I am a newly-minted principal and I am gazing up at the front door of the schoolhouse. Fear is gripping my sight and doing a demented tango up and down my nervous system. Prior echoes of negative remarks and quizzical looks from friends and colleagues come into the foreground:
“Why that school?”
“The bad kids all go there.”
“Those teachers think they run the school.”
“Are you sure you want to be a principal there?”
Fast forward to about three years later with many tears and tribulations in between. I am standing in our Media Center after a long, complex journey of applying for a federal magnet grant. We had built a solid, collaborative team in our schoolhouse fueled by a clear, articulated vision to always do what is best, innovative and uplifting for our students. We believed in this vision for our schoolhouse, but I was about to share that our grant proposal was rejected.
As I walked into our Media Center trying my best to keep upbeat and smiling, I noticed the entire grant writing team was standing in front of the faculty. One of the teachers on the team whispered to me: “We heard the bad news and we are not going to let you stand alone. We got this with you.”
Afterwards, our school received full endorsement from our school board to stand as a Magnet School in our district. We could still maintain our vision for a STEAM Magnet Theme. There would be no funding but our school was determined to make it happen. In a year, we secured nineteen community partners, doubled our student population to the point where we needed a waiting list, and embedded innovative teaching practices into our classrooms.
There were many things that served as sincere and solid support during those days of school turnaround. Leaning on so many from my wife to both my home and school families, I remain grateful.
Music proved to be a salve of encouragement as well. Little elements of songs and albums stitched a tapestry of solace for this principal. Both “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles and “Can You Feel It?” by The Jacksons were on constant rotation during car rides into the schoolhouse.
One quote by a certain bass player from Liverpool named Paul McCartney stood as an internal pep talk for me:
“You just wait.”
These “words of wisdom” were whispered by me each time I faced a pitfall during my first principalship. Paul McCartney repeated these words in 1967 as The Beatles were recording the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Various newspapers were reporting that The Beatles were either breaking up or creatively dried up, since it had been almost six months since a new album had been released by the band.
Place this negative mindset in a year in which The Beatles had quit live performance after a tumultuous tour plagued by controversy. The double-A sided single of “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” was their first 45 release not to reach #1 on the charts. (It only reached a mere #2 on top Pop charts, instead.) Rumors were abundant as the band retreated to the studio to create their masterpiece.
“You just wait” was Paul’s retort to a naysayer-filled media. He knew The Beatles had a major recording ace up their collective sleeves. He later shared this sentiment in an interview commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the “Sgt. Pepper” album:
I remember the great glee seeing in one of the papers how The Beatles have dried up,
there’s nothing come from them, they’re stuck in the studio, they can’t think what they’re
doing, and I was sitting rubbing my hands, saying, “You just wait.”
(Sgt. Pepper at Fifty, 2017)
Paul McCartney believed in the band’s masterpiece. He believed in their collective vision of the album being conceptual in nature framed by a fantasy concert performed by the band’s newly-imagined alter egos of Sgt. Pepper’s band. Furthermore, McCartney believed in the musical brotherhood of his collaborators. Most importantly, he ignored the naysayers rolling their negative conjectures in the press.
All in all, I would make the contention that this quote from Paul McCartney best embodies the ethos of #ThePepperMindset. Here’s one way to encapsulate #ThePepperMindset and connect to future adventures in service and support of the schoolhouse:
- Believe in your vision.
- Believe in your masterpiece.
- Believe in your collaborators.
- Ignore the naysayers.
As a principal/lead learner, I have learned the necessity in building a clear, shared vision for the schoolhouse. It is important to approach all endeavors and journeys in the schoolhouse as having positive, great and lasting impact as a masterpiece does. We want our collective work for education to sustain and resonate as Michelangelo did with the Sistine Chapel. I think of the #Makerspace work of Laura Fleming and her inspiring students. Her students approach creativity with the mindset that their work is meaningful and lasting. I strive to approach my work in the schoolhouse as that I am helping to create a masterpiece of learning for our students. (Check out her “Worlds of Making” website for more inspiration here.)
Education is a collaborative and joyful journey. Love your collaborators and demonstrate your belief in them. I have been blessed with many colleagues who believed in my impossible dreams and I am called to do the same for the teachers I serve. My hope is that same belief is transferred to our students. Belief is the ignition for inspiration and the foundation for dreams. All schoolhouses must invite that belief for our educators and students.
The persistent beat of the naysayers will never diminish. If that negative beat was heeded by the great innovators and creators of our time, then think of the tragic gaps we would gaze upon in the distance. Think of a world without the impact of Martin Luther King or Malala Yousafzai. Imagine a world without the timeless and universal scope of The Beatles. We would not have The Pepper Mindset, which has endured as a wheelhouse for lasting innovation.
John, Paul, George and Ringo left us with a monumental legacy. Their impact still resonates and inspires. This “little bar band” from Liverpool changed the world. For educators, we are called to create new notes and sounds to change the world in the schoolhouse as The Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
What masterpiece is the world waiting for from you?