I Thought All Decisions Were Black and White.

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In another life I’m positive I was a teacher (it’s been so long, but I’m pretty sure).

Back in the good old days, running a school or school district seemed so easy.

I could sit in a teacher’s meeting and come up with the correct answers in a split-second.

You didn’t even have to ask me.  (and trust me, no one did).

Actually, you didn’t even have to have a teacher’s meeting.  I could simply stand in the hallway and share my opinion.

I just knew how things should be done.

Things seemed so simple from my vantage point (in the back… sometimes paying attention).

I was positive I understood all the decisions school administrators should make (ALL… not some… ALL).

Give me a problem.  I had the answer.Everybody is An Expert.  Until They Have to Make the Decision.

Don’t give me a problem.  Still had the answer.

No hesitation.

No second-guessing.

No mistakes.

Back then, I was a genius (in my own mind… and only in my own mind).

Basically, I was batting a 1,000% on any and all tough decisions (I was keeping track… probably when I should have been listening).

It really wasn’t that hard.

In fact, it always confused me why principals and superintendents made things look so difficult.

Everything seemed clear to me.  Very black and white.

Then I became an administrator.

About 2 minutes in, I realized decisions were seldom black and white (it took 2 minutes because the first 90 seconds I was frozen from sheer panic).

In fact, after 8 years I have come to realize there aren’t any decisions that are black and white.

They’re all gray.

Every single one.

I think this is because each decision an administrator makes involves people.

Sure, you may be deciding on a sports schedule or a printer cartridge, but eventually the decision leads you to a person.

And that makes the simple complicated.

If only I knew then what I know now.

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13 Responses to “I Thought All Decisions Were Black and White.”


  1. Lance Landeck
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 9:40 am

    Absolutely, positively AGREE!!!!


  2. Jay
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 10:21 am

    Bill Cosby said this better than I will, Mike. He attributes all our complications to brain damage.

    “Did you eat the fruit of the tree of which I said, ‘You will not eat it?’” Genesis

    The choice was black or white. Obedience or disobedience. Once mankind claimed knowledge of good and evil, we started to have preferences. We started to judge.

    “All the world knows the good to be good; and this is the only evil. All the world knows the beautiful to be beautiful, yet this is the only ugliness.”
    Tao Te Ching

    And one last stick on the pile:

    “No food – one problem. Plenty food – many problems.”
    Japanese Proverb

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Jay, Love this. It’s genius.


  3. Olwyn Hughes
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 12:20 pm

    i hear you loud and clear. as a teacher i am always saying how glad i am that my principal gets to make the hard decisions. as we say “that’s why they pay admin the big bucks!” even though people keep telling me that i would be great in admin and while the big bucks are surely tempting, i will never, ever, ever take on that job. you have my sincere admiration for doing such a tough job every day!

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Olwyn Hughes, Big Bucks????

    When do I start getting those??? :)


  4. Sandy
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 1:44 pm

    My intuition says that you either have a huge decision to make or are on the back side of a huge decision. I’ve read your blog for a couple of years now, and even though you come across as a pretty laid-back, funny guy, I have a feeling that you take your job and your decisions very seriously.

    You have one of those jobs that many people cannot hold because they are unwilling to consider all the stakeholders and to see all possible outcomes of a situation. You know you will make mistakes — human beings do that. Even you, Mr. Superintendent, are allowed to make them. Unfortunately for you, the stage is much larger. As long as you know that you have made the decision that is the best for the people it affects the most, then you have done everything possible. If you didn’t, you need to revisit that decision. Keep going boldly and do the right thing, knowing that you won’t please everyone. As long as you know you’ve done your best, that’s all that matters.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Sandy, Just another day…. ;)


  5. Karen Marcus
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 3:13 pm

    I could not agree with Sandy more. Becoming a principal after 28 years as a teacher gave me my comeuppance..and thank goodness I had 28 years teaching to help better prepare me to be an administrator. I have no idea how someone who has only taught 3 years can become an exemplary administrator (some do, I know) …. it was hard enough after 28.
    I hope alot of administrators read this blog.


  6. Erik
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 5:19 pm

    We are all reading…and agreeing…and empathizing with your position, Michael. I think Sandy said it best, “Keep going boldly and do the right thing, knowing that you won’t please everyone. As long as you know you’ve done your best, that’s all that matters.” I can also relate with her mention of intuition. Sometimes, after we have done all of our homework, sought out the opinions of others, and tried to gather every piece of information possible, we only end up more confused. (Hence, your last post on information overload.) That said, there are times when we just have to sit back, try to clear our minds, and just listen to our intuition (i.e., go with our gut feeling). Granted, that is not always an easy thing to do, especially when your gut instinct seems to be taking you in a new or different direction. Ultimately, though, I am a strong believer in the idea that things work out as they are supposed to and sometimes we are really not as in control as we think we are…. I don’t know if that makes you feel better or worse, but in the long run, when everything else is equal and nothing seems black and white, I think you have to follow your gut instinct (or intuition), or ultimately, you won’t be able to live with yourself. I hope this helps, and remember, the people that really matter in life will still talk with you no matter what you decide–even when you buy the wrong printer cartridge. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Michael!


  7. Tim
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 9:58 pm

    “Sure, you may be deciding on a sports schedule or a printer cartridge, but eventually the decision leads you to a person.”

    And that, my friend, makes you a genius!

    Cheers!

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Tim, Now this makes two people who thinks I am a genius.

    I was get lonely all by myself.


  8. Shelly Burns
    on Feb 6th, 2011
    @ 8:51 am

    My husband and I just had a conversation like this last night. I’ve only been an asst. principal for a year and a half and I’ll admit, it’s harder than I ever thought it would be. I’m here due to the prodding of a wonderful principal who saw the potential in me, thank you Deborah! I owe this to her, I’m glad I did it, but it scares me many days. I have alot of responsibility and I take it very seriously!!


  9. Susan Riley
    on Feb 6th, 2011
    @ 3:57 pm

    This should be required reading for all education administration and supervision degree candidates. And any teacher who ever feels frustrated by their administration. So basically – everyone in education. Grass is always greener, and the peanut gallery is always right!

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