E pluribus unum.Out of many, one.
It sounds cliché, I understand. Yet, as I reflect on the past few months after being recognized as the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals 2018 Principal of the Year, and after participating in the NASSP Principals Institute in Washington, D.C., I find this to be a remarkably simple and accurate summary of principals around our state and nation.
I began my educational career as a math teacher, determined to inspire young minds to solve problems and make sense of this complex world and the systems we use to describe and model it. Now, nearly two decades later I find that is still my mission—but I play a very different role as a principal, and the arena has expanded to teachers, support staff, families, and community members.
In fact, every principal I have had the honor of meeting has shared with me a similar heartbeat for their own community—to inspire, to make a difference, to empower. These same principals are also the ones who humbly go about their day-to-day lives, never drawing attention to themselves, but using their positions to lead and serve their schools. And serve. And serve more, and more still. It is no wonder the turnover in our profession is so high, as the demands of the job are never-ending. Regardless of setting, principals have shared with me the variety of initiatives, activities, and duties that come with the territory, and I’ve found a peculiar sense of comfort in learning they are similar to mine. What has been most intriguing is that however diverse our settings are, our “why” is the same. E pluribus unum.
I’ve had the honor of connecting with principals in small high schools around the country that enroll less than 300 students as well as those with a population similar to the one in which I work with over 2,200 students. There is a wide range of accessible resources and facilities as well. The demographics and socioeconomic status of communities are as varied as the populations, and yet the role of the principal in each setting remains the same: leading, teaching, and learning; managing resources; problem-solving; hiring and retaining staff; student supervision; etc. Their heartbeats are similar—they beat for their students and teachers. E pluribus unum.
While in Washington, D.C., we came together to take advantage of the opportunity to unify our voices and advocate for students, teachers, and public education on Capitol Hill. Our own backgrounds were different, and each state flag or mural hung in an office reminded us that we represented an even more diverse mix of educators. The political landscape and pressing issues from each state had voices that pulled our representatives in so many directions. Yet, our mission to advocate for students and teachers was one voice from principals. E pluribus unum.
If I’m being honest, being a principal is one of the most rewarding things I do (it is a runner-up to being a husband and father), but at times it is certainly the loneliest place to be. There are difficult decisions that have to be made in every school and there are many eyes watching your every move. For those who are in the profession and are doubting that they can make it through these pressures, please hold on and keep marching! Our students and teachers need you. Don’t lose sight of your purpose. You are not alone. There are quite literally thousands of great school leaders whose hearts beat just like yours, and we need each other in order to keep moving forward. As the proverb states….as iron sharpens iron…
And that leads me back to the greatest lesson I have learned as Michigan’s Principal of the Year. Throughout many schools, with many stories to tell and many students and teachers we serve, there is one common mission of principals: to inspire, equip, and empower students and staff to be citizen scholars. I am proud to be one of the many. E pluribus unum.
With so many people and tasks that need your attention, it is important to find ways for us to take time for ourselves, grow professionally, and remember our “why”. What steps do you take as a principal to connect with other leaders, stay energized, and stay inspired to carry out your mission?
Jason Schrock is the principal of Howell High School in Howell, MI. He is the 2018 Michigan Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @HowellSchrock.