So You Want to Be A Principal?
Grad School… Round 2
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)? (@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.