Yesterday, in TWIOE, I shared some thoughts about a recent post from Donna Fry. “We’re Different – And Why?“. I kind of touched on my thoughts in the post but her message has been bouncing around in my head ever since so I thought I would flesh it out even further in a separate post.
I want to share a memory. It was years ago; principals and vice-principals were still in their Federations; and I had one section of Grade 9 Mathematics. I don’t remember why or how but I had to leave the school at lunch and the task was going to take me into the Mathematics class. I think it was something school related but it was only going to be 10-15 minutes. I talked about it with the vice-principal who was sending me on this task about getting a supply teacher coverage and he said that it wasn’t reasonable for that. Since it was only for a short period of time, he would cover the part of the class that needed coverage. So, I was good.
When I got to school that day, it was one of “those” days. It was a hot and humid Essex County June day and the air conditioning was broken. My classroom, an inner room that sat 24 nicely and had 36 in there, was just awful. I was looking forward to getting out to do my task; I could roll the windows down in the car. Off I went, probably eating as I was going, and returned. The door to the classroom was open and you could just feel the heat radiating down the hallway. I tapped a couple of times and walked in. Sure enough, it was into the middle of the lesson. Students were engaged with some activity I had left at their seats and the vice-principal was running the circus. Sweat was just running down his face and he had the biggest smile on his face. I thanked him and was about to take over and I still remember him saying “I’ve got this. Go have a break”. You didn’t have to tell me twice!
At the end of the day, I was always a late leaver, I could see that he was still in the office so I stuck my head in to say thanks. His response was “I should be thanking you. Look at this.” On his desk was a lesson plan that would naturally flow from the activity we did today. “Can I teach your class tomorrow? I want to see how this plays out.” Again, I didn’t have to be asked twice.
At the day end of the next day, I stuck my head in again and he gave me a report of the lesson and where he thought some extra help would be appropriate. During the day, I had done my own homework; in a previous life he had been a Mathematics teacher so the pieces were starting to fall into place. But, I still had to know.
“Why did you do this?”
I got one of those leadership bits of advice.
“When you become a principal, don’t forget your roots. They’re really important. In administration, you don’t just solve your problems, you help solve everyone’s problems”.
That moment really stuck with me. I never became a principal but I watched him with a different lens from that point on. He truly walked the walk. He was there and supportive for all staff (and students but that might be harder for them to admit). When I would come to the office with my goofy, self-centred problems about purchasing this or that with technology, he really listened and would help/support when he could.
It wasn’t something that he had to do. Other administrators aren’t necessarily cut from the same materials. In his case, there was a price to pay and that was extra hours in the office before and after school which was the time that he had allocated to solving his problems. It was a good practice to model and I like to think that it influenced me.
He really was the enabler that I appreciated. I’ve had a few over the years and am so thankful for how they supported me and, quite frankly, some of the flights of fancy that I took. I’m sure that, in today’s connected world, he would remain the connected and supportive leader that he was then. He, or the others I’m thinking of, didn’t need to know all the answers. I just had to answer one question “Tell me how this is good for kids”. I’ve had others whose first question was “How much will this cost?”
The two questions help me put Donna’s post in perspective, at least for me. They speak volumes about where the direction and support will be. I think it also supports her thesis about the hierarchy and the priorities each face. It also puts things in a timeline for me. If you can focus on good things for students, you can act today – right now in a lot of cases. If you have to wait for approvals and budgets, it can be a year before you’re ready to go with most budgeting processes.
Based on her thoughts, perhaps a third question should be asked “Tell me how this will help your personal Professional Learning”.
This article from the Washington says a great deal “The Post’s 2016 Principal of the Year: ‘A teacher first, and a principal second’”
Even if you don’t click through and read the article, the title says it all. It’s a message for everyone in education no matter where you exist on that hierarchy.