When I’m the Principal…

This is something I’m working on. If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know that I just finished my Master’s degree in Education with the end goal of someday being a principal. While I don’t see that on the very close horizon, I have been thinking a lot about my personal philosophy as a leader in education, as well as my beliefs regarding whole-child education… Because it really isn’t enough just to teach their minds. We also have to reach their hearts.

Please let me know what you think.

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First official Principal speech to staff (sometime in the not-too-distant future)

“When I was working on my Master’s degree, a lot of emphasis was placed on Mission and Vision statements. Which sort of makes sense, because running a school these days is like running a business in a lot of ways. What really bothered me about what everyone else in my classes found to be fitting vision statements revolved only around the progress of the students. Sure, that’s the most important part of teaching and administering students, but is it really the only thing involved in creating and maintaining a successful school? I don’t think so. Let me share my mission and vision with you…

First, I want your students to learn from you. Each and every one of you brings into this building a unique set of personal experiences. You are as different from one another as each of your students is from his or her peers. The difference, however, is that your life map – the route that got you from the place that you were born to the seat you occupy right now – is filled with more experiences. You’ve simply lived longer.

Then, I want you to learn from your students. We will have have students who are smarter than we are, we have students who are more worldly, more complex, and perhaps even more jaded. So what gives us the right to speak with authority on any topic? Simply that we have experienced more. We have experienced college courses, sure, but we’ve also experienced failure and relationships, death and grief, joy and pain. That is not to say that our students have not experienced any of those things, but by merely being present on this Earth for a longer period of time, we have experienced… more.

Why does this even matter? It matters because my vision for our school is that we, collectively as a staff, a faculty WITH our students, share a narrative. Storytelling is, in my opinion, the most meaningful form of communication. I can stand before you here and give you a long list of statistics – 70% of our students come from this demographic or 4 out of every 7 students will engage in this illegal activity this year… and so on. But what does that accomplish? What do you – even as adults – learn from that? That our kids come from rough neighborhoods and have trouble reading? Did you not already know that? The point is that statistics and rules and procedures have their place in this world, but within the brick and mortar of this school building, what will create a connection among us and between us and those children we are given the opportunity to teach.

Here is my vision: Don’t just teach them; REACH them.

This is a funny time we live in. There is a very visible cultural shift happening right before our eyes. We are seeing parents change in how they approach us as educators. We are seeing children grow up far too quickly. We are seeing political dynamics at work within the very walls surrounding us right now. And I think everyone is just a little bit scared. Freshmen are scared to be at a new school. Seniors are scared of what comes after graduation. Probationary teachers are scared of contract non-renewal. Veteran teachers are scared that they will be forced out early. Bullying and prejudice are still, in the 21st century, running rampant. So, what’s your story? What is your fear? Your wish? Your Achilles heel? We all have one. I’m afraid that I may not be as good a leader as I think I am…

Your students come to you with their own fears, wishes, dreams, and challenges. They can be so strong sometimes that trying to get the math or history or science into the space between them can be difficult.

I’ve learned many different theories about how to teach students – some say ignore anything that does not pertain to your subject matter. Some say allow class time to discuss and nurture them. It’s such a tricky pendulum, and each individual teacher has their own method, whether it’s just happened over time, or it’s been molded and planned out. In my own experience in the classroom, I’ve been on both sides of the pendulum. And what I can tell you from those experiences is this: Ignoring the issues that block learning does not foster as good a rapport with students as fostering and nurturing them does.

Is it important that they learn the subject matter that you’re teaching them? Of course. Does it matter more than developing the human being? No.

‘It is vital that when educating our children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts.’ – Dali Lama

If you do some research, many of history’s “bad guys” were very well educated. Hitler, Mussolini, Jack The Ripper, etc.
The other things they had in common were selfishness, extreme prejudice, and social disorders. Just being well-educated – being good at math or logic or knowing a lot of facts about history – is not enough to create a well-rounded person. My hope for us is that we can, together, mold these young people into empathetic, compassionate adults.

You may be thinking that by 15 or 16 they’ve already developed their personality. It’s too late to change them. But you see, the point isn’t to CHANGE them. No one can change another. All we can do – all we can ever hope to do – in this life for others is to help them change themselves. We need to give them the experiences and the tools to be capable of recognizing their shortcomings and to correct their own paths. It is not enough to quote famous lines to them like “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it” or “every journey begins with a single step”…. we have to help them look at their own history – their own journey up to the present – and help them see the way. I know, I know… that sounds awfully preachy. But isn’t that part of teaching, too?

Don’t just teach them. Reach them.

But also let them reach you.

Buddhism teaches that in lighting a lamp for someone else not only shows them the way, but also lights the way for ourselves. By reaching your students and teaching them not only how to calculate or debate or create, but also how to feel and grow, we also learn about ourselves, causing a chain reaction of growth and compassion.

If we work together, we can create a ripple effect of change that reaches not only the students in your classrooms, but their parents and siblings, their neighbors, perhaps someday even their children.

It’s a heavy weight we carry. They may not remember everything you teach them in your classrooms, but they will certainly remember how you treated them.

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One thought on “When I’m the Principal…

  1. Just today I made the comment to one of my colleagues that, because of our students, I have become more street-smart, gained more common sense. These students really can teach us a lot. Yes, I’ve been through all of the college courses. But most of my students have experienced things in “real” life that I will never know. Love your post, Kelli. Love you.

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