Guest post by Jimmy Casas
In the past I have been a part of several conversations with teachers, students, parents, principals, and aspiring administrators about the challenges that come with being a building principal. The conversation caused me to reflect on the work we do on a daily basis as building leaders and to determine what is it exactly that causes others to say, “I would never want your job.”
The truth is I am worried about the long-term impact of potential principal candidates because of the perception that is often associated with the work that we do. These perceptions lead others to believe that being a principal is not worth it and that makes me sad. We need to combat this perception and that can only happen if building leaders begin to ask the question, “Why do you say that?” and then take time to talk about why they feel the way they do. It worries me when building leaders fall into the trap of agreeing with these types of comments because somehow it makes us appear that we can manage so much more than others. No, we are not superhuman. Yes, we are confronted with many challenges on a daily basis, but quite frankly, so are teachers and support staff who work in schools. We need our best classroom teachers pursuing administrative roles in schools so they can utilize their talents to make an even greater impact on our school communities.
I aim to change some of these perceptions that cause some to believe that school administration is not worth it because of the challenges that are attributed to the role of a school leader or for that matter, the role of any leader of an organization. Here are a few of my thoughts on why you should want my job. When you become a school principal you will learn that…
- You don’t have to do it all by yourself. The key to any successful leader is recognizing that everyone in your organization has strengths, skills, and talents that if cultivated, can help move your school forward in a more efficient, effective, and positive manner. Building a strong, cohesive office team is one of the best parts about working in administration.
- You don’t have to have all of the answers. You now have the collective knowledge and wisdom of dozens of others staff members to help you navigate potentially treacherous issues. Leaning on others and asking for help can be invigorating for you and staff. This will show your staff that you trust them and believe in their skills and abilities.
- You don’t have to miss the kids. Leaving the classroom doesn’t have to mean that you can no longer make the same type of impact with students that you made when you were a teacher. Creating your own opportunities for fostering positive and meaningful relationships with kids by seeking them out and spending time with them in intentional ways can still occur and it is still unbelievably rewarding.
- Your students still want to have a voice. What a tremendous opportunity we have to take student voice and their talents to an even greater scale. Providing opportunities for your student body to raise their voice and participation will help cultivate a culture where students not only have a seat at the table, but truly have a voice at the table.
- To some, you will now become a “they.” In my opinion, this is one of the biggest changes new administrators struggle with when they move into their new role and in all fairness, you need to know this. And it is even more challenging when the level change happens within the same building where one taught. No matter the reason why this happens, focus more on being a strong partner to all regardless of the title people carry and don’t ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself. By investing in others you will learn it’s not about a title, but about making a significant difference in each other.
- If you want to perform your new responsibilities at a high level, you will need to invest the time. The fact is you are expected to serve more people and with that expectation comes greater responsibility. But that doesn’t have to translate to something negative. Resetting your mindset so that you see your new role as principal not as a title or job, but as a way of life, will pay great dividends when it comes to staying positive and experiencing the joy of serving others.
- How you respond when you don’t know what to do is where you grow the most as a leader. Accept the fact that you will be faced with this dilemma often. By looking at every challenge as an opportunity to grow, you will begin to see difficult situations in a different light. No longer will you begrudge or avoid conflict; rather you will learn to embrace it. By doing so, you will become a stronger and more compassionate leader.
- The role of the principal will look like what you want it to look like. If the perception that some have about building principals is that we spend all of our time sitting at our desks or in meetings, doing paperwork and answering emails, addressing naughty kids or dealing with unreasonable parents, then that is on us for not effectively communicating to others the work we do in a more practical and accurate manner.
We cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in a closed mindset that defines the role of the principal as, “It is what it is and it’s always been this way.” If our intentions are to inspire others to follow our lead and pursue administrative positions, then we must do exactly that; create more opportunities for ourselves and for others to lead and inspire so we tell our story in a way that truly reflects how wonderful this profession really is. As leaders, we must accept the responsibility that the role of the principal will become whatever we want it to become, and what others believe the job demands and how they see it is also on us.
School administrators play a significant role when it comes to educating our children and impacting our school communities. The role of a school leader doesn’t have to look like it has always looked like or be what others want it to be or what they believe it should be.
Why should you want my job?
Our charge as school leaders is to get our best people to ask a different question:
“Why wouldn’t I want your job?”
Jimmy Casas is principal of Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, IA and the 2012 Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year. He will lead three sessions, including the Assistant Principal Hackathon, at the Ignite ’16 conference, February 25–27 in Orlando, FL. This post previously appeared on his blog, Passion…Purpose…Pride.