A couple of years ago, I trained religiously for what was going to be my first triathlon. Somehow, I was pressured into registering for a race that consisted of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run, a crazy proposition since I am not a strong swimmer nor did I even own a bike. Like I tend to do in other areas of my life, once I committed I went all-in. I bought the equipment, including triathlon shoes and clothes, read as much as I could about the subject, and dedicated myself to nutrition and training plans. In total, I trained for more than 111 hours in five months and ate little more than protein shakes, tuna packets, and grilled chicken in order to get into ideal race shape, not to mention the strain I put on my family by being gone so frequently.
After the grueling five months of dieting and training, I was prepared. I was set to dominate my time goal, I had my race day nutrition planned out, and was oddly excited to push my body further than I ever had before. The night before the race, I went to bed as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve. When I arrived at the starting line, my joy and excitement turned to disappointment as if Santa had somehow skipped my house.
Severe rain and thunderstorms in the area made the course unsafe and impossible to attempt. All the training, the dieting, financial investment, and the time away from my family felt all for naught.
How often in our schools do we have a great idea that will improve school culture, spend hours researching the idea, lay out a vision so the idea turns into a workable plan, financially invest in it, spend energy and time meeting with people to get their support, only to have our once awesome idea rejected into yet another failure? As the rudder of the culture in our schools does this feeling of failure defeat us to the point where we give up on improving school culture or do we focus on the learned experiences and grow from those lessons?
Once the disappointment and anger of the failure wore off, there were positives that I could build on. I was left with the knowledge that I could have completed something more physically challenging than I could have imagined. Mentally, I had the confidence that I could do almost anything I put my mind to. I was also in the best physical shape of my life. Are there positives you can take away from your failed ideas, initiatives, or goals? Despite a failure, are you better prepared for the next time you “tri”? Do you have a better understanding of the temperature of your staff and students? Maybe even learn a hard lesson in who you can or cannot count on. As school leaders, we will often fail, sometimes even multiple failures in a single day. But we cannot let those setbacks defeat us; learn from them and use them to your advantage next time you “get back on the bike”.
This blog was written by David Leenman. Mr. Leenman is in his 13th year of education. He has served in both middle and high schools. Before becoming an assistant principal, Mr. Leenman worked in special education and history and coached basketball, football, and soccer.