I want this post to be honest. I thought of 5 words to describe my very steep learning curve of being a new principal. 5 words: amazing, humbling, rewarding, challenging and diverse.
My leadership journey in a nutshell goes like this: I taught for 9 years and I was thinking of be a principal, so I tried being out of the classroom as a literacy coach. Of course, I missed the students daily, but I loved being an instructional leader working with teachers and students. I then became the PYP Coordinator and started a principal credential course and my EdS in Educational Leadership. In February, second semester of the school year, the principal resigned and I was asked to step up and into that role. In my 11th year as an educator, I became a principal, two years earlier than expected.
An amazing part of being a principal is the perspective shift from a classroom view to a school view. Seeing the whole picture and how everyone in it operates for the betterment of each child is an awesome sight. I do my part to coordinate and collaborate with the canteen, admissions, student support services, technology department, student activities and more was new to me. The curriculum, school culture and instructional leadership are in my wheelhouse. All the other parts of the school, that work like cogs in a well oiled machine, make my days unique one to the next learning as I go.
A challenging part is when I am looked to for all the answers. Principals lead schools and know everything, right? Wrong! I am learning and practicing being better each day. I was challenged to learn on the job super fast but glad to have already been working at the school for 3.5 years. I knew where the copy machine was, but I didn't know the admissions process in the detail I do now. I do not have all the answers and I do not ever think I will. With trusting the team and working together, I know we can always figure any challenge out.
A humbling part is realizing that I do not need to be everything to everyone because I work with an amazing team. The teachers, assistants, the office staff, the counselor and the principal's assistant are all competent and trustworthy! Their first priority is doing their best for students each day and it shows in their work.
A rewarding part is when a lot of teamwork has been put into something and it comes to life. A big project was adopting a new curriculum framework. The PYP was a major win for our staff last year. Smaller more frequent wins are working with teachers to help a student with discipline or organizing a successful PD where teachers co-plan the agenda. I feel rewards each and every day. I am so grateful for this!
Diversity in the job comes from being an instructional leader to a tear-wiper at recess when a child gets hurt. From being a listener when a parent has concerns to a problem solver taking action. From being in admin meetings to playing leap frog at recess. The diversity of my day really keeps me going! My google calendar is my closest companion, literally.
Being a principal is not exactly like I expected. I had been watching principals be principals from my teacher seat and I let my ego get the best of me. Well, it is safe to say that my ego is in check. I love my new job as principal. Being able to serve the students in a different way is an honor and I look forward to principaling for an entire school year 2018-19 and beyond.
An amazing turn around happened in my school this year that no one ever writes about being possible. A struggling teacher didn't win the race in the first 100 yards, she won in at the end! After years struggling with classroom management, she got the class on board with respect and kindness in the final months of school! How did she do it? Read on...
A teacher was struggling with classroom management since she started teaching three years ago. She reached out for help, to no avail. Before I became principal we had already established a good professional relationship. She reached out and we videotaped lessons, modeled, observed, had meetings, the counselor visited the class often, etc. but nothing worked. I would visit her class and continue to see students arguing, roaming around the room, calling out, having side conversations off topic and the class was loud in the hallways.
I knew it wasn’t just a bad class. I refuse to ever believe that there are “bad classes”. Students will rise to the bar that is set for them, but the bar must be set clearly and with consistency. I also, I knew she was a great teacher with kindness, a love of learning, knowledge of teaching and a willingness to improve. She would try new ideas and see how they worked and had the creativity to explain concepts in many ways. However, she wasn't able to put her knowledge about management into practice which was hindering her class from learning. As the principal, it came to a point where the superintendent and I had a talk with her. We told her she had to do it, she must fix it, she needed to get her classroom management under control.
I asked what she needed and she said for me to observe and give feedback, a lot of feedback.
True to my word, for the next three weeks I observed a lot, several times in a day. I would leave notes with feedback, we met regularly, I commented on her reflection google doc she made for herself, and more. She observed other teachers and they observed her too.
There were baby steps in the right direction. Math became more structured and orderly with a predictable flow. Students were learning more during math lessons. Great! But it wasn't enough yet! It still wasn’t a well managed class, transitions and group work was still difficult. Students were still not responding to the attention signal the first time and were still roaming around the room.
Three weeks after the meeting we had with the teacher, the class’ parents called a meeting with the teacher, myself, and the counselor to talk about the problems they were hearing about at home and their concerns. We listened to their concerns but they wanted answers and change now. Together we presented a Discipline Menu for teachers to choose from based on the child behavior and a Discipline Reflection Sheet. The teacher was going to start using these tools. I knew the teacher could make the changes, she just needed time. I was seeing evidence of the baby steps. At that meeting we guaranteed an improvement. I was just hoping it would happen sooner rather than later!
A few days later during an observation, I walked in the room and what did I see??? A well managed classroom. Students were sitting in their seats, responding to the attention signal the first time, students were being respectful to each other and the teachers, they were all on task. What I really noticed was that the students all were doing what was asked of them. It seemed like it all clicked overnight. I knew she had it. I visited again the next day and I saw the same success. The classroom had a different feel. I could tell students felt safe and calm. I was not surprised. I was relieved...she had finally done it!
We met to reflect and celebrate. I had to know, what made the difference? How did she do this? What had worked this time that hadn’t worked before?
What I saw from the outside was a determined teacher trying, failing, reflecting, revising and trying again. I saw the inquiry cycle in process. She wanted to save her class and she figured out how to it. She stopped making excuses, took responsibility and set a system in place for holding students to expectations and consistently put it into action. Every fiber of her body was managing that class while she was teaching and kids were learning. She became consistent and communicative with parents.
Her answer about what happened was simple. In her head she had been blaming parents for not being supportive, blaming kids for being rude, blaming others for the problems that were happening in her class. When she realized that it all depended on her and how she responds to what happens in her class, that is when what became so liberating for her. She said she stopped making excuses and took responsibility over what she could control, She knew she had to it for the students and she did.
If you like to see the data, when she got the classroom management under control, you would be happy to know the students’ math scores improved. But so much more than that happened too. The students were happier, calmer, more inquisitive and respectful to others, used better teamwork...the class had a pleasant buzz of learning for the remainder of the school year.
The message of this story is that it is never too late to be better. It is not too late to gain control of a class in the last semester of school or learning something new. It isn’t too late for administrators to work together with teachers for the students benefit. When administrators support and believe in teachers, changes are possible at any stage of the race! Equally important it is the teacher’s hard work and in her words, “not making excuses”, that made it all possible.
**This didn't seem to fit in the story above, but I wanted to include these thoughts. I feel an immense amount of gratitude for the trust this teacher shared with me along her journey. I saw some really low lows and she continued to ask for help and try. She didn't hide and that takes courage. I am so honored and grateful to have been apart of this amazingly twisty windy journey that ended up as a huge win! The win was two fold, for the students' learning for the remainder of that school year and the teacher's future in the classroom has forever been changed.