The Critical Inch

I apologize for the long writing absence.  I have been spending a great deal of time adjusting to the realities of my role as Principal.  I am blessed to work with one of the most dedicated group of professionals I have known.  I am also blessed to serve such a delightfully creative and inspiring group of youth.  It is in respect to these two groups that I write today.

In my short time in the office, I have learned that, before anything else, I must determine the “Critical Inch” of any situation.  This term, first encountered by me in the words of late inspirational author Richard Carlson, refers to the one thing or process that is most important to any project’s success.  Without the determination of this critical person, process, item, or activity, the entire matter at hand may fail.

To put it into personal terms, many people come into my office with something that is bothering them.  This would be fairly simple to deal with if everyone always knew or was willing to admit exactly what was bothering them.  More often than not, however, what a person reports is not ultimately the matter that is bothering them.  In order to best aid the person in my midst, my job is one of determining that “Critical Inch” that is holding the person back from miles of harmony.

I raise this issue not because I am exhausted by the sussing-out process, but because I have to remember that whole organizations have Critical Inches with regards to their missions.  Our school’s mission is, simply, to inspire and enable the educational success of high-risk youth.  These youth may have had many interruptions to their formal learning for a variety of reasons.  Because the needs of the youth and the staff that work with them are often so great and so many, it is often difficult to determine what, exactly, the critical process in our path to successfully achieving our goals.

After some watery thought (I often think better when I am swimming, in the sauna, or in the shower), I have determined that our school’s “critical inch” is student engagement through relationships.  The students we serve have not been adequately served in other educational spaces.  For whatever reason, when they come to us, they come with the basic understanding that education is a necessary means to some other end but not something that is intrinsically fulfilling or meaningful.  Why would they?  Schools have been places of hardship, ridicule, embarrassment, isolation and, in some cases, violence.  While our school should definitely be appropriately challenging to our youth, creating an environment where they are heard through their experiences of hardship and violence should be our most critical step.  The school itself should ensure a safe, stable, and relevant place to explore ideas and opportunities.

Are we all the way there, yet?  No, we aren’t.  Are we well along the road?  Yes we are.  We have wonderful student services in place and an unparalleled process of determining individualized program plans for each student.  We have strong staff dedication to professional development and great relationships in the community to draw upon for relevant student experiences.

And now, in the Socratic tradition of knowing oneself, I know our “Critical Inch!”

Cheers!