The Individual Narratives
- 386 Downloads
Chapter 3 introduces the eight secondary school assistant principals. It describes their reasons for becoming assistant principals, their pre-role preparation and learning, and the factors and processes that bring coherence and meaning to their journey. While they arrived at the administrative threshold through the common route of the department headship, each individual brought different histories, philosophical orientations, and identities with them. The assistant principals are introduced according to the number of years they have been assistant principals, progressing from the most recently promoted to the most experienced. These profiles provide a personal context for their reasons for choosing an administrative pathway, their preparation for the journey, their successes and challenges, and their vision for the future.
KeywordsSchool District Teaching Staff Urban School Department Head Teaching Position
I said to somebody that it’s nice to be alive because this whole process of trying to be a vice-principal has opened a world of emotion to me. I remember Sidney Poitier and hearing him being interviewed. And he said, “Oh, it’s great to be alive.” You get to feel this and everything is wonderful. You feel enraged, you feel happy, you feel sad, and that’s going on inside you. And this is what happened when I found out about getting the vice-principal job.
Michael and I first met during his third week as an assistant principal. As he provided a context for his school and retraced his administrative pathway, he communicated a mixture of excitement, enthusiasm, and awe about his new position, the variety of people and experiences he had encountered to date, the number of things that he had learnt, and the changes he had undergone. Michael was placed in a large suburban school of approximately 1,600 students and 100 teachers. Two thirds of the teaching staff had been there for over 20 years and the students were primarily middle-class and of European backgrounds. He described his placement as a “great school with a lot of tradition and a lot of pride in its history.”
Originally, I said to myself, “Why do you want to be a vice-principal? You have to deal with all the discipline, and you have to do all this stuff and it’s not nice stuff that you have to deal with.” And then I heard all these people saying, “Oh, you know, there’s so much stress, you get dumped on from above, and you get dumped on from below, and why do you want to be that?”
And I said, “You know what? I think that I am done with administration forever and ever. I just want to be a classroom teacher, not worry about being responsible for anything aside from the classroom and taking on all these initiatives and everything. Worrying about having to deal with people playing political games and everything… All of that … done!”
So, then I got more confident that it was something that I could do. I think I can do a good job and can make a difference. And so this is my opportunity as a vice-principal to deal with all these kids and try and get them to go down the right path. So that’s the difference. I still have the individual student difference that I can make.
Swayed by encouragement from his parents and his administrative colleagues and the belief that his youth would allow him time to approach the administrative pathway slowly, he decided to qualify himself by doing some of the prerequisite courses. He recalled thinking: “I’ll get the paperwork done. I’ve got twenty years left in my career. I don’t need to rush this.”
He said, “Michael, come on. We have to do it together. We have to support each other.” I said, “Alright, I’ll do it for practice.” You know, as a learning experience, and then when I’m really ready, I’ll do it.
I was really disappointed, because now I had been working…I thought, “Wow, I didn’t get it, and now I want it. I want it more than ever.” And so, I did the whole round the second time and that went fabulously. I was humbled after my first experience and then I really did a good job at preparing. The first time it was practice. And the second time it was for real in my mind. So I did a good job of preparing and it went well and I got myself on the promotion list and the next thing you know, here I am.
I found out I got on the list and I did like kind of a happy dance. And my excitement is more than normal. Normally, it’s just like, “Oh, great … pat on my back.” But this was like, “Yes! I got on the list!”
So one day passed, two days passed, and I hadn’t got this call. So I go down to my principal and I said, “I got a call the other day from the superintendent. She said that I have been placed. Have you heard anything?” He said that he hadn’t heard anything. And I am thinking to myself, “Uh oh. I don’t think this is a joke, but I’ll just continue to do what I’ve always been doing.”
Everything has been novel, exciting and I’ve got a lot of support. And thankfully, the staff here is wonderful. And I have a wonderful team. They have been very supportive. People understand that I am a new kid on the block and that I am coming from teaching. It’s not like I have been a vice-principal somewhere else. And so, they have been a little bit forgiving of the two or three times I have made a mistake or two.
I know a couple members on staff have taken advantage of my newness, and if I had asked a couple more questions, I might have been able to get the answer myself instead of finding out when somebody else complained. And I really resent the fact that people tried to do that because now I trust them less and it is going to take a long time.
There is the piece that I am a minority. So (a) “I get the job because I am a minority.” So there is pressure there. I want to make sure that, you know what? It’s because I have earned the right to be here. And there’s (b) “Oh, and you are so young …”
Here, there are a lot of gaps that I am filling in as I go along. Like all the systems … systems have been the big one to get to know right now. Like staff attendance, the field trip policies, and the other specific systems we use in the school. Like all these things I am responsible for that I had to learn, whereas, with teaching, I had to learn them, but I had to learn them on my time, whereas now, I have to learn them yesterday.
I seem to be in a very good situation. Maybe half of it is my temperament, but a good friend of mine, when he got promoted to vice-principal, he kept thinking about wanting to go back to the classroom because he didn’t have any support. He felt that he was working so many hours, his health was going down, and my experience has been different.
So the first tornado has gone through, the big one…and I realize that I got through it. So when other situations come up, I get more comfortable dealing with them…I guess right now you just roll with the punches and I am doing my best. And I am confident that in the end, although I probably will make mistakes, in the end I’ll be OK.
There are people who have taught me that are still vice-principals and they also say, “If you ever need anything…” So, I’ve got a lot of people that I can draw on. So I think that I am in a very fortunate situation. And this school is a terrific school.
Michael’s immediate plans were to continue “learning the ropes” and to support his community. He hoped to become a principal some day, and he believed that with time and experience he would be able to make large-scale changes that would improve schools.
I believe it is going to change. I believe that I am going to get back to my priorities and I am going to eventually get those done. But I think, in learning the job and fulfilling my role, these are things that I have to do, and they are just as important. But I think eventually, I am going to know how to manage my time and get what I need to get done…to have an impact and to be effective, which is why I came into it in the first place.
The students were looking for people that they could identify with. A number of people have done studies in the area and said this is the case. Students need to have a true representation of who they are in literature, in admin and in the school system. So then, I decided that I was one of those people who should get into a leadership role so that I could bring change in that area. So that’s why my interest developed.
I went to a lot of conferences. Anything that I felt would add to my knowledge base, I did that, and not so much because I wanted to be in this role, but because I enjoy that type of learning. I have always done courses. So I am a lifelong learner and I think that has helped me to prepare in the sense that my mind is always open.
I feel that I have a story to tell where this is concerned. Firstly, I’ll start off by saying that principals have too much power where this [promotion and hiring] is concerned and too much control for people getting ahead, because this can be done very much on whom you know, who knows you, and who they feel they want to support. And it has very little to do with ability. And I found out with my own experience.
For some reason, I did not feel that excited because I felt it was long overdue. And I was ready, and I was very ready about three years ago. And I just felt that they should have utilized my skills before. So, to me it was like it is almost too late now that they have given me this position. And I could have done so much. So from that perspective, I wasn’t really that excited, but I was happy to see that, yes, at least the time has come.
For me, getting this school was not too bad because I know the neighbourhood and I have come from a school with the same types of needs. But, what I found overwhelming was learning the protocol. Who plays this role? Whose responsibility is this? Who are the important key players? So that was a little bit of a setback, but that didn’t take me long to sort through.
I am surprised at how much teachers look up to you, and expect you to know the job and respond appropriately and without preparation and practice, and experience…that is something that new vice-principlas have not been exposed to. You need that kind of training and time or you could find yourself in deep waters. They really expect you to give the right answers and to be knowledgeable.
Sometimes I feel that they have the wrong perspective on my role because I am really here to work with them to make life better and to encourage the students to achieve at a higher level. But sometimes they see it more as problem solving and I don’t think it should be.
I want to do the work, and I want to be involved, but sometimes I wonder if I am fulfilling the needs of the students the way I really want, to raise the level of expectation and academic standards.
In spite of these ongoing barriers, Esther remained optimistic about her position and her ability to help others. Esther identified a strong network outside of the school. Her husband, children, and her faith congregation were supportive. Although she found it difficult to establish close personal relationships with her administrative colleagues, they had been helpful in providing information and backup support when needed. She also felt that she had a strong network of administrators and other resources that she could tap into at the district level. In addition, she had a long-standing connection with her superintendent, whom she could contact if she had a problem.
I think it is a very great experience and I am hoping I will be able to impact on lives, be they parents, students, education as a whole. And I have a personal drive to go further as an educator. I have a good working relationship with others. I feel that I am going to be stronger later on in getting my point across and getting the change. I have the ability to bring people together. That’s one of my strengths.
Esther continued to maintain a positive outlook about her school and her ability to achieve her goals for equity, in spite of these early challenges. She also believed that she would become more efficient over time, and she hoped to become a principal one day so that she could fully utilize her leadership skills.
So, I know it is a political thing. I know it is a money thing. I know it’s a transitional thing. So, on one side, I understand it. On the other side, it just becomes very draining and frustrating. I don’t think I’m incapable of doing it, I just think that if I am doing this same thing two years from now, I’ll walk away. So maybe, I’ll get better at it. Maybe I’ll get better at not caring.
Boredom. The truth is, after you have challenge, and after you have become a department head for a while, you think, “Can I do this for another 20 years until I retire or should I look for a bigger challenge?”
Being in a small staff and sort of seeing what the vice-principals did, being on committees and knowing that it was going to be more of a paper trail and sort of more of an organizational position rather than a hands-on teaching position. Like, I really kind of knew what it was.
However, in spite of these convictions, Jerry reported that his application for promotion to the assistant principalship was rejected by his district’s selection team several times, because of his principal’s lack of support.
And so, the learning curve was immense. I came here and I had to learn a whole new computer system. Not being a guidance person, not knowing all the codes, so that took a lot. Not knowing the organizational structure of the schools in this region, with curriculum leaders and program team leaders and trying to figure out who is who on a new staff of 100. Dealing with the everyday insanity of a big building, and still trying to get into classrooms and see teachers and make my own decisions about who’s good, who’s bad, who do I need to talk to, who do I need to see to get things done. It was very tough with that other stuff on top.
And when I first started a month in, I was ready to walk away. And that was not because the job was too hard, but my direct supervisor’s philosophy and understanding of education and the way to treat kids was not mine. And it was interesting, because in my whole life, in any other job that I had done, I had never worked with a supervisor like that one.
And being told things like, “I don’t want you to have lunch with the staff or have coffee with the staff because it’s us and them.” Not allowed to sit at a staff table at a staff social.
And I was staying here until 8 and 9 o’clock at night, hand writing report cards, signing every report card and checking every one. Every piece of paper that went out to the staff or the parents or the students in any form, even if it was a short little memo for a meeting had to be okayed by her. No purchasing cards, no spending, no nothing. And being new coming in, being eager, coming back into a big school for me, I really got sort of lost.
Jerry experienced his principal’s abrasive management style and control tactics as an ongoing source of stress and he considered complaining to senior management. However, as a new administrator without union rights, he was afraid of negative career repercussions. After considering his options and consulting with his wife, he was determined to quit his job during his first year because of concerns about his physical and psychological health and well being. However, he was disappointed to find out that he could not return to his former teaching position, and there were no central office positions available in his area of expertise.
They were extremely aloof and very formal. I did not form one friendship on this staff. I still haven’t. But that’s OK. I think there are some really good teachers here and there is some really good stuff going on. I like a lot of the staff.
And this may sound weird, but being the only person of color on an administration makes a huge difference in this community. Parents will come in and they see me and they gravitate to speak to me. And we have so many brand new immigrants, and so I like to get out. I want to help them, but again, it’s frustrating because can’t always be here until 9:00 at night.
It’s tough because it’s an inner city school. It’s an inner city school devastated by politics and violence and money. Issues here are like any inner city school whether you’re in Chicago, L.A., New York, or Montreal, it doesn’t matter. Unless you have a good plan and good leadership to figure out how to solve it, you’re just treading water… It makes my job almost impossible to accomplish all the things. I am doing things and people say, “Yeah, we like you, you are doing a good job”, but the reality is I am doing a 50% job on most of these issues. I can’t commit. I don’t have the time or the energy to really go after the things I need to do. I spend a lot of time fire fighting in this building instead of doing curricular changes. I spend a lot of time trying to make people feel safe and it is an effort in this building.
Throughout our interviews Jerry remained optimistic about his tenure as an administrator and his ability to help students. As he discussed his long-term plans, he admitted that he had abandoned his earlier ambition to become a principal because of district politics and negative feedback from his superintendent. However, he indicated that, in spite of its challenges, he was interested in working in his current school until retirement. He openly expressed admiration for his students’ abilities and a commitment to working with his school district and staff to improve his school: “I’m proud of this place and the kids are going to be proud.”
There was certainly support from my colleagues – my VP and my principal. But the other people, the teachers, they don’t have time for this transition thing. You are in the office, that’s your position, that’s your role, these are my needs, what can you do?
You can have positive influence at every level. But when you move on up the system, you are also getting closer and closer to the bigger picture to make changes. And those are changes that you think would benefit kids, all kids…make the system better for all of them. You know, I have kids too. And it’s something I enjoy. So, why not be part of it? Try to make it better.
But also, on the political level, if I can call it that, as a minority female, you often hear about the lack of representation. I always ask myself, “Well, what do you do?” And I do believe that in order to make change you have to be in the system as opposed to be outside of it. So that to me is important. You can’t make change without participating.
And I think then I proved, not only to myself, but also to my peers, and certainly to my supervisors that I definitely had that leadership potential. So it was recognized also from the outside and confirmed with me.
So I had a very brief meeting. I think we met for two hours. So that was the extent of my preparation. But I had lots of files in this drawer and lots of pens, and I asked a lot of questions and all that kind of stuff.
I think I also sensed that divide, that great divide which is much more pronounced between teachers and administration. You’re really not part of the crowd. Even going into the lunchroom, you know, people are afraid. It’s not that there is any animosity. You know you are different. You’re not part of the inner circle and you are not always privileged to every type of conversation. I feel I’m now more part of the office instead of the staff room.
In fact my lunch is in the car actually, because I didn’t get a chance to eat it. But it is very easy not to take care of yourself as a VP. As a teacher, you have your lunch at 11:30 and you have your hour. As a VP, because there are no defined limits to your time, you don’t have the same blocks.
She was also shocked by the fact that, in spite of her lack of training and experience, she was immediately assailed by students, parents, and staff who expected her to address problems on her own and demanded immediate solutions, “So I was certainly treated as if I was on the job for a lot longer than I was, and [the expectation was] that I should just fall in and perform. Just do it.”
When you start, because there is so little preparation for the position, they throw you in there. The first stage is just grueling. You are watching as best you can, getting out there, getting to know things. It’s certainly getting easier and I don’t like it any less than I did in spite of the difficulties and frustrations.
When I got into the job itself, I felt a lot of comfort and confidence, really. And people often said that to me that they were rather surprised. I would hear back that people had said, “Has she been a vice-principal before?” Or people would tell me their stories, you know, “By six weeks I was in tears”, and I wasn’t any of those things.
During her fourth year, Sandy was transferred to a vocational school. In spite of having to adapt to a different school culture, duties, and responsibilities, she observed that these experiences have not impacted her negatively in the long run. She attributed this to her positive attitude, and her ability to manage stress, and to work with people: “So I went in there knowing that I did not know anybody. But, I did have an attitude that I was going to make it a good experience, really.” As she looked back on her career pathway, Sandy attributed her success as an assistant principal to her ability to use time wisely, to establish priorities, and to balance her personal and professional life. She expressed optimism about her future as an administrator and was looking forward to becoming a principal in the near future.
The honeymoon period is over. I don’t think I have to prove very much to anybody. I’ve done most things already twice, and so it wasn’t just beginner’s luck…So there is that evidence there that I am not falling in that same pothole every single time. So I think people have let go of that [perception]. And that’s a wonderful feeling.
Greg was an assistant principal in what he described as a suburban, middle-class, composite school of approximately 1,400 students and 80 staff where “the majority of the population is privileged, given even the city’s indicators,” and the students, staff and parents were “for the most part wonderful and positive.” Greg connected his decision to become an assistant principal to the desire for a new challenge and saw the administrative pathway as a logical career progression from his leadership role as a teacher and curriculum leader. This internal need combined with the encouragement and support of administrators at the school and school district level provided him with the feeling that he was moving in the right direction.
Our conversations began during his second year, and during our first meeting, he spoke confidently about his preparation for his current role. Not only had he been in a curriculum leadership position where he worked closely with his previous administrative team, but he had also served informally as an assistant principal for 2 years in another school district. He believed that these experiences contributed to his familiarity with the role and provided him with opportunities for leadership that were not typically available to regular department heads. He experienced little difficulty during the early preparation and interview process, because of encouragement from his family and strong support from a network of administrators which he had developed over the years as a teacher and department head.
So it started the year off, in this environment where there is so much change, with another layer of unpredictability. It does get resolved, but it brings an additional level of stress on everybody. So all of it was a hope and a prayer.
So the staff already came in a little bit negative at that time and being new, they weren’t sure who I was. And obviously they had to test who I was and things like that, so that was part of it.
So the amount of time that we are in front of a terminal, I think that you could certainly use people who know and who are capable and competent to do that and to expedite matters much more quickly, rather than having a vice-principal. So I really believe that our talents and the reason why we were hired, I think that the school district and the Ministry are wasting a lot of money.
I am feeling more comfortable this year because we didn’t change our portfolios, except for adding on the work of one third of the VP that we lost. And the fact that we have a new principal who has a different leadership model…but having done this one year, I feel confident that I will be able to also deal with the other problems that will come. So, having one year under my belt provides a lot of comfort because I am repeating some things that I did before, whether it’s exams, whether it’s other organizational matters.
For example, there are a number of areas in this school where there are opportunities for cross-curricular education. I’d love the opportunity to be able to explore those possibilities with them. So there is some experience that I think I have, that I’d love to share with staff, especially with partnerships. So I had the anticipation that I’d be able to use that history and then I’m stuck in the office most of the time. So that was disappointing.
I tend to question things and I need to feel that there is validation and that I trust people. So I don’t take orders readily, but I also feel that as an administrator, there is duty and responsibility and organization…. I’ve learned that I have to be more conservative and so I am coming to it with less resistance than I used to.
The only way around it is stubbornness, because I will do it. So contact with teachers and students is critical and important. So contact with parents and teachers is critical and important. I make a point of it. For example, I organized an art exhibit for the staff so that I could bring some of that sense of collegiality and the sense that teachers are practitioners and professional…to value what’s going on, to get into the mix of things. So I will do it by virtue of my personality.
During follow-up interviews 4 years later, Greg indicated that at this stage in his transition, he was better able to navigate the system and he was engaged in a number of leadership roles within his school and district. In addition, he had been successful in his district’s interview process for principalship and had received confirmation that he would be promoted shortly.
I knew it was a bigger school. I was all excited because it was a new school with a program that matched my background. But when I found out at that time that there were over a hundred teachers and almost two thousand students, I did panic a bit. I thought, “Am I ready for this? Why did they give me such a big transition?”
He sort of said to me one day, “You know what? You are doing what an administrator is doing already. So why not go ahead and get your papers and go for a position, because you have the experience”.
I’d been a couple of times and I’d always found it, I don’t know if it is the size or culture, but it was very cold. It’s very businesslike and I guess I’m not used to that…Coming from a small number of students, and coming to this school, was a big transition in more than one way. It was like from one extreme to another. If we are looking at intellectual abilities, size, everything was just bigger and different so there was a lot of adjustment.
I like the challenges. I missed the classroom because I loved getting to know all of the students. But you get to know certain ones, but usually the ones that need the most help unfortunately. You don’t get to know the good ones.
We have had staff that send kids down because they didn’t do their homework. Just the other day, a staff member complained to me that the kids are stealing her books from her cupboard. Like these workbooks that they have to pay for…So I say, “Tell me what’s going on. How is this happening?” Eventually, it came out that she was leaving the room to photocopy stuff and the cupboard doors were always open. She never locks them. And I am going, “Well, let’s try something preventive here.” Like teachers expect us to solve their problems. You sort of have to look back and go, “OK why is this happening?”
The other part was just the number of staff that came to the door…Just getting used to that. Trying to stay on top of things, I found that difficult. And someone did say to me that as an administrator, you’re never on top of things. So that took a while to sink in. Like I always felt bad because I didn’t know what was going on, but in a school this size you never do.
It took a long time of, probably, schmoozing. Someone said to me at one time, “You know, when you go to a new school, the people you get to know first are your secretaries and the caretakers”, and I worked on that first. Then the teaching staff eventually came along. I think being out in the hall all the time and trying to visit departments saying “Hi”. I think I broke through that barrier.
Yes, there are a lot of high achievers, but there are also those at the other end of the scale that need more support. And, how do we get that in place?
However, in spite of these collaborative relationships with staff, Karen experienced feelings of isolation throughout her transition because her role demands and her fears of “not getting caught up” inhibited her ability to get out of the school to interact with other administrators. She commented: “You need to connect. You sort of feel isolated here. I find I can’t get out as much, so we have to try to connect somehow.”
I like the challenges. I like dealing with the students, even the difficult ones. It’s sort of a learning curve for me to keep up, like how do I deal with this situation? I love problem solving. I deal with puzzles at home all the time. How do I apply that?
I sort of knew what I was getting into, but on the other hand, with the political situation out there, it keeps changing. So I think you have to be flexible and keep adapting. Like, how can I deal with this situation?
She expressed some reservations about the possibility of effecting change due to the size of her school and ongoing issues in her school district, and she was planning on pursuing a principalship position in the near future.
Education is all about people, and not only the students are people. I’m a human being too. What happened to preparing me before throwing me into a real life situation where I have to handle fights? I have to handle conflict resolution because of all these different things... even among teachers.
Then I also was looking for more challenges, and one time I had a very inspiring principal who planted the seed in my head in the very early days when I was still teaching. So that gave me the initiative to explore what it was like on the other side of the desk.
So, I had a taste of it while I was doing the principals’ course. It was a bit more hands-on, as opposed to the purely theoretical/conceptual work from the principals’ program.
That was quite a nightmare. I think the neighborhood was so welcoming, that in fact it included all those students we kicked out of the school. So, all of a sudden, I have this big line up all the way back around the office. And they are all lined up to see me for admission. They want to plead their case. They want to ask for a second chance, so they all line up to see me. I was not really familiar with how the system worked. The first week when I came here, I was pretty much on my own, seeing these kids, taking down notes. “Alright, OK, I’ll let you know.” I didn’t want to say no right away. I didn’t know their background and I didn’t want to be biased. So I spent all the time, day after day interviewing, meeting with all these students and their parents. And I felt that something was not quite right because when I looked to the other side of the office, I wondered, “How come the other vice-principal has no line?” Just me.
So, at the end I had no choice but to phone her to get some names. She left me with a list, but then some of them were not on the list. So she would know whether there was some validity there. So I jotted down a bunch of names and she was kind enough to drop by here on her way home. She was very supportive in that way, and I was thankful for her help. Looking back, it was very chaotic. I didn’t have lunch until about five or six o’clock. I went home very tired, and didn’t know what I had accomplished.
No one told me about it during the whole time when I was doing the Principals Course. No one discussed that. When I took on the appointment I said, “Well, if I don’t like it I can always go back”, and I was told by the principal, “No, you cannot.” I said, “What? What do you mean I cannot? Of course I can. I am a member of the College of Teachers, am I not? Legally, I’m still a teacher. Who took that right from me?” So, why should someone be penalized because they would like to be more involved in leadership? I find that it is sad.
I think the time, the workload, and the feeling that we are not really appreciated. Not so much really from the parents, but from the Board. The continuous downloading of work…. I am not really discounting the importance of the principal, but the brunt of the work goes all the way down to the vice-principal.
In spite of working long hours, Andrew found it difficult to fulfil his expectations of change and leadership because of external time pressures and the number of tasks which he was expected to accomplish. However, as he looked back on his transition, he believed he was managing well relative to other administrators he knew. Andrew emphasized the need to balance the positive and negative aspects of his role. He has been able to use his business, curriculum leadership, and parenting skills to improve his school, and he has built strong relationships with members of his administrative team.
I was really surprised in the very beginning, when I met with some of these parents, that my language ability could make such a big difference in their just coming to the school and expressing themselves. Even grown men would actually cry in the office because they just felt so helpless.
Even though you try to approach it in a very delicate manner, there is that shield right there and everything they say to you is so guarded. And that’s difficult to deal with, because that’s not what I am here for. I am here also to make sure that we can resolve that issue.
There is the pressure of time. Quite often, I feel that I still haven’t done enough. I feel that I am constantly behind. That’s not a very good feeling. Getting back to the teachers, I have to say, yes, again, I can improve on that but it’s the time. I want to get back to them right away. But sometimes, even leaving here around six or seven o’clock, I still can’t get back to them. You know, writing them a memo or leaving them a note, there’s just not enough time or support for that.
I learned this the last two years from the former principal here. You can basically kill someone with kindness. So always be courteous, be professional, and I have to keep reminding myself, especially when I am dealing with teachers, that I have to work together, day after day, year after year as a team. It is easier to win them over than trying to reshape them. Work with what you’ve got. I have learned to accept that.
Helping students and parents and being able to help teachers. That’s my major satisfaction. For example, I am quite heavily involved with the IT of the school because of my background. And it really pleased me to see that I could help them so that they can have better equipment in their classrooms.
Having developed a more in-depth understanding of his school and his district’s policies and procedures and having established a strong administrative network outside of school, Andrew was also exploring the possibility of becoming a principal and had already attended the district’s promotion and placement information meetings.
I wish my heart had been harder. You know, don’t take it personally. I wish I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to have time to have lunch with my friends. I wish I knew that the most difficult part of the job was going to be the adult piece rather than the kid piece…I wish I knew it was OK to ask for help.
Barb was placed in an urban school of approximately 350 students and 40 teaching staff, where a majority of the students were identified as having learning and/or behavioral challenges. She described her parent and student populations as needy, because of stressors brought on by living with disabilities, deprived economic and social circumstances, and a general lack of knowledge about the workings of the school system. Our conversations began when she was in her third year as an assistant principal. Barb recalled making a conscious decision to pursue an administrative pathway when she switched from a business to a teaching career. This desire was motivated by a strong sense of social justice, a commitment to working with disenfranchized groups, and encouragement from a strong network of administrators within her district whom she could access for advice and resources.
The loneliness [was a challenge], especially coming back to a school that I had taught at. So, it’s, how do you fit in? You have a history with some of these people. They know who you are, they know how you work. Now, there is a little bit of pressure to perform as a vice-principal rather than a teacher.
First, I would deal with things as they came. And, then you realize that some things are not as urgent as other things. I guess by failing, you realize what is more important. By watching other people, you realize it. By some sort of innate idea, you figure it out. So it goes from: What’s urgent?; What needs to be taken care of right now?; and What it is that you can put off? I guess at the beginning, when the phone would ring, I would take that call immediately. So and so is calling, I need to take that call. The phone rings, I need to pick it up. Now, I’m a little more relaxed on that issue and I will do phone calls later. I will do emails later unless they are urgent. If it is a teacher who needs me in their room, that’s an immediate thing. That I know. Somebody pages down, I need to go up there. If it’s dealing with a kid, sometimes they need time to wait, so they have a little time to rest on the bench rather than talking to me immediately as they come in.
Year two, I was the old girl on campus, so that was different. I guess I was the person with the most knowledge of the building, but the two new people would collectively work together. So even though I was the person with the most knowledge, I found that I was out of the loop more with respect to the admin team. Whereas the first year, I think we worked more as a three person team together in decision making. We would make decisions at meetings. We wouldn’t make decisions having a sidebar conversation over coffee. So that’s different, the way the admin team was functioning in the second year.
I’ve built up enough trust. People know my work ethic. They know that they can count on me. There isn’t any second-guessing by people anymore, of “Can she do the job?”
Barb expressed a great deal of pride in her ability to work with her school community to engage her students in leadership initiatives, in spite of their learning challenges. In addition to supporting a successful nutrition program and clothing drive, she has also worked with staff to implement curriculum initiatives related to literacy, numeracy, and life skills. She also mentored new teachers in their transition, and actively supported experienced faculty who were interested in applying for school and district leadership positions. By the time she had reached her third year, Barb had gradually extended her focus to include larger systemic issues and was involved in district-wide committees which focused on creating equitable learning opportunities and outcomes for students with special needs. Having been encouraged by her superintendent to apply for the principalship, she had already successfully completed her district’s promotion rounds for this position and had been informed that she would be promoted the following year.