I feel tired already looking at what’s coming up this week. Just so you stay in the know as well, National Robotics Week is April 2-9, National Library Week is April 3-9. National Window Safety Week is April 4-10 and National Wildlife Week is April 5-9. You can look it up. I found it on the internet, so it has to be true.
I know for certain that April 4-8 is National Assistant Principal’s Week. Assistant principals play key roles in schools across the country from pre-K programs to high school in a variety of settings from rural, suburban and urban. You can find them on the sidelines at games, in the hallways, in cafeterias and at duty – rain, cold, sun, snow…it doesn’t matter. They may be in the bus oval or the car-rider line. They may have just been chewed out by someone upset with a decision they did or didn’t make or they may be concerned about the safety and well-being of a child, but I know many still try to put that smile on their faces when they are around kids, staff members and parents. They may still be waving and smiling, but I have to admit it’s been a hard year for many of us in schools. Battling against the lingering effects of a global pandemic, trying to help students with needs that can appear insurmountable, working with adults who are also experiencing similar traumas and challenges…it’s not for the faint of heart.
I heard a principal share an insightful question this week regarding the challenges of recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. If educators only tell of the hard times or experiences, who would want to sign up for that duty in the future? I believe in transparency, authenticity and “real talk,” but I had to reflect and remind myself that if all I ever do is talk about how hard my job is, why would any great teachers want to move into administration?
So here are some experiences I’ve had this week as an assistant principal:
Monday – I got to drive a Bookmobile to an elementary school where 4th graders decided to do a service project facilitated by collaboration between teachers, administrators and parents. Close to 600 books were loaded on to the bus to help facilitate a reading program aimed at getting books into the hands, hearts and homes of students across our district. I also sat in a classroom where a teacher had students present on leaders they researched from the lens of servant-leadership. Students didn’t present on presidents or sports celebrities, but on friends in class who sent them text messages to carry on or parents that sacrificed to give their kids more opportunities for future success. Groups of 4th graders and seniors taught me a great deal about the meaning of leadership that day as well as the teachers who have guided and mentored students to see leadership as a tool used to build better for others.
Tuesday – I had the chance to observe instruction designed to help students with life-skills like job applications. The lesson had been developed collaboratively with another teacher who started having their students look at lease agreements and the literacy skills needed to successfully navigate those. I also watched a teacher scaffold support for students who would write argumentation papers on big life questions but started with conversations among peers on questions about crime, justice, influence, power, prestige, wealth, philanthropy and civic responsibility. What started with talking to an “elbow partner” and jotting down thoughts on sticky notes developed into larger conversations and synthesizing a variety of perspectives. I also had a conversation with colleagues who were working with families struggling to help their students find success. Success isn’t just defined by academics but also in aspects like finding a place to belong, feel safe, have basic needs met, work through health challenges both physical and mental, learning responsibility and accountability and a myriad other indicators.
Wednesday – I traveled to our state capitol where Principal’s Day was hosted by our state’s professional organization. We had the opportunity to meet with legislators and share stories of what is happening in our hallways and classrooms. Although there isn’t always agreement on the solutions to the challenges our students face today, it’s important to tell and celebrate those stories. It is obvious that in the absence of information, stories or narratives will be created. As educators, we have a firsthand view of what life is like for our students. Why wouldn’t we want to share those stories to give a more complete picture of our students? There are definitely great needs but also so much resiliency and so much to be celebrated.
Thursday – I met with counselors who are working hard to create hope in some students who have seemingly lost it. I met with others who are helping students navigate their pathways into adulthood and seeking to take full advantage of career and college opportunities at trade schools, the military, local colleges, apprenticeships or even elite schools. They’re excited about a student qualifying for a fire academy program and others heading to Ivy League institutions. I also met with a teacher who worked on a student situation that required insight and awareness to unique family needs. Student needs can involve traumatic experiences, academic gaps, culture, equity, hunger, fear and many other aspects, but the conversations with teachers and counselors reminded me that when we profess to serve ALL students, it also means we are seeing EACH student.
Friday – That was meeting day for me….I ran from one meeting to the next it seemed. Most meetings drain me, and I hate seeing so many of them pop up on my calendar. However, I started my Friday with teachers and administrators who were reviewing programs, policies and practices that create barriers for expanded opportunities or create catapults to launch students into expanded opportunities through rigorous coursework and building requisite skills for lifetime success in and out of academia. Being around those type of teachers and administrators fills my cup and inspires me to be better. Next I had a meeting about strategic planning that was voluntary for staff to attend. One of the teachers I work with noticed there were many of her colleagues present, and it reminded me that I am blessed to be surrounded by adults who are all in for kids and committed to seeking solutions even in tough times – again, inspired to be better and do better by the teachers around me. Several meetings and individual conversations afterwards reinforced the idea that public education is a team sport, and I have some incredible teammates who want to insure that even with mandates like state testing, we set our students up with the best chances for success. Towards the end of the day, it was back to how I started the week with conversations and plans for the Bookmobile. How can we serve more students? How can we help create more opportunities for literacy? How can we help students and families learn the power and love of reading? How can we get more books into hands, hearts and homes?
It was a busy week. It was a great week. It was a typical week. Next week, I want to celebrate the achievements of my colleagues on my campus, in my district and around the country who are struggling and striving on behalf of the kids in their communities. They are serving in order to build better futures for students, families, towns, cities, states and our nation.
According to a national study by the Wallace Foundation last April, among other findings, assistant principals are uniquely positioned to promote equitable outcomes for students and can also help address principal attrition and teacher shortages. The job isn’t easy, but I’m not asking for sympathy, condolences, praise, compliments or anything for myself. I simply want to give a shout out to the assistant principals I know who wake up every morning wanting to serve students and adults in their buildings and communities by answering the bell. I also want to say thank you to my students, staff and community for blessing me with the opportunity to serve at Jenks High School in Jenks, Oklahoma. Maybe for a brief moment in this busy week, you can drop a note of appreciation to an assistant principal near you.