27 September 2015

Learning All the Time

We're a month into school...and I'm about halfway through collecting hours toward my administrator credential. I'm spending most of my time in an elementary school, but there will be some in middle school and high school. Here are a few things I've learned so far:

I am twice as tired at the end of a day at the elementary school than I am from interning at the high school. The elementary has a principal, assistant principal, and counselor. The high school has 200 more students, but it has three administrators, three counselors, two security guards, one campus resource officer, and fifteen security cameras. In other words, the high school has way more support for watching, moving, and supporting students and teachers. At elementary, if a SpEd kid tries to run away---there goes at least one of your administrators, leaving the other to cover everything else. Meanwhile, nothing else can get done: being in classrooms, preparing safety plans, focusing on instructional leadership, etc. It's not that one grade span is "easier" than another---just that we really need to look at the balance between what we ask administrators to do and the resources provided.


The problems encountered by high school administrators---at least in terms of students---are far more complex and, frankly, depressing. This is not to say that little kids don't have difficult personal lives, too, but they're sheltered from some of it, either through their own ignorance/self-absorption or by adults. Five year olds don't show up drunk or stoned at school. When a kid shows up in the office at high school, there are some seriously messed up things happening in the background.

Lunch duty in the cafeteria with kinders and first graders is hilarious. Lunch duty with high school kids...not so much. At elementary, I spend time opening milk cartons, tying shoes, avoiding hugs from sticky-fingered and sticky-faced small people, and reminding them to walk (not run) to the playground.

A kinder recently asked if he could get his coat before recess. I walked him to his classroom, but it was locked. I suggested that when he got to the playground that he just run around in the sun to warm up. His reply? "But I can't run very fast...because I'm only five." He was so forlorn about it.


Whoever invents something for female administrators to easily carry their radio, phone, and keys will make tons of money. We need some cute little shoulder bag or fancy fanny pack. Get on that, would you?


As a teacher, I was always aware that I was the adult in the room. As an administrator, I see this need tenfold. If you have a defiant fifth-grader who insists he will never ever come down from the monkey bars...you have to outlast him. If you have a high-school student who insists on a testosterone-fueled response to someone staring at him, then you have to outrank him. I don't mean any of this in a cruel way. I just mean that by the time a teacher or someone else in the building has called you to deal with a problem. you have to find an immediate way to show the student that (a) you care and (b) you are the authority. It's best to reach a common understanding whenever you can, but when that is not possible, you get the last word.

Administrators can't fix kids---anymore than a teacher can. Administrators can't fix adults, either, and yet much of the job is centered around adult problems. Parents who are homeless and have significant needs. Teachers who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Office staff that can't get along. Coordinating with community services. The list goes on and on.


Last week, I was greeted by a second grader with "Hi, Miss Principal Lady!" It made me smile. Although I don't see myself ever officially being a principal, one of the things I am learning is that I could do the job. There's still a ton of things for me to take in, of course, but it doesn't feel insurmountable. In my current administrative role, I only have to know a slice of what a principal knows---but, I have to know that slice for 10 schools and 2 programs, as well as all of the relationships. A principal needs to have a much broader knowledge of school function, but only for one slice of students. A good principal, of course, is much more than what he or she knows---there's a magic to the way that they apply it. That is not something that can be learned, I think...but we'll see what happens between now and end of my internship at winter break. For now, I'm learning all the time.

07 September 2015

Make a Wish

It's almost time to start a brand new school year. Sure, some of you have been back at it for more than a month, but Washington has a kinder, gentler calendar: after Labor Day or Bust.

We had inservice days last week, and I got to hang out with the school where I am doing my administrative internship. I remembered a post from Organized Chaos from a few years ago where her school asked parents of kindergartners what their hopes and dreams were for their children. I loved that idea when I first read it. We are often so focused on what we have planned that we forget to ask everyone in the system about what we want.

So, this year, we asked parents to fill out a card when they dropped off school supplies: What are your hopes and dreams for your child? Most parents responded with ideas about the school year, but a few took a larger view and commented on college or aspirations for life skills. Here is a summary of what they said...
  • Kindergarten: make friends; have fun; love to learn and to be at school
  • Grade 1: make friends; love learning; build social and behavioral skills
  • Grade 2: increase social skills; build self-confidence; be challenged
  • Grade 3: make friends; build self-confidence and self-esteem; stress-free
  • Grade 4: make friends; have fun; build self-confidence
  • Grade 5: make friends; increase social and emotional skills; improve in reading and math
  • Grade 6: make friends; be challenged; stress-free
We were somewhat surprised by these results. They represent about 2/3 of the families at the school. And their biggest wishes for their children's experiences at school have very little to do with academics. Really, I think that's okay---even better than okay. In an era of school improvement, federal mandates, and public accountability, parents are telling us that they hope their kids will be happy and well-adjusted little people. It is the foundation for everything else.

Can the school write a SMART goal around "make friends"? Nope. But I think the data parents have provided are good reason for the school to create a focus on social-emotional skills for kids...something much more than just reading and math. Schools will always have a focus on academics. They can also help nurture the hearts of the communities. From what we see on the cards parents wrote for us, it looks like they're wishing for that, too.


My career turns 25 years old this year. I am excited to be back in a school this fall, looking through the lens of a principal for the first time. My wish is for a year full of learning and professional growth, along with some balance to have more time and opportunity for a personal life.

How about you? What is your wish for the 2015 - 16 school year?