Why I Didn’t Leave my Principal Job
Principals call it quits every year. That was almost me, but I’m coming back. Here’s why I’m returning and what I’m looking forward to in 2019-2020.
Real Talk Reflections
As I look around my school district and talk with folks across the country, I see more folks leaving the principalship. There are various reasons. Promotions, a focus on family, new interests. Oh yeah and burnout. But, at the core, it’s hard as hell. We use all types of official reasons, but the unofficial reason is that it isn’t fair, sustainable, or glamorous. I wonder if I’m I next on the list of “We would like to thank..for their…years of service.” That shit sounds like I’m being honorably discharged or remembered at my eulogy.
“Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
And another one gone, and another one gone
Another one bites the dust
Hey, I’m gonna get you, too
Another one bites the dust”
I’ve written about this in a few blog posts:
- Do I still want to be a Principal?
- Coming back like Luke SkyWalker
- Why Principals Quit, How to stop It
Why I Almost Left the Job This Year
There are the highs and there are the lows.
It would be unfair of me and inaccurate to omit the many marvelous things that happen, many that I bear witness to and some that I’m lucky enough to lead. For example, seeing students engaged and interested in what they’re learning. Or watching teachers make improvements to their practice that lead to student achievement. And, clearing obstacles out of the way so the teachers can do what they want.
Oh but don’t get it twisted. There are some low lows. Being yelled at by her parents about something that you can neither go back in time to fix, nor are solely responsible for. Battling over contractual language that has little to do with serving students of color. Admitting your faults over and over, only for folks to say that you never admit your faults. Letting racial literacy development be controlled by the pace of white fragility, a pace far too slow for the students of color speeding through the days under our temporary care.
I almost left because the job is hard. I mean if all you are doing is making sure the lights are on, the buses arrive on time, and the bells ring every 60 minutes it’s easy. But when we are trying to change mindsets, change practice, and build new skills, it takes a toll. It feels like every one of my mistakes is under the microscope and subjected to scrutiny. Everybody wants to be in charge but no one wants to sit in the hot seat after making the hard decision. Because there is always a hard decision to make. Our marginalized student demand that we make hard decisions for them.
Ok, then Why the Hell am I Coming Back?
I’m coming back because the work is not done. Obviously, it will never be done. I do understand why some people become career teachers, career counselors, or career principles because the work is endless. It will take our entire career to move the needle. That’s not to say that it is impossible, but it is to say to that it takes years intentional work 2 create the conditions for change.
Now that many of the conditions have been created, the question is what do we do with them and how do we know if it is working? How do we assess our progress and fine-tune our strategic plan?
I’m coming back because I got to see if it’s possible. I got into this work to create change. I entered the belly of the beast to slay the beast. And the process is devouring me but I’m so invested in the outcome so I need to fight. I understand that many have tried for and given up. They say it takes anywhere from three to five years as a school leader to start to see the changes. I hoped that I could have accelerated the process but 3-5 years is a pretty good estimate. There’s so many pieces to the puzzle, including: structures, plans, policies, curriculum, instructional practices, leadership teams, parent engagement, philosophical foundations, marginalized populations, and much more.
Because, I am Needed
I’m coming back because my students need me. They need me to be consistent. Standing at the door every morning to greet them, visiting them in our classrooms during construction, seeing their presentations, playing basketball at lunch, and reading the opening remarks at promotion every year. My students need me to stand with them when they don’t have a seat at the table.
My parents need to know that they were be consistent and dedicated leadership, looking for their suggestions on how to improve our school, listening to their complaints, and welcoming their involvement. Parent need to know that I will advocate for them, like rich white parents do in affluent schools.
My community needs me to be there enough years to trust the school again to send me their most prized possession, their children. The school district needs me to carry out the mission serving each and every student with a high-quality instruction and equitable supports to thrive in the 21st century.
Most of all my teachers and staff need me, to be consistent and focused but responsive. Staff needs me to create conditions for powerful adult learning, collaborative spaces, and shared leadership. They need me to model professionalism and dedication. They need me to celebrate their hard work and their dedication.
All this need is both overwhelming but it also gives me a great sense of purpose. I get to serve the people and when trusted, lead.
What I am Looking Forward To Next Year
- Seeing Teacher Leaders step up and lead change
- Seeing more spaces re-designed like our cafeteria and classrooms
- Building stronger connections with students
- Seeing if we can bring more relevancy and social justice into PBL
- Being able to see more things coming, not everything, but more
- More restful nights and less stress
- Seeing if we can take the antidotes of white supremacy culture and actually apply them
- Doing a White Supremacy Culture Audit of our school, of classrooms, and of my practice
- My wife starting her first hear of teaching
- My daughter being a busy toddler
What I Have Learned Along the Way
- It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters how I can help
- Focus on the bright spots and not the darkness
- Don’t come with the answers, come with questions
- Check my urgency, and realize that to do anything well it takes time
- Less is always more. Therefore 1 thing will be best
- I can’t take it personal because it isn’t, even when it feels personal. It’s usually folks’ baggage, their internalized oppression
- If we aren’t explicitly thinking about standards and skill development, we might just be babysitting and hanging out. This can include SEL and Academics standards.
- My one-year plans are often 3-5 year plans. That makes my 5 year plan and 15 year plan.
How I Plan to Balance More
I need to expect that there will be lows and tough times. I need to be emotionally and physically healthy to weather the storm. That means taking care of my health, eating right, exercise and getting back to morning meditation. I am hoping, that now my daughter is sleeping well enough for me to wake up early and go for a jog. That would change the game.
I hope to take home less work and commit to less extra opportunities. Gotta say, “that sounds like a great opportunity, but I am trying to focus on my health and my family more. No Thanks.”
There will be points when the job is sustainable and others when it isn’t. I need to be prepared for the hard times and truly relax during the moments of calm.
I need to re-establish my support groups that have fallen off since my daughter’s birth.
This job can easily break you, but you can’t let that happen. You must be stronger. You must search for peace among the chaos of school transformation. You must find beauty in the struggle.
I can do it.
You can do it.
So let’s do it.