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So You Want to Be A Principal?

August 3, 2011

Grad School…  Round 2

Flickr image from ecastro

And so it began.  About three weeks ago marked day one of a journey on the academic highway to a second Master of Science degree, this time in Educational Leadership.  While I am a teacher, I am first a learner, so these opportunities are intrinsically motivating for me.  Learning is something I am most passionate about and never pass up the opportunity to learn more, do well and be better.

For some time, others, including my own superiors, have occasionally commented, “You’d make a good principal.  Are you going to get your certification?”  I can easily visualize myself in that role as I have teacher-led a number of technology efforts in our districts, I help oversee a variety of programs, and I lead students by example in teaching from a global perspective with many real-life participatory citizenship opportunities.  I’ve affected change somewhat among my students.  I get a bit dreamy and euphoric about it, you know.  I think, “Heck yes, I can make a difference!”

On the first day of a week-long campus residency, the professor said, “So you want to be principal?  Have you considered all of the responsibilities that come along with that and all of the time associated with school activities?”  And, especially, “Have you considered that you will be working longer, harder, year-round for sometimes less of a salary than your more experienced teachers?”   I needed to sit back for a moment because as these are all given tangibles of the position, it is easy to get lost in the euphoric idea of having a greater ability to be a change-agent. This really made me think.  I do well with discipline (but, really I’m not a disciplinarian, I’m a teachable moment kind of person), conflict resolution, forward-thinking instruction, etc.   I already put in an obscene amount of hours, but with the principalship, those hours will be much more physical in that principals are regularly present at many, if not all school functions.  I can calm the fist-shaking, ACLU-backed parent before they leave the building.  I can stave off the parent who is about to run to the local media to tell their story of how they’ve been wronged by the system…  again.  I can because I enjoy building relationships.  I can because I am genuinely interested in what matters to them and what is best for their children.  I may not agree, but I am still interested.

But, as any good principal knows, helping to turn a school around or improve student achievement isn’t just about passion or relationship building or hope.  They’re all necessary, but it certainly can’t be done on a wing and a prayer.  The data and research are important.  There still needs to be a plan.  There needs to be an understanding of change theories and a knack for involving all stakeholders in that process.

ABC’s and PPT

Don’t get me wrong, the instructor was great.  She has a plethora of experience as both a principal and superintendent.  Her experience transparently spoke for itself.   She’s a stickler for APA and research and I like it because she challenges me.  During our residency,  she went on about the real “ABC’s” of the principalship – that is Athletics, Band, & Cheerleading.  She talked about how much time is spent dealing with issues around these types of activities and did so in a way to bring our heads out of the clouds and back down to reality.  Then, the pre-made, course LMS PowerPoint came on the screen.  Uh-oh!  Here comes the death by PowerPoint lecture.

The discomfort started to set in.  Most around me were taking notes diligently and listening attentively.  I was trying really hard not to open TweetDeck.  Not because I was bored, but because like most of the students we teach today, I can no longer focus on just one thing (no wonder I get my students).  It’s easier for me to do multiple things simultaneously.  I can’t explain it, it just is.  I need the noise and the busy-ness.  I need movement. Then the talk of policy (many of which I don’t agree), standards (don’t even get me started), data analysis (aka – propagandized misinformation purported by legislators), common core, liability, procedure, etc.  Surely you get the picture.

Where is #cpchat?

Discouragement set in.  I began to question my resolve in moving in a leadership direction.  Maybe I really don’t want to be a principal.  I love to teach.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s kids or other teachers/adults.  I love to watch someone else ‘get it’.  This is what makes me tick.  Sometimes, as I watch from afar, they may not always use what I’ve taught them for the best, but nonetheless, I’ve taught them.  Maybe I don’t belong in this principal role after all.  Where is the passion here?

Where are the principals who want to challenge the current system and transform the current model?  Where is George Couros (@gcouros)?  Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann)?  Chris Wejr (@mrwejr)?  Eric Shenninger (@NMHS_Principal)?  David Truss (@datruss)? Where are the principals who know how to extend the current learning model despite the challenges of the antiquated system in place?  Where is Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt)? Justin Tarte (@justintarte)?  I’m sure I’m sure I’m forgetting a few…

I took a deep breath, opened TweetDeck and BOOM!  I found Chris Wejr talking and reflecting about a FedEx Day in his school based on some of Dan Pink‘s principles from Drive (a must-read, by the way, if you are in education and you want to understand real motivation).  Chris Wejr offered to cover teachers’ classes for a day for them if they worked on a new, innovative project of their own creation.  I thought, yes!  That is what I want to learn about in this classroom right now!  Those are the stories and examples I want to be shown.  Given my state at that moment, reading Chris’ post got me through the rest of that day and I responded in kind:

This is a great post, and one I needed to read today more than anything. It is so important to recognize that although only three teachers may have responded, it is, nonetheless a start. This is also a fantastic example of what Lyn Hilt refers to as being not only a leader and a manager, but also an instructional leader in the 21st century.

A few weeks ago, I was helping a former student of mine, now in college, gather resources for an educational leadership paper. As a powerful PLN would have it, you, Lyn, George Couros, Patrick Larkin, David Truss and Chris Lehmann, amongst others were quick to respond with a number of fantastic book recommendations. Of course, Drive was one of them and I can honestly say that book would rank among one of the top ten things that transformed my own teaching practice this year, as I’d read it when it first came out. You modeled a great example of playing out the principles Pink lays forth and successfully so.

I needed to hear this today as I am in day three of an intense, on-campus residency beginning my administrative certification in PA. Don’t get me wrong, the program is great and obviously a necessary stepping stone, but after sitting through several days of bland PPT’s, hard-core data analysis, liability, procedure, policy, standardization, common core, etc., some discouragement set in. I kept thinking, “Where’s the passion? Where’s the drive?”. We were even asked if we were certain principalship is what we really wanted… long hours, major responsibility, etc. in a manner that almost seemed intent to discourage us from continuing on. There was no remote semblance of #cpchat in the room and I felt, well, kind of lost. I needed to read this today as a solid reminder that there are others out there that ‘get’ what I get. It makes it a bit easier to trudge onward through the red tape and do best to enjoy the journey along the way. You’re reaching many more teachers beyond your school. Thank you for that!

Principals need to find ways to serve as an instructional leader to work hand-in-hand with reluctant teachers to help them/model for them how to develop instruction that is inquiry-based, encourages real problem-solving & critical thinking and incorporates the tools and techniques with which much of the world is operating.  Arguably, this is part of the leadership role, but in order to truly model what schools need today, a better label of instructional leader could easily be applied to the role of principal.  If teachers are expected to implement technology and new pedagogical approaches to it, it is crucial the principal can lead this effort in the manner of showing, not telling.

Actually, there is so much change occurring right now in education that in some ways, there couldn’t be a more exciting time to be a principal.  We have the opportunity to shape what the future of education will look like if we take action.  I’m fortunate to have great role models in my own school who welcome the opportunity to deal with swift change.  I’m even more fortunate to have found this PLN as they have inspired me more than they could know.  Please keep teaching me as I’ve so much to learn.  I’ve had people tell me that I’ll never be able to affect change locally because people don’t want it.  Watching others succeed assures me that I can.  For this reason, more than all of the others, yes, I do want to be a principal.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 10:59 PM

    That is such a great eye-opener. I remember going through courses on School Leadership and I was shocked with how school admins really do it. It either discourages or encourages potential school leaders at the get-go.

    I blog, too. Follow me at http://identitysolutions.wordpress.com

  2. August 4, 2011 9:20 AM

    Hi Alpha,

    Thanks so much for commenting. It was a great eye-opener, but one I am nevertheless grateful for. I suppose I fall into one of the “encouraged” despite the odds we face. Many often talk of about the fact that teachers need to “do something” to try and affect change in the current dismay of our education system and I suppose this is one way of steeping forward in an attempt to do that.

  3. August 4, 2011 11:43 AM

    Great post Suzie. Definitely eye-opening for a fairly naive, hopeful future leader.

    • August 5, 2011 2:45 PM

      Thanks for commenting, Phil. You will make a great leader someday! Just remember not to get lost in fairy textbook land… the real world out here is another world. It’s better to be prepared with that reality now and do great in spite of it. It is both an honor and a pleasure to watch you grow.

  4. August 4, 2011 12:11 PM

    Suzie… I am so glad that you still want to be a principal IN SPITE of some of the things you have heard. I think that admin and ex-admin often tell people how difficult it is because they want to feel like only a select few can do the job. Here is what I know… with passion, anyone can do any job – some will spend more time with others but many teachers spend more time at the school than some admin. It is not about how MUCH time we spend at the school but what we DO during that time. The system needs reflective, passionate educators like yourself so I am so happy that you have been inspired by others on Connected Principals. I love my job. People often ask me – why are you working during your summer? To me, learning and reflecting is not work – it is my passion.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts and I look forward to reading more!

    • August 5, 2011 2:53 PM

      Thanks so much for commenting, Chris. I just really needed you, and other Connected Principals, how much of a difference you really do make. The reflection piece is tough for me… I don’t just write to write. It has to really mean something.

      Likewise, I love my job. It never feels like work. It makes me excited to get up in the morning and sometimes, that is difficult for people to understand. It’s tough, too, in a small town. I’ve been told I “can’t”. I’ve been laughed at, at times. And, I’m glad for that in some ways. It makes me work harder to prove that kids can be capable of whatever we expect of them given the right environment. Thanks again!

  5. August 5, 2011 3:00 PM

    There will always be those that tell you that you cannot…. if we listen, we will stop growing. Seth Godin’s talks about the Lizard Brain – we need to acknowledge this and then move past this.

  6. August 6, 2011 10:49 AM

    I am very pleased to have discovered that you are beginning your journey toward educational administration. It was also very cool to read your personal reflection of your opening moments in working toward ed admin coursework. Thank you for being so personal and open with all of your readers!

    As a current assistant principal, I can promise you the challenges of administration far outweigh the negatives. The duties and responsibilities of administrators often can feel as though they are so distanced from curriculum and instruction, but a truly-dedicated administrator can prioritize the workload and maintain constant emphasis on all things related to learning.

    Consider the role you are working toward–school administrator–as “Learning Leader” of your building and you will do amazingly-well in your position. The field of education desperately NEEDS transformative educational leaders.

    I am just a few months away from completing my doctorate in education administration and policy studies. I’m hoping to pursue a career in higher education to teach and learn from aspiring school administrators, just like yourself.

    I look forward to growing with you…

    James Brauer
    Assistant Principal
    @jamesbrauer

    P.S. I’m adding your blog to my “blogroll” now!

    • August 7, 2011 3:15 PM

      Hi James,

      Thanks so much for your comment! It is certainly reassuring. Interesting you mention the “transformative leader” piece as that was another writing assignment during week one… or what some of my cohort now refers to as ‘principal boot camp’. After completing a leadership analysis and a variety of skills inventories, we needed to reflect on and deliver the type of leader we would classify ourselves. My result was overwhelmingly transformative. I guess I’m pretty transparent and true to form, then. :-) Regardless, it is still tough given the system within many of us must operate. The support means a lot. Glad I came across you during #140edu… going to look for your blog now. Thanks, again!

  7. August 7, 2011 2:24 PM

    Suzie,

    First, I am so humbled to be included in your post! More specifically, to be mentioned among the great administrators who I look up to and go to for support.

    Secondly, I applaud your efforts to pursue an administrative degree. From what I have seen and read of you, I am sure you will make a great administrator.

    Thirdly, I am VERY new to the administrative world, and I too have found a stark reality that wasn’t quite what I had expected. We all envision a world of educational leadership…leading and developing professional development activities…having those great philosophical conversations with colleagues about ways to improve schools. Unfortunately, I have found that those things do and can exist, but there are also a lot of other things that I couldn’t even of imagined that are consuming my time.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed my short time as an administrator, and I am glad I made the leap, but there are definitely some things I will miss as I incorrectly assumed the true role of an administrator. It’s then our job to modify and evolve the role of the administrator to do what’s best for our students.

    It is my goal to set time aside for the things I believe will help students and teachers…set time aside for the things that I want to do. Once I have completed those things, I will take care of the more managerial tasks that also need to be completed. Perhaps I am naive and don’t quite understand the pecking order of tasks to be completed, but I totally understand where you are coming from, and it is my hope to be the instructional leader I believe I was hired to be…

    Good luck with all your future endeavors and continue utilizing the power of your PLN. We all are better because of our contributions!

    • August 8, 2011 10:40 PM

      Hi Justin! Thanks so much for commenting. You know, when I wrote this, I did it fast as time is such a precious commodity lately, juggling many things. When is started blurting out names as I was typing, they were literally the names I immediately thought of when considering who really influences my thinking… and you are one of them. So, you certainly deserved your place. What I like about what you write on your blog is that you really do well to incite conversation and really make people think about important issues. I don’t get to comment enough, but nonetheless, you clearly blog with the purpose of initiating that conversation. People blog for all sorts of reasons. The real leaders to me are those who have the ability to inspire discussion through their writing. Thank you for that.

  8. August 7, 2011 2:40 PM

    Great post Suzie!

    I too am on the ledge about moving into administration. My fear is that with the bureaucracy and red tape that administration has become will you lose your focus and your reasons for becoming an administration. I think the number one reason (as you have indicated in your post) is that you want to make a difference on a large scale. Not just with one student or one class but a whole school. Does the new education model (that is becoming to look more and more like a business mode) allow that? I look forward to hearing about your journey and learning with you.

    • August 8, 2011 10:49 PM

      Thanks so much for your comment, Jody. You are right, my biggest struggle on this journey will be red-tape and bureaucracy because I don’t do well with that. And, it’s not the people, it’s the system. I think the important part is to focus on how to find ways to extend student learning and achievement in spite of the current bureaucracy. tough? Absolutely. But I don’t think it impossible. Does the new education model allow for this? I don’t know. I think the “new model” will continue to evolve but it is up to us to try and help drive it. Thanks again. You raise some really good points.

  9. Bob Coniglio permalink
    September 19, 2011 10:00 AM

    Great post – good luck in your journey. Entering my 11th year as an admin-never regretted the decision to become one. I can safely say – the only thing I am sure of is getting to school – the rest is always up in the air – which you will find, is one of the best parts of the job! Enjoy the day.

    • September 20, 2011 6:24 PM

      Hi Bob,

      Many thanks for the comment! More importantly, thanks so much for the encouragement. I couldn’t agree more that the only sure thing about most days is getting to school. As I continue on in my field experience and assume more administrative responsibilities, albeit on a temporary basis, there is no greater truth in knowing that you never know what the day will hold, as was the very case with my day today. Like you, I welcome that sort of ‘chaos’ if you will. It makes me tick. Wishes for continued success to you on your journey, as well!

      Suzie

  10. Dale Brubaker permalink
    September 20, 2011 4:31 PM

    Thank you, Suzie, for kicking off this excellent discussion of the realities of moving from the classsroom to the principalship.There is a recent book, Why the Principalship? Making the Leap from the Classroom (Rowman & Littlefield, Education) that takes us backstage on this journey with snapshots of real-life situations in the certification process. The snapshots are similar to the ones described via your first-rate writing that gives fair play to the head and heart.

    • September 20, 2011 6:28 PM

      Hi Dale,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I appreciate you sharing this book with me as I am about to go and look for it in hopes I am able to find it electronically. It sounds like something I would certainly benefit from right now. Particularly, your description of giving, “fair play to the head and heart,” is right on for me personally. I’ve never been able to separate the two and while some consider that a job hazard, I will never stop believing it an absolute necessity. I’m excited to have a look at the book. thanks!

      Suzie

  11. Dale Brubaker permalink
    September 22, 2011 4:34 PM

    Suzie,

    You are an ideal candidate for a Ph.D. or Ed.D. program given your excellent writing skills and strong background in the social sciences. If interested, see Amazon.com under Advancing Your Career: Getting and Making the Most of Your Doctorate. The chapter titles will take you through all of the stages of this process. If you have any questions, please e-mail me at dlbrubak@uncg.edu

    Dale Brubaker, Ph.D.

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