Becoming Principal (Part 4)

As you find yourself in situations where you don’t know what to expect, it can be easy to simply let life happen to you, to roll with the punches and react when things happen. “After all,” you may ask, “How can I prepare for the unexpected?” And the answer is that you can’t. Not really. It is a waste of time to go down the rabbit hole of “what if” scenarios. But what you can do is listen to people, ask lots of questions, and find time for yourself to do a lot of reflection so that you are fresh for every new day. There is no way you can prepare for every single unknown. But you can build up a vast background knowledge and keep your core values at the forefront of your mind so that you are ready to make the right decisions for kids and for teachers when the time comes.

I think part of what you did was to be a good listener to those who had a gripe about the former principal. I never heard you say a negative word about the former principal, but she did leave you a mess in the area of relationships. Many people had a distrust for others, and we did not fully work as a team. You were kind to everyone who went into your office to complain, even those former employees who never worked for you and came back to complain.

~ Classroom Teacher


It would have been really easy to jump on the bandwagon of negative thoughts; really simple to join in and “be a part of the team” because I wanted to fit in, wanted people to like me, wanted to gain their respect. Especially when you’re the new kid on the block. And this may work at the beginning; you may earn some brownie points at the outset. In the long run, however, you will only end up damaging relationships and cause doubt to creep into people’s minds. They will begin to wonder if you agree with everything, or if there is anything you actually take a stand on.

And this is where your core values come in handy. As mentioned, it is important that you keep them at the forefront of your mind, ready to fall back on with every decision you make. But first, it helps if you actually know what those values are. I mean, really know them. So good, in fact, that if someone were to come up to you right now and ask what you stand for, what you believe in, what your Core Values are, you should have no problem rattling them off AND being able to come up with evidence for each of them, taken from examples of decisions you’ve made.

I did not know what my Core Values were back when I was first offered the job at Murphy Elementary. I knew what I loved, what I was passionate about and cared deeply for, but had never really even thought about formulating those into a set of Core Values, not to mention think about how they applied to my thoughts and decisions and daily life. That was the real work. And it was about to be tested.

I came to discover, that first year, that our school district had been taken over by the State Board of Education for mismanagement of funds. We were “in the Red,” and so the State came in and wiped out the entire district office. They brought in a couple of renowned businessmen to try and bring the district back to financial health. I didn’t worry about this too much. I just set my mind to focusing on the job they had brought me in to do – run a school and focus on the academic achievement of students. I liked the CEO, CEdO, and CFO well enough, but it did take some getting used to. After all, most district officials have titles, like “Superintendent” and “Assistant Superintendent.” These guys were serious, tough, and business-minded, but they still took the time with me every time I had a question or needed help with anything.

I remember Dennis Rockwall, the CEO, bringing me in to his office after I had completed my first year and telling me that I should do some presentations or write a book around the topic of school culture. I assured him that I still had a lot to learn and maybe someday that would be in my future. He looked me in the eye and told me that I should seriously consider it, grasped me by the shoulder, and told me he thought my first year was a success. I didn’t know what else to do but thank him. And agree with him, of course. There was no way you didn’t agree with a man like Dennis Rockwall.

But to understand why he thought my first year could be considered a success, we need to go back to the first day of that year, the first week, the first month. We need to dig around a little bit, draw up some memories, understand what happened, understand where the school was at when I walked in the door to begin my first year at W.J. Murphy Elementary School.
I had been a teacher in the building for about 22 years at that point, I had worked for 3 other principals by that time and had NEVER felt the way I did working for this principal. I felt threatened, harassed on a daily basis, feared communication, as many other staff did, with certain staff members. There was no trust. Staff walked around just doing their job and going home. We were always a very cohesive staff that had been ripped apart by very negative behaviors. 
~ Classroom Teacher

There were many things I didn’t know or understand that first year,
but I very soon got the sense that people were divided.
School started at the very end of August,
and by the time the middle of July rolled around,
the building began to feel like a school again;
teachers and other staff started coming back to work in their rooms.
Decorations began going up,
empty bulletin boards came to life,
name tags were filled out and placed on children’s desks.

And teachers began to seek me out.

I had many closed door conversations during those first few weeks before school actually began, before my first-ever faculty meeting, and before kids roamed the halls. There was a palpable feeling in the air – a strange combination of doubt, fear, anxiety and excitement. The more I listened to staff members, the more I wondered about my decision. I knew that what they were telling me was the truth, and I also knew that truth could be someone’s perception. There are usually at least two sides to every story. However, the ripped up office chair I was met with when I entered my office for the first time that summer (clearly done by someone’s own hand), and the consistency in people’s stories – the pain in their voices, the hope they still clung to – led me to only one decision.

No matter what it took,
I would stand by my people.
These were now my people.
I would do my best by them.

Author: jdprickett

Educator Father Blogger

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