Do the Right Thing…The Right Way

I know it has been awhile since my last post but it has been a very busy few weeks. Stuff has been happening literally faster than I can process. Lots of stuff has been entirely positive with lots of great moments that people will remember and will serve the school community as a whole. There have also been some challenges as people have disagreements about what can or should be done. People still not seeing the key to collaboration and figuring out solutions to problems instead of simply pointing out problems and criticizing solutions. Still, while the last few weeks have been busy, the job of principal is still the best job I could imagine. Something different and interesting everyday and as long as I avoid the trap of thinking that I have to come up with a fix for every problem in the school, I am sure I will make it through the rest of the year.

I do want to talk about one incident though and my reflections from that. No need for details about the issue but suffice to say that it was one that got the school and my leadership a fair amount of attention and lead to some difficult conversations and considerations about things that have nothing really to do with education but more about politics and optics. I totally get that this is part of the job but it can cast a long shadow on all the good stuff that happens everyday, mostly because while dealing with this one incident, I don’t get a chance to experience the good stuff. All that being said, this incident which has taken up the better part of the past 2 weeks, allowed me to reflect on a few things.

First, I had to deal with some of the fall-out from this stuff while away on a principal’s retreat. One may think this was bad timing as I had to spend a bit of time on the phone or tracking down and responding to emails instead of some of the retreat events, but actually the timing could not have been better. Why? Because I had my colleagues there with me to offer advice and support. This was so necessary because one thing I am finding with the role of principal is that there are times when you feel truly alone. You are the only singular in the entire building. In my building there are 1430 students, 94 teachers, 6 secretaries, 3 Student Supervisors, 2 CYWs, 8 Caretakers, 2 VPs but only 1 principal. This means that often I have to make decisions without much context or advice about if I am on the right path. I have to walk right into some land mines simply because I don’t have a peer to tell me where not to step. By dealing with this with while on retreat with other principals, I was able to bounce ideas off them and have some really good discussions about how to proceed. This was my first Principal Retreat but I know for a fact that I will make sure that I go to all of them because it was such a good thing to have.

When I came back from my retreat I had to still deal with the events that caused me concern and that is when I learned more about the job of principal. The issue was a tough one because it involved a few different groups of people all disagreeing in a way, but all thinking that they were doing the right thing. This is the toughest ones to deal with because you often understand where people are coming from. The issue at stake is a touchy one to say the least and one group decided to force the issue, (whether on purpose of inadvertently is not the point), and others were concerned about the optics and politics that came with that. Truth be told I really struggled with this one because I have some strong opinions about this one and can completely understand where the one groups frustration is coming from but I have to take a lot of factors into consideration.

I know this is probably hard to follow but the point is that this highlights one big lesson that I have learned as a principal. It is always a good idea to do the right thing, but it seldom enough, if you don’t do the right thing, the right way. When I was a classroom teacher it was easy for me to be a bit more black and white about things. I was able to pick and choose those things that I got involved with and those that had no interest to me. I was able to pick my battles and my passions but that is not so much the case for administration. I am pulled to weigh in on everything and to consider so many different factors when deciding how to proceed. This is the most exhausting part of the job. The chess match that I seem to always be playing with myself. Trying to include so many different angles into my picture of events and then trying to proceed with a course of action that I can live with, but also has a chance for success.

I think we are getting through this particular part of the mine field pretty well but it has given me an opportunity to consider some of the more subtle nuances of the job. It leaves me with  couple of certainties.

1. This is an incredibly tough job that I am proud to do and hope to be up to the task more times than I am not.

2. I cannot and should not try to do it alone. The support network is there, I just have to take my opportunities to use it.

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