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I Hope You Dance

One part of my work that I especially enjoy is shadowing school administrators. Shadowing an administrator is like observing a teacher except they move around a lot. So you have to follow them- be their shadow. When I’m watching a great administrator at work- I mean when they’re really on their game- it looks like a dance to me, a beautiful dance.

Let me explain. School administrators are busy. Even the least ambitious get up early, stay late, and juggle long to-do lists. Typical days include hundreds of interactions, many interruptions, and multiple sightings of Murphy’s Law. This overwhelming work environment produces a predictable survival response. To make it, school administrators quickly become ruthless time managers. They learn to practice “educational triage,” optimizing their attention, energy, and resources to produce the most good for the most people in the least amount of time, being careful not to waste valuable time on questionable endeavors. It’s a dance.

The steps to the dance flow through the administrator’s mind and into action in the blink of an eye. Should I do this or that? Walk here or there? Should I linger a bit longer with this person or move on? It’s an instinct, really- hard to teach but recognizable when you see it. And it happens fast- at the speed of school.

What if we could slow it all down and examine the step-by-step decisions and trace the actions back to the thoughts. What would we find? I think, in the minds of the best school administrators, there exists a hidden calculus that determines what they do and what they leave undone. Effect size is the language of this calculus. How much effect will this step produce? What about this step? The steps of the dance are determined by a series of quick, instinctive judgments of each possible step’s effect size. At full speed, the dance is something to behold!

Here’s the test… at the end of the day, a successful school administrator compares two lists: 1. Things I did today and 2. Things I didn’t get to. If the effect size of the items on list 1 are higher than list 2, that’s a good day of dancing.

I’m reminded of Lee Ann Womack’s hit song- I hope you dance. The key lyric is “When you have the choice to sit it out or dance… I hope you dance.” Applause and heartfelt thanks to the many excellent school administrators who dance so well every day for the benefit of teachers and students. When you have the chance… I hope you dance!