Monday, January 13, 2014

Getting Beyond The Big Red Light

Jacques Plante

"How would you like a job where, every time you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?" (Jacques Plante)

There is no lonelier position in hockey than the goalie. They stand alone, often spending inordinate amounts of time doing, well, nothing. A shot takes approximately 3 seconds to occur from setup to contact to release to save (or goal). A typical night in goal means facing 30 shots; extrapolate that out and you get 90 seconds a night that the goalie matters. A hockey game has 3600 seconds in regulation which means the goalie is active for 2.5% of every game. The numbers tell a false tale...the goalie only matters for 2.5% of the game but in most games that 2.5% means everything. Are administrators all that different?

Everyday in schools the bulk of the action happens outside the direct realm of an administrator. In classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways, and corridors students and staff interact and engage away from the goal crease. The plays develop throughout the school and 2.5% of the time an administrator is called upon to make the big save. These saves come in the form of deescalating conflicts, mediating parent, student, and staff concerns, and providing support in times of crisis and need. How we respond in these "save moments" can determine the fate of our ability to govern and manage a successful school. In other words...the way we respond when the big red light goes on can make all the difference to our students, staff, and community.

I share my own personal game experience from this week. In less than 24 hours this week (so far) I successfully helped a colleague navigate the waters of progressive discipline, facilitated successful transitions for struggling students, helped staff members address grading concerns, and waded the waters (literally) of water line breaks. All saves! I only point these out to make a singular point - the big red light stayed off, the goal stayed empty, and no one cheered...and it didn't bother me one bit! My job is making saves; it is what administrators do. What about when the shutout gets broken?

I don't always make the saves. I have made mistakes. I misjudged a direction the "puck" was going to take, didn't see the deflection, or got screened and missed the play entirely. For the 2.5% of the time I was of my game for 0.5%, but that time mattered. The big red light went on, the crowd booed, and I did what a good goalie shouldn't do...I let it show. My job is when the big red light goes on and the boos start is to put it together, reflect on why I missed, pull the mask down tight, and get right back in goal. How do I get it back together?

I remind myself that 2.5% is a false number. The goalie is much more than just saves. The goalie is responsible for calling out defensive sets, managing the clock, watching the penalty box on power play, and assisting the offense in organizing the rush. In math terms, the goalie is responsible for pretty much the entire game. When these aspects break down there is no big red light, no horn, no crowd. However, a good goalie knows his responsibility and takes ownership. They relish their leadership in times when others get praise and recognition because they internalize their successes. They stand tall when their team is riding high and they stand firm when their team needs support. They take the blame when others fail because they have the fortitude to get through it, pull the mask back down, and do it all over again. Being an administrator is a lot like being the goalie.

We protect our team, we live in isolation, yet we live for the passion of what we do. The old adage in hockey is that you find the craziest guy in the locker room, the guy with no fear, with a passion that is almost unexplainable and you put him between the pipes. Are we, as administrators, all that different? I close with a simple question to ask ourselves before, during, and after "the game" every day...How do you respond when the big red light goes on?