From the Principal

The sweet spot or: the good, the bad and the ugly of success

“Did you see that man riding past,
With shoulders bowed with care?
There’s failure in his eyes to last,
And in his heart despair.
He seldom looks to left or right,
He nods, but speaks to none,
And he’s a man who fought the fight —
God knows how hard! — and won.”
Success – Henry Lawson.

I am currently principal of the highest performing school in regional NSW. Our performing arts students are ranked among the very best in the state, our sports teams/individuals continue to impress at the highest level and the demand for enrolments at the school show no signs of slackening.

So why do I still wake up in the early dark worried that we are not doing enough, achieving enough, helping enough?

Success can be scary.

From a struggling “village” school SCAS has grown into an educational leader BUT there is still so much more we can do, so many more opportunities to be examined, so many great ideas to be tried and, of course, so many things that could go wrong and see us “fall”.

Success can be a paradox.

“I am aware that when good things happen, you should be grateful and not look the gift horse in the mouth (or maybe you should, because then you’d see all the Greeks hiding inside, IDIOT). But still, when life starts getting good there’s a nagging in the bottom of my throat like a writhing worm tickling my insides—I’m terrified.” Why It Can Be Scary When Everything Starts Going Right, Kat George

When talking about this to an experienced colleague, I was told:

“Get used to it! Achieving success is hard, maintaining it is even harder!”

At the risk of coming across as a “total movie nerd”, let us look at SCAS’ success through the lens of a classic Sergio Leone movie.

The good things about our success include:

  • We know what we are doing is valuable because our community – parents, grandparents, carers, students – tell us so.
  • We can keep the good things we do, while searching for even better ways of educating. We are not forced to act out of desperation or failure
  • We have learnt from a range of mis-steps, mistakes and stumbles and are determined not to repeat them.
  • We are big enough to offer exceptional opportunities but small enough for our students not to “fall between the cracks”
  • I am surrounded by talented, professional, exciting staff who are willing to go the “extra mile” to make sure our students succeed

The bad things about our success can be:

  • We become too self-congratulatory and take future success for granted
  • We assume we have all the answers
  • We stop trying to be better

The ugly things about our success can be:

  • We can become the target for rumour, innuendo and resentment
  • We can fall even faster than we rose, if we stop trying.

Education should never become a battle between teacher and student for control of the classroom.

“A student who intentionally creates a disturbance in class that directly interferes with the teacher’s ability to instruct the class and with other students’ ability to learn is considered disruptive. Disruptive behavior can have negative effects on not only the classroom environment, but also on the school experience as a whole. Disruptive students interfere with the teacher’s ability to teach effectively. The behaviors require large amounts of the teacher’s time and attention. The teacher must stop the lesson or discussion to address the behavior, and this takes away from the valuable time needed to instruct the rest of the class. If the disruptive behavior is threatening, it may challenge the teacher’s authority and can create tension in the classroom, which pushes learning to the background. Disruptive behavior by one student also encourages other students to do the same, which compromises the teacher’s authority and ability to control the group.”

Our education debate should not become a showdown between schools or sectors.

“The findings of these studies send a simple message for parents who send their children to private schools. If you think you are getting some advantage in education outcomes from sending your child to a private school rather than a government school, think again”. Save Our Schools spokesman Trevor Cobbold

Education must be about providing the best school for each child – a school that reflects the values of the family, the aspirations of the child and the opportunities to make the best of talents.

Our success will continue. It will be on our terms. It will be a journey. It will depend on our attitude.

It will be our choice.

In summary, my sleeping patterns have not improved but I am refreshed by research I have found that lays out an, admittedly, vague, road-map for how to maintain success.

The top 10 pieces of advice seem to be:

  1. Know and act. “You already know what you have to do, and you know how to do it. What’s stopping you?”
  2. Always be prepared so you have the freedom to act. “Become a master of your craft. While everyone else is relaxing, you’re practicing and perfecting.”
  3. Never be satisfied. “The drive to close the gap between near-perfect and perfect is the difference between great and unstoppable…The way to enjoy life best is to wrap up one goal and start right on the next one. Don’t linger too long at the table of success, the only way to enjoy another meal is to get hungry.”
  4. Be true to yourself. “When something isn’t right, change it. Immediately.”
  5. Never stop learning. “Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. When you want to become the best at what you do, you never stop learning. You never stop improving and honing your skills and knowledge.”
  6. Don’t get crushed by success. “Most people can’t handle success, authority or privilege. It destroys them. It makes them lazy.”
  7. Confidence is your greatest asset. Your confidence determines: the size of challenges/goals you undertake; how likely you will achieve those goals; how well you bounce back from failures. If you’re not confident, you will never put yourself out there in the first place.”
  8. Surround yourself with people who remind you of the future, not the past. “When you surround yourself with people who remind you of your past, you’ll have a hard time progressing. This is why we get stuck in certain roles, which we can’t break free from. Surrounding yourself with people who you want to be like allows you a fresh slate. You’re no longer defined by your past, only the future you are creating.”
  9. Have clear goals.“When your why is strong enough, the how will take care of itself.”
  10. Never be jealous or envious of someone else’s accomplishments. “Jealousy and envy are the ego — which operates out of fear. There is no one who can do exactly what you can do.”

“You need to aim beyond what you are capable of. You need to develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end…Make your vision of where you want to be a reality. Nothing is impossible.” — Paul Arden

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