The Balcony and the Dance Floor
At the end of any school year there is a total whirlwind of activity: state testing, grades to wrap up, concerts, staffing decisions, etc. All of this happens while teachers and administrators have to strategize and plan ahead for what is to come in the fall and the subsequent school year(s).
In my tenure at Conservatory Lab Charter School, I’ve found this period of time to be very mentally taxing. There is a constant zooming in and zooming out that can feel disorienting. I’ll go from going and helping a small child find new pants after they spilled milk all over themselves to meeting with the heads of higher ed institutions to create a new degree program, to teaching an instrument I have no idea how to play, to planning next year’s staffing and scheduling. It is the ultimate straddle, where your attention is supremely divided in equally important ways on the urgency of the moment and the urgency of the future.
Early on at the Perrone Sizer Institute for Creative Leadership (PSI), I learned about the concept of “being on the balcony” versus “being on the dance floor”1. This analogy helped me internalize this exercise that I’m currently undergoing. It feels like I’m constantly monitoring and surveilling the ballroom while at the same time trying to avoid getting stepped on when fox-trotting my way through the dance floor of the day to day.
I’ve held the position of Director of El Sistema at Conservatory Lab for two years now, and the title of Co-Director for two years prior. I was excited to take on the leadership challenges I identified in our program because I wanted to learn and grow into being a leader. My thinking is, there is only one way to learn, which is by doing. My enthusiasm carried me through very tough times and helped me build resilience as well as hone my adaptive leadership skills.
Despite these prior leadership experiences, it was not until this year when I was in the PSI cohort that I felt I was not merely “surviving” or “getting through” my work, but actively getting better at it, learning new strategies, and thinking about the much larger picture. Beyond just “surviving” the year, we have made really great progress in moving our music program forward by working on codifying our program, conceptualizing a capstone project for our oldest students, starting to develop and document our own unique curriculum, engaging in twice as many performances in the community than last year, and creating new partnerships with higher ed institutions as well as other well-known organizations in Boston.
For the first time I feel like I am able to think about, plan,. and execute a vision to help take the program in a new direction and to the next level. I’m now realizing that this ultimate straddle is what great leaders do all the time. They must stay rooted in the urgency of now while being actively present in the urgency of the future. It is more work than I have ever imagined but I feel like now, more than ever, I’m equipped and ready for these challenges.