Every Second Counts: Music That Inspires School Leadership

A middle-level principal outlines five song tracks—a mixtape, if you will—that inspire strategies for reflection and moving forward into a new school year.

Topics: Health and Wellness, School Management

Does anyone remember making mixtapes or mix CDs for a friend or yourself? Every second counted. Right? You didn’t want a lot of space between each track, and the songs needed to flow smoothly into one another to incorporate a flooding of different emotions. I was reminded of this concept recently as I went down a rabbit hole listening to a bunch of bands and songs from my college days and remembered how powerful a truly excellent mixtape can be … if the selected songs are placed effectively.

What’s this got to do with school leadership? Well, it’s like any challenge we might face with a colleague, parent, or student or in our personal lives: If we don’t have a plan in place, often the outcome will not be as meaningful or effective as we would hope.

Taking inspiration from music, here are five tracks from my school leadership mixtape to help us build a catalog of strategies for reflection and moving forward into a new school year.

Track 1: The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (Simon and Garfunkel)

Strategy: Slow Down

It’s easy to find ourselves rushing at times to get tasks done, not taking time to really think about whether they needed to be completed effectively or immediately. Are we completing these tasks and giving them the right amount of focus or a rushed amount of focus?

In reflection, I realized I had rushed a few decisions and, unfortunately, felt the negative effects of doing so. After a couple of these incidents, I stepped away from my desk and wrote in all capital letters on the whiteboard in my office: SLOW DOWN!

These were words that I needed to recite to myself at that moment and words that will remain on my board all year long. Give yourself—and your faculty and staff—permission to slow down whenever needed. 

Track 2: Rearviewmirror (Pearl Jam)  

Strategy: Reflect to Move Forward

Things happen, no matter how much you plan and strategize and communicate. And, in the education world, they can happen fast! Just as a car is speeding down a highway and looking back at what it has left behind it via the rearview mirror, we need to make sure we are doing the same thing. Take nuggets of wisdom from the trials and challenges for the next time similar things happen, and then commit to leaving stresses in the past while continuing to look forward.

Track 3: Team (Bear’s Den)

Strategy: Lean on Your Team

To be a part of a team, whether it be in a school, a family, or any other iteration is truly a gift. Building around you a team of people who are just as mission-driven and passionate about helping students as you exponentially improves your chances of success. And it’s a built-in support system, too.

To be able to have conversations and seek advice or just a listening ear from a colleague can often be the greatest and most needed form of solace. The following lyrics could not ring more true:

I want you to know you can talk to me

I wanna know that I can talk to you

Sometimes this is all we need.

Track 4: Eyes of the Children (Mango Jam)

Strategy: Build Student Connections, Too

Kids are kids, and adults are adults. With the exciting, intentional, and challenging work we embark on each day as educators, it’s imperative that we work to ensure all students have as many positive connections as possible with staff members at school. It’s a comforting reminder that every day we have the opportunity to start fresh and begin another day—always being reminded of how important it is to look through the eyes of the children.

Track 5: No Time For Love Like Now (Big Red Machine Featuring Michael Stipe)

Strategy: Prioritize Balance

This song makes me think about how difficult it can be to find balance in our lives but how truly important it is that we do. It also got me thinking that our students need us, our colleagues need us, our families need us, and our friends need us, and we need ourselves. It’s a lot of pressure, but there is there is always no time, as in the present moment, for love.

No time for breezy

No time for arguments

No time for love like now

So, as you head into your next conversation that might not be the easiest to have, I encourage you to think of your own personal mixtape. Listen, be heard, and be confident, because sometimes the songs with the toughest lyrics and messages are the most important ones.

Tom Cardamone is principal of Harvard Junior High School in Harvard, Illinois.