Keeping Our Eye on the Ball

Guest post by Danny Steele 

Dear Principal: I suspect you’re tired. It is easy to get discouraged. Some principals may even be disillusioned. As Tim Messick noted, “Job descriptions are written in such a way that a principal needs to be a superhero. A principal needs to have the power and strength of Superman, the intelligence of Albert Einstein, the popularity of Princess Diana, the political savvy of a presidential candidate, and the care and compassion of Mother Teresa.”

In a time when public schools do not always enjoy the support of policymakers and public schools are at risk of being undercut by vouchers and charter schools, principals are still charged with raising test scores in their buildings. They are tasked with leading schools that prepare students for an uncertain future. They may feel buried in mandates and distracted by controversies and negative press. How do principals respond?

We keep our eye on the ball.

We come to work each day to remove barriers for our teachers. We strive every day to create a safe school environment for students. We commit to leading a school where teachers want to work and students want to learn. We create a vision for our school community that encourages students to dream big and ensures teachers can help students achieve those dreams.

We remember that we actually play a role in raising student achievement. We embrace the responsibility of creating a school culture that elevates expectations for students and fosters meaningful collaboration among teachers. We sit with our teachers to analyze data, but we remember that each data point represents a student, their future, and all of their hopes and dreams. We work to increase student achievement, but we remember that we did not get into the business to raise test scores; we became educators to make a difference in the lives of our students.

We demonstrate every day, through what we say and how we spend our time, that meeting the needs of our students is the most important thing we do. We know that we have students walking our halls who need us. We advocate for the student who has been picked on. We are patient with the student who does not have any support at home. We make time for the student who is lonely. We are relentless about connecting with the students in our school, and we remind our teachers that they leave a legacy that transcends the curriculum. We remind them that there is not one magical instructional strategy, but there is magic in connecting with kids. We remind them that students may not always remember their lesson, but they will always remember their kindness.

We’ve all written school improvement plans. But we remember that people don’t follow plans; they follow passion. We have all been involved in the development of mission statements, but the best mission statements are not framed; they are lived. The job of a school principal is challenging—and at times it is certainly stressful. But we keep our focus. We keep our eye on the ball. We come to work every day to empower our teachers and inspire our students, to create for them a brighter future.

That is what I think we do.

How will you keep your eye on the ball?

Danny Steele serves as the principal of Thompson Sixth Grade Center in Alabaster, AL, where his passion is building a school culture that values connections with kids, fosters collaboration among teachers, and focuses on raising student achievement. He was recognized as the 2005 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year and the 2016 Alabama Secondary Principal of the Year.

2 Comments

  • Michael Thomas says:

    Great reminder to stay the course and keep our focus. Whenever I need a morale boost, I ask a teacher to take over a class and teach a lesson or unit. When I reconnect with the students in the classroom, it helps give me perspective about why I do my job. And it’s fun.

  • Jana Stowe says:

    Great way to start out on a Friday morning! Yes, we do play a critical role in letting the good things happen at school for our kids and teachers. Thanks for the strong reminder not to be distracted or disillusioned by the noise.

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