August 30, 2010
(Author’s note: The full title of this post is A Principal’s First Day of School: Ramblings of a Crazyperson.)
Most of us know what it’s like to be a student on the very first day of school. We lived it: new backpack, school supplies, and choosing the perfect outfit. Many of us who have spent time in the classroom know what it’s like for a teacher on the first day of school: newly labeled folders, clean desks with new student name labels, the best new dry erase markers the school supply closet could offer, and a new outfit (complete with sensible shoes).
What does a principal feel, do, hear, say, and think on the first day of school? I’ll tell you.
5 AM: First decision of the day. Do I wake up now, exercise, and then go to school; or sleep in, go to work a bit earlier, and exercise after school? The aches in my muscles from Saturday’s alumni hockey game coerced me into option B. Which I would later regret.
6:40 AM: Out the door. Students arrive at 8:45 AM, so that’s plenty of time to get my act together before the buses pull in!
7:20 AM: Arrived in the office. Surprisingly remembered everything I wanted to bring today!
7:25 AM: A gift waiting for me, hanging in a pretty bag on my office doorknob. While the gift was very cool, the accompanying card made my day. One of my teachers took the time to write me a card of appreciation. Her words were so beautiful and truly made me feel like a special part of our school. Could not have asked for a more amazing start to my day!
8:20 AM: First students arrive at the doors with some family members. Students are permitted to enter at 8:45 AM. Have to find a place for these students and their families to spend the next 20 minutes!
8:21 AM: Why did I wear heels today? What was I thinking?
8:30 AM: Brought my Flipcam to the office last week so it would be ready to shoot first day footage. Opened the box. No Flipcam inside. Guess I should have doublechecked to make sure the camera was actually in the box.
8:35 AM: Librarian kind enough to help me check out one of the school’s Flipcams.
8:40 AM: Assembled parent volunteers and staff supervising arrival. Go time!
8:45 AM-9:00 AM: Arrival supervision, helped 1st and 2nd graders find their homerooms. Assumed role of Principal Paparazzi, Flipcam in one hand and SLR in the other. 80+, humid degrees outside at this early hour. Why did I wear this suit jacket? What was I thinking?
9:00 AM-9:20 AM: Very, very unhappy young person in Grade 1. Won’t stay in the classroom. Tears. Screams. Parents still there, comforting him in the hallways. Consulted our trusty guidance counselor and watched her sweep in to save the day. Parents were equally as shaken as the little guy. Promised we’d call dad soon to update.
9:20 AM: Peeked at my inbox. 12 new emails. Moving on.
9:20-10:40 AM: Classroom visits, photos, video, introductions, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, This is how you line up when it’s time to go to lunch from the playground, What did you do this summer, Are you glad to be back? We’re so happy you’re here!
10:40 AM: Overheard in the office, “Mr. Jeff? Mrs. B. was just outside on the playground. There’s a dead bird on the jungle gym. And there are bees swarming all over it.”
10:45 AM – Finished a clerical task to help with recess flow. Should have done this in August. Totally overlooked it. Ate a lollipop.
11:00 AM: Prepping to head outside to supervise first recess. 22 new emails. Moving on.
11:10 AM: Teacher asked me to give her heads-up about “real” fire drills. She practiced one today, and a student was so shaken he asked to hide under her arms.
11:20 AM: Recess shoes on. Blackberry on hip. Incessant buzzing.
11:25 AM: First and second graders flee to the playgrounds! So…. hot….out….side. How do these kids do it?! Talk strategy with the school monitors and counselor about how we’d like to arrange play areas outside and control the traffic flow into the cafe. Impressed with our superbly behaved primary students! We might just make this recess before lunch schedule work to perfection.
11:55 AM: Did you know 6-yr. olds take their sweet time eating meals? Recess/lunch schedule bumped 5 minutes for the next two periods.
12:00 PM-1:20 PM: Made many rounds from the recess to the cafe and back. Is that the superintendent? I think I see him over this crowd of students, but I can’t dwell on that right now because I’m trying to open this milk container for a thirsty third grader.
1:15 PM – Buzz on hip. Glance at message – call the Assistant Superintendent. Really? Today? People are working in offices today?
1:20 PM: Called her. Have to migrate students into their new classes in the DIBELS system. Awesome!
1:25 PM: Lunch = spoonfuls of Kashi into vanilla yogurt. Lunch of champions. Eavesdropping on the 4th grade conversation outside my office during one of those whole-group-bathroom-breaks-aka-the-bane-of-my-existence. “No, it goes G, PG, PG-13, R, and unrated. Unrated means it’s so bad, you can’t watch it.”
1:45 PM: Filtered through some emails. Only read the ones from my supervisors and my secretaries. Oh, and the one from IT that said they accidentally closed the work order I submitted to have my printer fixed. Could I please resubmit another one?
1:50 PM: Trusty counselor wanted to update her guidance page on the wiki with a pdf of her newly revised schedule. We reviewed saving Word docs in pdf format, and I walked her through uploading a doc to the wiki. When we arrived at the step where she needed to FIND the file she wanted to upload, we hit a brick wall. Resisted urge to grab her laptop and do it myself. Encouraged her to save it to the desktop for ease of uploading. When I told her to do a better job organizing her files, she replied, “Stop it! I’m old.” (She isn’t. And she uploaded successfully).
2:00 PM: Oh my goodness! I totally spaced on visiting the AM kindergarten class this morning! I was so consumed with introducing the recess procedures to the first graders!! I CANNOT forget to go to PM Kindergarten!
2:02 PM: There is no kindergarten today. It’s a visitation day. Sigh.
2:03 PM: Lollipop.
2:04 PM: More classroom visits! 2nd graders in art class, two of whom informed me they were “boyfriend and girlfriend,” to which I promptly replied, “No, you aren’t.” 5th grade scientists performed an experiment to review the steps of the scientific method, 6th graders created acrostic projects, Life skills students worked in small groups on hands-on learning activities.
3:00 PM: Thinking, when did these children get so tall?
3:25 PM: Dismissal. The gang’s outside ready to supervise when the mass exodus begins. Secretary armed with a bus list. Same for teachers. Apparently we live in the tropics. The sun is seriously beating down on us.
3:35 PM: The buses pulled away with children safely on board. Success!! What a day!
3:40 PM: Post-dismissal run down with some teachers, my support specialist shared schedules with me. Joked with the counselor that we’re both contemplating wearing sneakers for tomorrow’s recess supervision. And I told her I was going to blog about her wiki skills.
3:50 PM: Checked email, clerical tasks, talking with one of our custodians who visits my office after work to empty my trash and who calls me “boss.” I asked him what’s new? “Nothing, and there’s no use complaining anyway, since no one will listen.”
4:10 PM: My to-do list (on paper, always on paper) is updated. And by updated, I mean that 5 things were added to it. And none were crossed off.
4:20 PM: So quiet…with the little pitter-patter of feet go the hustle and bustle of voices and laughter and noise. But inside these quiet rooms I know there are dedicated teachers reviewing their lesson plans, pondering how to best reach the new children they’ve met today, and gearing up to start all over again tomorrow.
4:40 PM: Heading home. I have to exercise before dinner. And write a blog post.
I have before referenced Fullan in my posts, but one particular chapter of The New Meaning of Educational Change really struck a chord with me, and my mind kept coming back to it today. Chapter 8, simply titled, “The Principal,” explores the principal as the center of the relationships between teachers and external ideas and people.
2,000 interactions every day – that’s what principals encounter. Fullan describes the characteristics of principal burnout. Have you, as a principal, ever felt: guilty at the end of the day because you didn’t accomplish everything you set out to? Addicted to the social aspect of your role and fidgety in meetings because they’re slow and you crave those personal interactions? As though you’re not as effective as you once were? A reality shock of knowing you are working in a job that you are very scarcely prepared for?
These notions are so scary, but for educational leaders everywhere, there is hope. Those of us who have connected with others through social media and through networks of professionals in our districts and states know this to be true. Fullan (2007) states
At the present time the principalship is not worth it, and therein lies the solution. If effective principals energize teachers in complex times, what is going to energize principals? We are now beginning to see more clearly examples of school principals who are successful. These insights can help existing principals become more effective; even more, they provide a basis for establishing a system of recruiting, nurturing, and supporting and holding accountable school leaders (p. 159).
Let’s help each other through the first days, and every day, as we work to bring about educational change and do what’s best for kids!
And thus ends the day in the life of a principal.