“Define yourself. Never give anyone any chance to define you by their definitions.” – Vikrant Parsa
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what defines who we are. For many of us this includes our families, our friends, our pasttimes, and our careers. There are definitions that exist for each of us that almost box us in and set parameters for what we can and should do. This has the unfortunate effect of limiting potential and causing individuals who could do great things to hesitate because they feel that these aren’t things they are supposed to be engaged in.
I have come to notice that people have a certain ideal of what a principal is and what a principal should do. I have never been a big believer in following some set of invisible guidelines of who I am and how I should focus my time. I never wanted to be a principal just to be a principal. What I mean by that is I didn’t get into this for the title or power (and I really dislike being called Principal Peters – it sounds extremely self-important). What I wanted to do when I decided to leave the classroom was to take my influence from a group of twenty to hundreds, even thousands. My guiding question in education has always been “how can I make your life better?” (and I thank my mentor in education, philosophy, music, and existential ramblings, Mark Schipani, for this belief system). Getting to be a principal has allowed me to influence far more individuals than being a classroom teacher ever could. I have an opportunity each day to make the lives of students, teachers, staff members, parents, and community members better in some way. I have one of those jobs where my direct boss cannot be with me all of the time. There is an assumption that I will get the things done that the school district expects. But that has never been enough for me. I have always felt the need to follow my own path and in doing so, create my own definition of what a principal should be. I won’t allow the parameters from others’ definitions hinder me or stop me from doing things that I feel can be amazing for our students.
This conversation also falls in line with what the general public believes about the definition of school. So many of us assume that school should be just like it was when we were kids. Sitting in desks in rows; separate times for each subject area; spelling packets where we are asked to write our words 5X each. Again, this is not good enough because that type of school didn’t work for everyone. In fact there are many people who actually left school worse off because of this type of school. It is not OK for our students to continue this way and it is not alright for any of us who care about our students receiving the type of quality education that will allow them opportunities to expand their thinking and find their passion. So let’s define what a school is on our own terms. Shape learning spaces inside each classroom that allow students the freedom to collaborate, experiment and explore. Create experiences for your students to discover who they are so that one day they will be able to define themselves. Show our students that school can be a place of learning, love, fun, and finding yourself.
Are you going to let your job title define who you are? Or are you going to create the definition yourself? I challenge you to go above the expectations that others might have for you and to seek to redefine what you can do or be. Don’t let anyone else define you but yourself.