I have asked this question a lot over my first year as principal; not in a self pity way or to bemoan how my luck is not what I think it should be. No that is not the context of my mantra, “WHY ME?” If you have read any of my previous posts you know that I have a rather low threshold for whining so that is not what this is about. I have asked the “WHY ME?” question in a context of self doubt or at least a lack of total confidence. When people ask for my opinion or my permission or want to know what I want, I seem to ask to myself, “WHY ME?” Meaning, why are you asking me? Should I know the answer to that question? Should I know better than you, (possibly someone who has been in education twice as long as me?)
I suppose all first year principals have to ask this question some times because the role is truly a surreal one because literally the moment you take the job, people are looking to you for decisions and direction. You are trying to get the lay of the land and people are asking you how to tend it. You are trying to remember people’s names and they are asking you for career advice. It seems like too much and I have often felt completely unprepared for the role and wondered how I could possibly insist on things when I have so little experience.
Funny thing is though, that I think the school wants you to make decisions and to lead. Even if they are not thrilled with the decisions that you make, or disagree with your direction, it is important for your staff to know you have a direction. I genuinely think people want to be lead by someone with a sense of direction and purpose. I would think that the worst kind of leader is someone who saw themselves as solely a facilitator. Someone whose job it is to simply help people get things done. Not much to get behind there and not much to be inspired by. With this type of leader the staff is left to themselves to gather inspiration and that leads to monotony and even an educational atrophy that is hard to shake.
It has been weird for me to come back to a school where I was s student to lead a staff made up of some people that taught me. I have to admit that it is still a bit odd when the people who taught me in grade 9 are coming to me asking for permission to go on an event or to buy something for their department. Signing their mileage claim forms seems odd, like I am checking up on the people who used to mark my essays and give me uniform violations. I have to say that the staff has been amazing to me and the awkwardness is found within me, not them.
But then I think about my role and whether or not I deserve to be “in charge”. I think it comes down to this: the staff likes the fact that someone is willing to be in charge, accepting the responsibility and the sometimes unpleasant elements of the office, while still offering support and a vision for the whole school. I think that educators are excited by dynamic leadership because they understand how important education is but have not had the chance or the time to really think through all the transformative elements necessary for leadership. They appreciate someone who has.
I guess there’s the rub when it comes to educational leadership. To be an effective leader you don’t have to be loved by everyone (impossible), and you don’t have to explain everything to everyone to get buy in. You simply need to be trusted by your staff. If they trust that your motives are good and that you have the best interests of the community at heart, then they will follow. They may even take some risks or go along with something they are not totally comfortable with, if they trust in you. They will follow the leader, not the initiative.
I have no delusions thinking that I have earned that trust of my entire staff. I even think that there are some members of staff that will never trust me totally. One of my goals is to become better at identifying those people and then have the strength of will to simply forget about them. I can’t spend energy trying to win over a saboteur, I’m just going to make sure they don’t get their hands on any dynamite! In my second and future years of leadership I have to trust not only my own leadership abilities but the commitment and professionalism of staff to follow my lead.
Lots learned this year and still lots to go: what a great job!!!