The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

See the Tree

There are times when we need to take a big picture view, or, in other words “see the forest.” However, there are important instances where we need to stop and see the tree right in front of us. As is often the case, we need balance, because sometimes, seeing the tree can lead to helping the forest.

Often, when confronted with a problem, we step back and see it is a systemic issue. Often, we’re right about our assessment, that the problem before us is bigger than simply the problem before us. Just as often, waiting for a systemic solution does not lead to a resolution for the issue we’re facing.

What if, by staying in our lane and focusing on what we can control, we solved an immediate problem and provided a model for what could be a systemic solution?

An article I recently read crystallized my thinking about this. Nick DiNunzio is a senior citizen living in Detroit. Crime has reduced the number of trick or treaters in his neighborhood. Mr. DiNunzio took some steps to solve the problem before him, focusing on what he could control.  By purchasing candy, fixing porch lights, and spreading the word that children in his neighborhood would be safe if they chose to dress up and go out on Halloween, he “stayed in his lane” and developed a solution for the people right in front of him.

Without question, the problem Mr. DiNunzio faced (crime in an urban area) is systemic. Had he waited for a systemic solution, the people right in front of him (children in his neighborhood) would have missed out on an experience kids should enjoy. Instead, he stayed in his lane and focused on what he could control, finding a solution for the problem in front of him. By “seeing the tree,” Mr. DiNunzio may also offer a systemic solution (people taking control of their neighborhoods to create a positive experience). His story is inspirational because it is an example of what can be done. He could have said “crime is a problem,” written letters, spoken out, and held meetings. Instead, he took action, and made something positive happen.

There are problems you face in your school or in your classroom. Instead of saying “this is a district or school wide issue,” what if we took full command of what we could control and found solutions? How would our work be more meaningful if instead of saying “it’s a big picture problem” we were able to say “it’s a big picture problem, but here’s what I tried that worked in my classroom or school?” In our work, we need to balance the big picture with the people right in front of us. Stay in your lane.


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