Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dear Principals: Do you miss the students?

Dear Principals,

Do you miss teaching, the classroom, and the student connections that happen there?

Eighteen months ago, I began working through Indiana Wesleyan University’s Principal Licensure Program.  I have been fortunate that my mentor and my school district offered me numerous and varied leadership and professional development opportunities to help me grow as an educator.  I have attended workshops and conferences, designed and implemented our high school’s Response to Intervention program, and offered professional development opportunities for my colleagues, not to mention keeping up on my coursework, taking care of my family, and attending to my primary job of providing high quality instruction for 150+ high school freshmen and sophomores.  While it has been stressful, I am sure it is preparing me well for the demands an administrative position will place on my time and energy.

I chose to begin this journey because I am completely committed to education and my fellow educators.  Teachers need leaders they can count on and trust, and support and affirmation go a long way to creating an environment where teachers trust and are empowered to be their best..  Students, too, deserve the best educational leaders possible; after all, they are why we do what we do!  A principal who keeps the students at the center of decision making is essential!

When I finished my course work and my new license came in the mail, I  (of course) posted to my social media accounts that I was now official.  I keep all my personal postings to my Facebook account, and I was completely unprepared for the outpouring of support and congratulations I received!  My friends list is largely populated by former students, and so many of them took the time to thank me for something specific or mention a specific incident they thought made me a good principal candidate. My nine years of connections with students were evident, and so many memories made me reflect on those connections and the impact I had on my students’ lives. As a French teacher for the fist six of those nine years, I was fortunate to have the same students returning to me for three or even four years to continue building positive relationships.

I remember the time a fourth year student revealed her pregnancy, and then cried because she wanted to tell me before her parents. I recall the times I held dance parties in fourth year classes as students got accepted to colleges.  I bravely organized a trip to France for my second year teaching where one student traveled with her mother and grandmother; when her grandmother passed away a few years later, this student reached out to me to mention that she reminisced about our trip with her grandmother in her last few hours.  I’ve attended not just graduations and parties, but weddings and baby showers too. My classroom is full of pictures of crazy classroom activities, field trips, and senior pictures.

This is what I know I’m going to miss most about the classroom. How does a principal form these bonds and make these memories? I’ve worked for several principals in the last nine years, and only one of them was able to build relationships anywhere close to those that can  be formed in the classroom.  He mainly stayed connected through organizing and hosting “pizza with the principal” twice each month, which involved drawing a name from each grade level, asking those students to invite three friends each, then having an hour long pizza lunch where he talked with them.  He attended every school field trip or event; he even bravely parked himself in the middle of the throng of students at every school dance and sang along to each song as he chaperoned.  Students trusted him, respected him, and shared with him!  

Obviously, the connection does not have to be cut when leaving the classroom for the principal’s office.  In fact, principals are also in a unique position to form multi-year bonds with students! However, I know it will take hard work and extra effort when the time comes for me to make this transition. I am up for the challenge, for I do not want to stop making those memories.

I’d love to hear some more ideas to help stay connected and build relationships with students from some experienced principals!  Please share!