I’ve been reflecting, going over old blogs, reading Facebook posts and have noticed some repeating themes. I’ve covered just a handful of them here in this post. As principals, at some point, we will experience these five events. Sometimes we’ll experience them all in the same day!
Special thanks to Sue Kster, Mitch Pascal, Michael Angelo and Catherine Bartlett for sharing their poignant and hilarious anecdotes.
I hope you enjoy this combination of new thoughts, older reflections, and our colleagues stories.
You will F*<% up
I let the team down. Not intentionally, but all the same I disappointed them. There are some things that are traditional rites of passage in education that are important to the masses but really don’t matter much to me. Prom is one of those things. Because of this I let it slip from my calendar and scheduled another activity on the same day. I wouldn’t have known that I let people down if I didn’t have a colleague who called me out. He sent me a text letting me know I should have been there. I sent the following text back. “I agree. Appreciate the accountability. I apologize to you. It won’t happen again.” There was no reply back so I called back and let him know I wasn’t being sarcastic and that I was serious. It’s alright to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Not only that, there are at least two wins you can take away from a losing situation and make it a learning one.
You first have to acknowledge that you messed up. Reflect on what may have caused the problem in the first place and own it. At your next staff meeting admit that you’ve noticed some changes and let your staff talk. Listen to their concerns. You might find out that something that you thought was innocuous was actually a major problem that went against an unwritten norm that you didn’t know about. In that case take responsibility and let them know that their hurt feelings was not the intent of the decision that you made.
Learn from your mistakes and only make them once. This is simple advice that’s not easy to follow. In the case of scheduling another event the same night as prom, that mistake is easy to correct. However, most of us make mistakes because of the habits we have. We make decisions based on the well worn neural pathways that we’ve built and that have helped us in the past. Those same perceptions may be causing us issues in a new situation. Learn new skills and new ways of working with people and through situations. In some cases it may help to have a mentor with a bird’s eye view. She could help you uncover your blind spots. In this case I was lucky enough to have somebody care enough about me to call me out.
Your staff won't always appreciate you
This short anecdote is from Sue Kster and it perfectly encapsulates the hard work we do, the emotional toll it takes and how some staff just don’t “get it”.
“I know it’s May and May can be rough, but last night, after having the toughest day ever, I wrote my letter to retire. Not sure when I will use it, but it’s there. I really believe with my whole heart that I work very hard to support kids and teachers. However, it seems it is not enough to some. I know you should let it go, but it is very hard. I have one teacher who does very little, but expects a whole lot from others with never a show of appreciation. I need to do my post conference with her next week. How do you handle telling a teacher that her demands from others should actually come from herself?
Sometimes members of our staff are not self aware enough. Those are the times we have to have those tough conversations. The staff member might not always appreciate it, but the rest of your team will. They’ll see you’re not afraid to hold people accountable. This gives them a sense of safety, knowing that you’ll follow through.
Parents will cuss you out and/or complain on social media
One of our colleagues Mitch Pascal recently had the following experience which he posted in the Principal Principle’s fb group: “We talk here about dealing with angry parents, always focus on listening, their perspective etc. I have a kid who lies to his parents and they believe everything as is. Kid got in a fist fight today after teasing another, called father who started yelling at me on the phone, wouldn't let me get a word in, saying his son is abused here everyday. I think the point comes when trying to be calm and listen doesn't work for me. Parents and kid take no accountability for actions. I can't sit and take it from them when they're flat out wrong and verbally abusive.”
What do we do? One of the unwritten rules of education is that the parent is always right. No principal wants to hear from board members that they didn’t treat a parent well. However, always supporting parents will ruin our ability to lead effectively.
Did they really just ask me that?!!
If a parent believes that they are always right, regardless of rudeness, they can and often will ask for just about anything. They will demand that Sally be moved from one room to the next or that a teacher change a grade or extend a deadline. It also means that these oppressive parents are getting better treatment and more attention than their easy going polite counterparts. That just isn’t right. Unfortunately these parents aren’t shy about complaining on social media. When that happens it’s time for us to diffuse the situation, even when we know they’re being unreasonable.
OMG did they just post that?!!
Parents will talk crap about the school and the teachers. Those are often easier to deal with because it’s not necessarily a direct assault on us. There will be occasion, however, when parents will insult us and call into question the decisions we’ve made. Maybe we’ve cancelled a school dance or end of the year ceremony where all kids are affected because of the choices of a small group. In the heat of the moment when you first see the post you might feel an almost irresistible urge to defend yourself. . . . wait. If you do make the choice to address the issue, it’s a good idea to wait until the next day and then respond directly, over the phone, to that person.
Diffuse the situation as best you can and if it’s a personal attack wait until the following day to address the situation and have a trusted colleague review your message. These two strategies can help you make it through a school year relatively unscathed by social media.
You will be sleep deprived
A couple funny anecdotes from FB to make the point:
Michael Angelo “Tired is talking on your phone and driving 40 minutes home, pat your pockets and realize that you do not know where your phone is so you get back in your truck to drive back to the office and half way back you discover that you are on the phone that you are looking for. So pissed I say I’ll call you back mom so she won’t hear me swear loudly.”
Catherine Bartlett “Tired is ... I actually asked my secretary after school if I had been at work in the morning! (In my defense, I was there, left for a meeting, came back... any principal would get confused about that in May!)”
Both these hilariously true moments put an exclamation point on how tiring this job is. You will always be running, so take time to rejuvenate and follow these tips to survive!
Healthy Snacks. . . when you can!
Have healthy snacks available. As your body wears done it will crave the deliciousness of fat, sugar and salt. Somehow I always find myself doing walkthroughs in the room with the candy jar. Avoid that trap! Make it easier to get the healthier stuff. You can get a good sweet with strawberries and bananas and a good crunch with carrots. While nut as fun as chips and cookies you’ll feel better eating healthier as you give your body what it actually needs.
I’m no trainer or health nutritionist but I know that after a day of eating to excess my brain and taste buds have had enough. It’s much easier to eat healthy after a day of chocolate and salty snacks. It’s much easier to eat right and be disciplined an entire week of school if I eat what I want on the weekends.
Being the principal of a school is a mental and physical marathon. I don’t know if it’s completely possible to avoid a principal hangover, but it is probable that you can limit it (except maybe in May). Stay hydrated throughout the week, keep healthy snacks easily available and don’t beat yourself up if you have one day where you just eat whatever. (or gasp! take a day off!!)
Students will make your day
The students are easily the brightest spot of this job. In some capacity they are always inspiring. For those who don’t know, I serve at an Alternative High School. My students deal with a tremendous amount of hardship, heartache, family, peer and even community drama. They are children of trauma. Despite this they continue to come to school (mostly and often late :-) ) to put their best foot forward. It amazes me when I see them overcome their personal situations as they work to get an education.
The students are where I find joy. Just last week the counselor was counting how many were going to graduate. Twenty six out of fifty one will walk across the stage. I know that seems like a low number, but it’s an increase of 8 from last year! Small wins matter and we must make sure to celebrate them.
There are at least 5 definitive facts of the principalship, you’ll F*<% up, staff will take you for granted, you’ll get cussed out, you wont get enough sleep and the students will be your joy!
What are other facts that new principals coming into the game should prepare for? Share your truths in the comment section below.
Total aside: I think this post might be the foundation of an upcoming book with a similar title, maybe jump up to 15 facts. . . What do you think? If so, I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you for your anecdotes! (if you’re an author and you noticed that the formatting changes, that’s why. I'm still figuring some things out)
That’s it for now. If you found this entertaining, educational or cause for reflection please follow me and share with your friends.
For more short articles and tips that support educational leaders check out my blog at the www.howtobeagreatprincpal.com and/or order my newest book How To Be A Great Principal: 36 Shared Leadership Success Strategies. You can also get a monthly email that delivers the most valuable blogs as voted by readers by joining the Principals’ Prep Minute. You can register right on the website.
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I'm a Principal and an Entrepreneur. I'm the former owner of a food venture Hustling Hoagies, the author of the children's picture books Detective Dwayne Drake and the Alphabet Thief, Detective Dwayne Drake and The Case of the Mathematical Misfit and the ebook Making it as a Male Model in Michigan. I've worked professionally as a model and commercial actor......