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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Turning Intention into Reality

  Tom Vona
  Tom Vona
Senior Associate and Mentor

I believe that one’s thoughts—when they are sustained, very conscious thoughts—can affect reality. In my own life, intention had a great deal to do with the path I followed in my professional career; my intentions guided me all along as I pursued my goals. A career in education was something I had planned to follow from the time I was in my second year of high school. I joined the Future Teachers of America, I went to teachers conventions and attended sessions for students, and I decided that I wanted to teach secondary-level history. These intentions, these plans that I followed, sustained me through my undergraduate studies and beyond.

By the time I had been teaching for a few years and was almost finished with my master’s degree, I started to think more broadly about my future and began to contemplate the field of administration. That is also when I started to seriously consider becoming a high school principal one day. Soon I began to take classes to become eligible for supervisory and administrative certifications. Becoming a principal became my goal, an overriding intention that was the focus of all I did thereafter, including applying to (and being accepted into) a doctoral program in educational leadership. As lengthy and challenging as this whole process was, it was a very important element in helping me realize my goal. Eventually I was appointed social studies supervisor, and then assistant principal, in a different school district than the one where I had taught for several years. Three years later I achieved my goal when I was named principal of a high school in still another school district. After so many years of planning and preparing, my intention to become a high school principal had finally become a reality. Now the real work began: putting into practice my intentions of what it meant to be a principal.

During the years that I was preparing to become a high school principal I envisioned (constantly) the type of principal I wanted to be: one who was very supportive in my leadership style; who involved others in decision making; and who knew the students, staff, and parents well. I wanted to be someone who worked collegially with all levels of the school hierarchy from the support staff to board members. I wanted to move the school forward, not just academically but in all possible ways. I wanted to create a warm, accepting climate in my school, one that promoted learning, one where students felt comfortable, one where they were challenged to do their best. I planned to be a visible principal—seen often in the hallways, the cafeteria, in classrooms, at athletic contests, and at any other events where our students were involved. I wanted to be available to my students. This is how I believed a high school principal should function, and these were my intentions.

I never believed that I could succeed as a new principal simply by showing up and immediately initiating many changes, or by implying that things had to be done my way because I was now in charge. I learned quickly that I was working with a seasoned staff that had worked with a number of principals in the past several years. Some staff members were willing to “wait out” the new guy (me) because he probably wouldn’t stay too long either. Departing quickly was certainly not my intention. My plan was to be at this school for a long time and to make a difference. I tried to make this clear through my actions. I gave a lot of attention to my department chairpersons who, along with the assistant principals, served as my leadership council. I set forth a number of goals to work on during my first year as principal, mostly dealing with academics. These goals were areas where I was comfortable working, and I included my leadership council in as much decision making a s possible as it related to these goals. This process of working on school-wide goals continued each year, and I involved as many staff members as possible wherever appropriate. Before one major change was made to the school day, the two assistant principals and I met individually with each teacher to get his or her input on the proposed plan. This is an example of using attention to help achieve a goal. Through demonstrating to those whom you lead that you value their input and take it seriously, one can align intention and actions.

The conscious thoughts and the intentions that I carried with me into my principalship served me well. While I had a great deal to attend to (and many crisis situations to contend with that I could not have imagined beforehand), I was able to stay true to the person I was and the intentions I brought to my role. My personal goals—as well as the professional goals established for me each year (with my input), based on school and district needs—were never at odds, and I was comfortable with what was required of me. My years as a high school principal were all that I had ever imagined them to be. The support I received from the superintendent, other administrators, teachers, students, support staff, and parents made my years memorable and rewarding. Knowing who I was, what I was bringing to the position, and having thought about what my intentions were for the school played a large part in whatever success I may have had.  

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