Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Principal's Office

cc licensed photo shared by flickr user ecastro

“Do you know, there are kids who are afraid of principals?” I asked with a smile, turning to the first grade teacher who sat with me and a nervous six year old. We had just finished reassuring this child that we had spoken to him about his behavior on the bus the day before, not because we were angry, but because we were  concerned about his safety. We knew from his mother that he was indeed afraid of principals, so afraid that he convinced his younger sister that she should be terrified of her gentle and caring nursery school director.

The child began to giggle and I turned to him, smiling. “You’re laughing. You must have heard of kids who are afraid of principals.” 

“I’m one of those kids. I’m afraid of principals.” he said emphatically, his eyes widening and his giggles  transforming into a deep belly laugh. The teacher and I burst into genuine laughter right along with him. The teacher then stated what had already become obvious to him; he need not be afraid. He left my office chatting happily with his teacher, having gained newfound trust in me and, I’d venture to say, principals generally.

I imagine he is not alone. I imagine there are not only students, but also teachers in many if not most schools who, if answering honestly might declare, “I’m one of those teachers. I’m afraid of principals.”

As I prepare for upcoming individual conferences with each teacher to discuss professional learning goals, supports, action plans to meet goals, and ways of monitoring, assessing, and celebrating progress, I wonder. As I visit classrooms, offering feedback, compliments, and engaging with learning and teaching, I wonder. As I seek ways of meaningfully showing appreciation, admiration, and respect for teachers, I wonder. How might we hold high expectations, without blame and criticism, but rather with support and mutual accountability for student learning and well-being? How might we transform judgmental evaluation processes, with the potential to be fear-provoking, irrelevant, or both, into a commitment to meaningful professional learning, sharing, and growth?

It’s not only students and teachers who are afraid. Sometimes, principals are afraid as well. Our fear struck me upon reading a recent tweet, with a link to a blog post: I’m Afraid!

Ron McAllister is a colleague to whom I frequently turn for insight and his words resonate powerfully with me as he poetically states:

I am afraid that I will not inspire my staff.
I am afraid that I will not appreciate them enough.
I am afraid that I will not provide enough support to them.
I am afraid that I will not give specific enough feedback directly linked to improved teaching and learning.
I am afraid that I will not be learning quickly enough to stay current with best practice.

I read Ron’s words with respect for his honesty and with admiration for his aspiration. And, I wonder. What if we reframed our  fears as aspirations?

I aspire to support teachers to find inspiration within themselves. 

I aspire to show appreciation and gratitude to teachers by recognizing contribution and complimenting effort and accomplishment.

I aspire to put a wide variety of supports into place and to trust teachers to choose the supports of greatest value to them. 

I aspire to provide feedback in the form of nonjudgmental observations and questions, specifically linked to teachers’ professional learning goals and evidence of student learning.

I aspire to take in feedback with humility, to remain open to ideas and possibilities, and to continue learning and aspiring. 

How might we transform our fear into creative, energetic aspiration? I welcome your insights.

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Comments on: "Who’s Afraid of Principals?" (6)

  1. Shira,
    Your blogs are always thought-provoking!
    I think “fear” of the unknown stops many people – little and big. I love how you lead by example by turning those fears into aspirations as you continue learning and aspiring.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Fran,
      I’ve been wondering about fear and courage; reflecting on ways in which we can face and potentially transform our fears without negating them. Fear does give us valuable information that we can’t ignore. I don’t think I’ve yet turned fears into aspirations, but I am aspiring to do so. I suppose that’s the learning I’ve gained through some recent reflections and putting some of them into words in this post. Thanks for the thoughts!

  2. […] Enough” is a lower elementary principal in New Jersey. A special favorite of mine is the post “Who’s Afraid of Principals?” posted 10.09.12 that so aptly conveys a student vision of adults and reminds adults to stop and […]

  3. I love this post. It is so timely and inspirational to me to view so many progressive leaders who truly wish to motivate their staff and students in so many ways.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Thanks so much for your encouragement! The goal setting process has been potent, enabling us to consider carefully together ways of learning and growing that make sense. It is a learning process and as we go we gain facility in tailoring our goals to have greater impact on student learning.

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