Becoming Principal (Part 1)

BECOMING TAKES TIME. It takes patience, and it takes the cultivation of one’s mind and body and soul. It cannot be sought out. It happens naturally. Like becoming a parent. You can work at it once it happens, but to Become is a bit of a mystery in itself.

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I did not see myself Becoming Principal.

I did not want it,
I did not have any aspirations towards it,
I certainly did not seek it out.
At least,
Not at first.

And when it happened, when I physically received the title of Principal, I did not embrace it, did not fully grasp what it meant. It wasn’t until sometime later that I fully began to understand the gravity of what it meant to Become Principal. It was transformational. It was… spiritual. This is the story of Becoming Principal and the school and people from that school – the parents, the staff and faculty, the community, and the children… the beautiful, life-giving children – who walked with me during those years of my Becoming.


Heading into my first-ever interview for principal, my heart was pounding and, truthfully, I was not holding out much hope. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in myself or my abilities (well, maybe it was a lIttle of that), but I just didn’t have the experience. There was no way they were going to hire me. What could I bring to the table? What did I have – a middle school assistant principal with a few years of prior teaching experience – over someone else who would likely have years of experience?

I gripped the door handle and walked up to the receptionist in what appeared to be the basement cubicles of the district office. Upon introducing myself, she politely asked me to have a seat and told me they would be with me momentarily. I sat down in a leather waiting room chair and picked up a brochure containing highlights about the district. Before I had the chance to leaf through and refresh my thoughts on what I already knew – I had spent many hours preparing for this interview – a man in a dark suit and bright colored necktie came out of a side room and swept toward me with hand extended and a big smile ready. It was time.

I stand at the podium, full of emotion and not knowing how I will get through this speech. I do not want to leave. My guests tonight are those kids and parents I have served over the past two years, but many I have known for the last ten because of my time in the district. But it is more than that. It is leaving a place I have poured blood, sweat, tears… my life, into. This will hurt. I clear my throat and begin. I am ready.

I take my place at the head of the table – I assume this place is for me, no one actually tells me which seat is mine – and wait for the interview moderator to commence. Introductions begin and I attempt to focus in on who is who as they go around the table: a teacher, a principal, another teacher, a parent… we continue like this until we get to the seat directly across from mine. To each person, I respond that it is nice to meet them and that I’m happy to be here. The person directly across from me introduces herself as the Mayor of the village.

The Mayor.

I remember thinking that this was an odd place for a Mayor to be – the interview table for an elementary principal; this must be quite an important position for them to fill. My chances just got slimmer.

We continue around the table after I greet the Mayor, until we get back to me. I introduce myself and immediately follow with the disclaimer I had prepared:

“I have no idea about elementary school, except that I went to one a number of years ago. I don’t know anything about 1st grade, about teaching kids to read, or about a typical day in an elementary school.”

This was met with some laughter around the table; laughter I wouldn’t understand until after my first year on the job: there was no such thing as a typical day in an elementary school.

I don’t remember much else from the interview that day. I also don’t remember what day it actually was but I know it was getting late in the school year, because what I do recall is sitting in my office when I got the call offering me the job of principal of W.J Murphy Elementary School. I was working as a middle school assistant principal at the time. A week had gone by and I hadn’t heard anything since the interview, so I was definitely feeling that they were going to go with someone else, that they couldn’t possibly have faith in the answers I had provided them during the interview. I mean, I felt like it had gone okay, but there was no way to know for sure what they were looking for in their next principal. Until now.

I remember calling my wife and telling her that she was now speaking with an elementary principal!

She asked me where that was.

I had to remind her that it was the interview I had gone on a week ago. She didn’t really remember at first because she didn’t want to get her hopes up, so she had let it slip her mind.

“Well,” I told her, “I guess it’s time to start studying up on what it means to be principal.” She laughed nervously, but we both knew it was true. I didn’t know the first thing.