Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Be Nice To The Principal

What It's Like To Walk In Some Pretty Big Shoes....

As your children head back to school this fall and you're gearing up for another year I want you to take just a short minute to be grateful for your child's principal. I want you to remember my message if you ever have to work with them during the year. Most of the attention is given to the teachers as it should be during back to school, but there is also someone very important running the school who you should be grateful for too.

I am going to share with you what life looks like on the "other side." My opinion is just that, an opinion. Before I start I should explain myself. I was a high school business education teacher for six years. I loved every minute of it. My days were crazy but always an adventure. While teaching I was working to get my masters degree in educational leadership to become a high school principal. Last school year I was given a golden opportunity that I will be forever grateful for. At 28 years old, I was offered a position as the Dean of Students at my high school I was already teaching at. I was in charge of the 12th grade. I had a nice size class around 450+ students. I was responsible for everything from daily discipline, IEP meetings, truancy meetings, 504 meetings, parent meetings, teacher meetings - the list goes on. The only thing I was not able to do as a Dean was teacher observations because I was not finished with my certification. Aside from those observations, I very much was living the role of a high school principal.

It was everything I THOUGHT I wanted for my career until I actually lived it. Truth be told, it was the hardest most stressful and on most days the most thankless job I have had in my entire life. It looked glamorous on the outside. I had my own office, a fancy title, I got to make big decisions some days, I could set my calendar, I had secretaries to help me (they are saints by the way - honestly they deserve so much more recognition and respect than they get.) On the outside looking in it seemed like a very successful career move for me, but walking in the principal shoes are shoes I decided I couldn't wear anymore at least not for where I was right now in my life as a young mom.

What I will share with you is something that most principals would probably like to say, but never can or will because they live in the spotlight. Every move, comment and decision is criticized, watched and judged. When you're in a role like that one it's all eyes on you all the time. I always felt that way as a teacher to but even more so in this role. Since I have stepped away  from education entirely for right now, I feel I can say what I really think now without having to worry about my job being on the line.

When you work in this role it's like standing on a battlefield every single day with cannons coming at you from all directions at wicked speed. If it's not one thing, it's always another and what you think is on your calendar for the day is often so very different from what your day will really look like. In this role you are the first responder to all of the chaos that happens behind the scenes at a school.

If I could give you any advice it would be to give the principal some respect and stop questioning  every call they make. Know that the decisions they are making are not just for your child but for the entire school. They are playing by a rule book and they enforce it for everyone there. When they assign a detention to your child don't call them questioning their decision or arguing that your child will not be there. Stop letting your kids off the hook. If they are in trouble teach them to own it rather than how to get out of it. I saw so much of that. I was amazed with how many parents wanted to cover for them. It was a terrible thing to watch. It taught them nothing about natural consequences in life. Your child's poor choices are not the principal's fault or the teachers for that matter. While I will agree with you there certainly are issues that need addressed sometimes between teachers, students, parents and sometimes administration I would encourage you to not come at everyone with both guns a blazing. Yelling and screaming and demanding is no way to earn respect from the school. Your child is watching this behavior and if you're not careful they will be repeating it 20 years from now when they have children of their own.

I will tell you that I often saw more respect from families who were struggling financially than from those who were affluent. Many of the less fortunate parents were the parents who were on my team and were willing to hold their child accountable for their actions. They also were the parents who would even bring donuts with them to our meetings sometimes. Not to sweet talk me out of the problem at hand, but to simply say thanks for putting up with all of this. They would thank me for my efforts and they genuinely respected the calls that I sometimes had to make. I can't always say the same about the parents whose children came from more privilege. By no means am I trying to stereotype because there were lots of not so nice parents who would "come at you" from all income levels and backgrounds and also lots of wonderful parents who came from all income levels. I'm just trying to help you understand that respect matters and it is becoming a lost art at times.

I saw more mental health issues, drug, alcohol and self esteem issues that I ever could have imagined in one year. Each day I would came home and hug my sweet little four year old a little tighter and hope for a brighter future for him with less troubles than the ones these kids are dealing with right now. This generation is growing up in a very difficult time. It's tough to be a teen and I imagine will only get tougher. Show your children that you love them. Spend time with them. Let them know you're going to be there for them no matter what. Let them know it's okay to mess up as long as they learn from it. Most importantly, teach them how to have the courage to handle life's difficult situations on their own when they are faced with them.

Teachers I promise your issues matter to the principal. Whatever your situation is, they are working on it. Just remember there are lots of teachers and only one of them typically. Give them a chance to figure out a solution. They truly are there for you and your students and even if it doesn't always feel like it, they are on your team. I might also add that when you interact with your principal take a minute to ask how they are really doing. There were so many times when I would interact with my staff and they would ask how my day was going or what's new. If only I could tell them the truth. How hard it really is. How many fires I fought that day. How many times I was at the wrong end of the cannon that just went off. Instead I would smile and tell them things were great and kindly ask about their day and classes. You see when you're in that role, nobody wants your sob story and quite honestly nobody would understand it either. Your job is to stand tall when it's hard and to always keep your cool. Even when you're sweating it, you can't show it. When they say it's lonely at the top they really aren't kidding. These people carry the weight of the world on their shoulders every single day.

It's a hard job. This year try not to make it harder for them and remember they didn't just spend the summer off on vacation like everyone else. They have been working all summer to get the school ready for another great year. They are there because they care about your kids, the teachers and the future of public education. Show them that you appreciate their dedication and back off.

To any principal reading this - all my respect to you. May you have a wonderful year. It takes a special person to do your job. Don't forget that.

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