Why are you a principal?

Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out at the teachers’ convention with Rob Wall, a teacher, techguy, Posse member and all round good guy. We had some great discussions about technology, kids, teaching and other parent stuff. On Friday, as I was dropping Rob off, he asked me “Why do you continue to be a principal?” or something like that. We had been discussing the various things that go on at schools and I was lamenting about some of the bigger issues that I was facing in the upcoming weeks.

Truth be told, I can’t remember my answer but it was something like:

I became a principal because, as a teacher, I wasn’t able to affect changes like I wanted. I knew that I wanted to help children and being a principal would allow me to help them in a different way. I remain a principal because, despite some of the things that go on, I think I’m the best person for the position and I want to make a difference because, at the end of the day it’s all about what’s best for the students. I don’t believe anyone else could do as good of a job as me.

Now, that may sound a bit big headed but since our discussion, I’ve been mulling that question over, turning it around and around because it is something that is at the core of what I believe as an educator. You see, to be an educator for any other reason really doesn’t make sense to me. For one thing, you sure could do better in the financial realm if you were in a different profession. Given how the demands on educators have continued to grow, there are less demanding fields of work where not everyone is an expert. Teaching is not for the faint of heart.

To help children is the core of what it means to be in the educational profession. To serve others knowing that much of what you do will go unnoticed is a reality with which educators live and teach. Like other fields of service, educators are a cornerstone of any society no matter what form they take within that society. They have the incredible task of passing on the knowledge of the society. It is a daunting task and often not appreciated.

Now, as a principal, I’ve learned so many things and grown in so many ways as a person in order to meet the expectation I set for myself of helping children to be their best. Sometimes it is a wonderful thing, like when a student tells you how much they have been influenced by you. Other times, it can be very difficult as you walk that line trying to help someone without pushing them away but knowing that you can’t drop your expectations. Trying to find something that will connect in order to pull forth the positive that you see within that person can be very difficult and trying. Sometimes, you have to draw that line in the sand and stick to it.
As a principal, I’ve learned that being liked by everyone is not possible. In fact, there may be people who don’t like you because of the stand you have to take. It is during those times, when you are sometimes alone, that the core of what you do needs to be clear as it will be tested. If that core is not solid, you will have a very hard time withstanding some of the things that take place as you take that stand. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that not everything you deem to be important is seen the same way by others around you and to take a stand on everything will really just wear you out. You will become a statistic. However, you will need to stand firm at times and that is when your core is so important.

Being able to reflect on “What is best for the students?” and make your decision based on that is vital, I believe, to being an effective educational leader. There will be times that you will not be leading but will be required to be a strong supporter and allow others to use their talents. During these times, people need to know that you will give that support without conditions. During the times when you must lead, knowing what your core belief is vital to how you manage and work through the situation.

Why am I a principal? Honestly, some days I’m not sure. As an educational leader, it sometimes feels like I’m trying to herd chickens in a tornado. What’s the point? I’m going to end up bruised, covered in feathers and other stuff and more chickens will just come to replace them. It’s at those times that I really have to reflect on the core – what’s best for the child? Making a decision during those times and standing firm will be a test. Thus far, I’ve been able go to that core and it has stood firm. Do I always make great decisions? Nope. Do I sometimes make BIG mistakes. Oh yeah. Learning to admit mistakes, take time to reflect and honestly say your sorry to a child is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had. (I’ve done it more than once.) Knowing that, as a child, they may not let it go is difficult and will test your core when you have to look past the defiance to see the person before you.

Why am I a principal? I’m not sure. I didn’t even consider becoming a teacher until I was married and needed to find a career that would support a family. To this day, I’m not sure why teaching was where I ended up. Many people say they always wanted to be a teacher. Not me. In fact, in school I pulled some pretty nifty stunts, well they were nifty when I was doing them. Now, I often rely on that experience now when dealing with students – knowing that some of what they do is just adolescent judgment which is just not completely developed.

Why am I a principal? I really can’t give more of an answer than I gave to Rob. Truthfully, I’m not sure. It’s a combination of many different things. I sometimes wonder if I really have the talents to be in this position and if what I’m doing is really making any difference. Really, it is ironic, in a kind of twisted way, that I ended up where I am, doing what I do. Many of my school friends still laugh and just shake their heads. “Really, a school principal?” Big chuckle and much head shaking.

Why am I a principal? Because…. that’s who I am. Rob, thanks for asking.

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8 responses

  1. That’s a heck of an answer, Kelly. I appreciate that you took the time to give me a very thoughtful answer, at the time and through this blog post. After meeting and talking with you, I have no doubt that you have the talent and the heart for the job you do.

    It was good meeting and talking with you. I’m looking forward to the next time we have a chance to talk again, at TLt or sooner.

  2. Insightful Kelly. The voice you write with is inspirational. I am not even a teacher yet, but I know like many of your readers, about reflecting on why we do what we do and why we do it. Kudos to you again.

  3. Excellent posting Kelly. This is a tremendously important topic for educational leaders. We must be clear on what drives us to give leadership to our environments. Like you, often I feel its because I trust myself with this responsibility. When I am under authority, I want to know I can trust that person who holds decision-making power to act in the best interests of the students and the school. Ultimately, I do trust myself to act in those interests rather than building my own little kingdom.
    Since my milieu is Christian higher education, obviously part of what influences my answer to this question is a sense of God’s calling to this task. My question to you then is do you feel called to be a principal? If so, can you describe that more?

  4. I can sense the way you build teamwork into your building. Maybe it is because you DO still coach that you seem to manage with a ‘coaching’ attitude as opposed to a ‘director’ attitude.
    I have worked for both kinds of administrators. The coaches get miles more out of their teachers and students since the whole group feels the sincerity of the “we are in this together” mantra.
    The directors can be ‘in charge’ but will get a diminished return.
    The leaders that are comfortable in their leadership tend to be great coaches. I bet that IS who you are.

  5. Excellent answers Kelly. It is nice to come across your blog so that I don’t have to wait for STF functions to tap into your wisdom on a daily basis. I have also been directed your way on twitter.
    Walter Wood – Estevan (Mathman33)

  6. Dr. Sanford Aranoff | Reply

    One of the most important books a library in a school should have is a book telling students how to study. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better”, by Dr. S. Aranoff. Check out reviews on amazon.com.

  7. Thanks Rob W and Kyle. I’m hoping to run into both of you at Tlt.

    Rob L – yes, I do feel called to be a principal. As someone who spent 15 years in Catholic Education, I believe that I have been called to this vocation for some reason. Now that I am in the role of leadership, the time I spent building an understanding of servant leadership is vital to what I do. I realize that I am in no way perfect and that my flaws and human failings are important to me understanding my role. There are times when it is important to listen to what others are saying, hear what isn’t being said, see what others don’t want you to see, speak about what may be unpopular and stand firm when many are opposing you. It is only through the strength of Christ that I can do this. Now, being in a public school means that I must use my faith and belief to strengthen me without imposing it on others. Because I believe that I have been chosen for this path, I believe that I will be given the strength to walk down it and, despite stumbling and making mistakes, I will be guided. It is remembering this that helps me during the down times and reminds me to be humble about what is accomplished.

    Linda, thank you. I do know that I have learned to be a better coach over the past few years just as I’ve learned as a principal, father, husband, friend and community member. We have only two choices in life – to do the best with what we have, learning to do better each day or blame the world for our woes and demand that someone make our life better. I’ve chosen the first because it’s a much happier and more satisfying life for me.

    Walter – good to hear from you. I’ll drop by your blog and don’t be afraid to send me a twit or two!

  8. […] Why are you a principal? February 20087 comments […]

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