build empathy towards the experience of staff and students. As I gain more experience, there becomes an automaticity to certain procedural parts of the job. I see this as a victory since it creates more time for me to focus on the parts of the job that matter most to me; teaching and learning. I have to fight to ensure though that this type of automaticity does not make its way into the human element of the job.
The start of the year demands clarity and information gathering. While there might overarching goals that continue year over year, each new school year also presents specific needs. Identifying these needs requires open ears, open eyes and open minds. Being visible and carrying on conversations with all stakeholders at the outset of the year goes a long way towards identifying those needs. We are hardwired to recognize patterns in our lives. This can be helpful but it can also prevent us from seeing what’s new or different. Truly listening and talking with the members of your school community helps to see the newness and not get stuck on a canned set of action or talking points.
My most memorable moment from the start of this school year came on the first day. I walked into a Grade One class and one the students yelled out “Happy New Year Mr. Kerr”. As we start the new year, I encourage everyone to use your experience to routinize the process side of the job but most importantly to remember Shoshin and a beginner’s mind when approaching goal setting and community interactions. Our school communities deserve it.
Kevin Kerr, Principal, TCDSB