Sunday, February 19, 2017

10 Lessons I learned as a Principal

12 years in the big chair gave me some insights that I wish I had known in year one.

1. Keep calm: In an argument, whoever raises their voice first has lost the argument. You will never say or do anything in anger that you will be proud of later, and there is a pretty good chance that you can never make up for the damage this anger may cause to a relationship. Even if you are in the right, losing it makes you wrong.

2. Investigate, don't assume: Each person has their own perspective of any incident. A version of the truth, which will in all likelihood be the one that either paints them in the best light, creates the most drama, or points blame to another. The truth is out there somewhere between the lines.

3. Believe in the power of knowledge to change lives: The adage, "A leopard doesn't change his spots" is hogwash and flies against the precepts of education. People change based on new knowledge, and experiences. You touch too many lives to think what you do doesn't matter, or to think that you can't learn how to do something differently. Stick to a growth mindset.

4. Make time to put people first: People matter more than tasks, but tasks still have to be done, preferably on time. You have to put things aside when the myriad of urgent or important matters land on your desk. Pick one night a week, every week and make it part of your routine. Put in a few weekend hours, choose a time that your family knows you will be catching up, like Sunday Night. Find the best times to be out among the community, like drop off and pick up.  If you take the time to go out, even for awhile, at lunch time, you will save yourself a great deal of time in the afternoon dealing with the fallout of lunchtime.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate:  Never let 24 hours pass without returning parent or teacher calls or emails. Even "Hello, I got your email and will investigate this further and get back to you." 6:00 is a great time to return parent calls. They are home and have had time to consider their upset earlier. About 2/3 of the parents will say that they have already talked to their child and figured out a solution. Never, never respond to an angry email with a long winded explanation email. Call or meet with the person. Somethings are best done formally. Learn the difference between "legal issues" and "annoyed person" and act accordingly. Know when to call for help.

6. Consider Motives: Take time to examine the motivation behind special requests "Kids matter, but my kid matters most" may be the unspoken mantra of parents and teachers. Keep centered on "Best for ALL Students." Take time to explain the "big picture" reason for your choice in such requests.

7. Safety is job one:  It is exhausting and impossible to be the only "security staff" on your site. Make it very clear to every staff member and volunteer that by being an adult on campus they share the responsibilities of student safety. Have students meet to discuss the issues and solutions for playground activities. Invest in programs like Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions. A positive and kind community is more likely to happen when representatives from all sectors of the school community take part in choosing what being our best selves looks like. Empower others to stand up.

8. Good stuff grows so share it: The book room is never in order for longer than 6 months. Pack rats like to share their finds. Really, we don't need 8000 uni-cubes and a couple of million counting bears, but there they are right next to workbook circa 2001. Keeping within state laws, send it home with kids and move on.

9. It is hard to be impartial. Teachers who open their hearts to kids every day and are hungry to learn more to engage students are just easier to love than teachers that complain about kids, parents and well, everything. Maybe it's normal to be partial to teachers who love kids .. it is about the kids we serve, right? Being impartial is easy for a robot. Try to learn to ignore the squeaky wheel, when it has already been greased. There are a number of "team building" books that may give you insight on how to work with difficult staff. I don't miss having to deal with difficult people.

10. Kids deserve our best, everyday. For that to happen you need to be healthy. Don't fall victim to stress related health issues. Keep good food for you snacks, because sometimes you will have to skip a meal. Try to set a time before lunch to eat your lunch. This gives you time to go out and be with students at lunch. Just walk around, talk to kids, open their milk, play basketball. Be proactive and kind. Be human. 

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