Faith, Humility, and the Ongoing Fight
Celebrate The Magic During National Principals Month by Mark Cannizzaro
Being a principal forces you to step into a role that’s bigger than life. We have all seen the goofy or iconic principals from TV and the movies and shook our head in bewilderment. Even though screenwriters get it wrong, they are onto something: In a role bursting with contradiction and complexity, a principal almost has to step outside of reality to succeed. The position is propelled by love of children and a nearly superhuman effort of the will. So, this month, National Principal’s Month, as we still fight for the contract you deserve, let us celebrate you for the magic you perform every day.
I know this is no exaggeration because I have sat in your chair, not too long ago, and I know from our many conversations that your jobs have only gotten more demanding and complex. I think of you observing instruction, organizing curriculum, managing people, data and processes, ensuring safety, conducting investigations, juggling insufficient budgets yet remaining positive in order to motivate and lead effectively. Knowing all that you do and then visiting schools to witness so many kids actually loving the environment you and your teams have created, I feel like a small miracle happens every day.
Of course, behind this seemingly super-human feat you pull off daily, there is all the human blood, sweat and tears. I know that when you are not actually working, you are thinking about working. I’ve told you before how aware I am that on the rare occasion when you are home in time for a family meal, each of you has been caught by a loved one not really listening because your mind has been on a student or parent or teacher or some important task that needed to get done.
The truth is that you are running a small city, with a unique culture, which you alone will be held responsible for defining. No matter how many capable deputies you have, no matter how much responsibility you delegate, you are the last word for students, family, faculty. That’s why you show up before the sun rises and convince yourself you’re just beating the traffic. You go home late at night because you have to return phone calls and emails, complete mountains of paperwork, plan or attend events, and make sure your building has been cleaned.
At the same time, your mind is always on your most motivating role: the instructional leader who sets the academic vision and tone. If you’re successful, you know that the vision doesn’t originate wholly with you, but with the contributions of the educators on your staff and the supporters in the community. Your school’s success so often depends on how effectively you incorporate their best ideas and present the whole instructional and organizational package. Getting all of it right takes a leap of faith, an act of humility and an unbelievable amount of time.
And you’re also the champion who never gives up on students. Years later, you may choke up over a sudden thank you note or post on Facebook from the girl you helped through a difficult time, the successful college student who learned English while at your school, or the returning soldier who credits you for putting him on the right path. You make sure all your kids have backpacks and supplies, coats in winter and food for holidays. Some of you find it necessary to outfit your building with a washer and dryer so students can wear clean clothes and feel comfortable. You share in pain and suffering and offer a shoulder to lean on. There’s no compensation for that other than those notes of thanks, the celebrations and hugs over good news, and the tears of joy at graduation. And maybe sometimes you get to dance at a wedding.
I’ve never made a secret of believing that being a principal is the most rewarding job I can imagine, but I also haven’t pulled any punches about the immense challenges. As principals, we’ve all accepted the fact that our successes, expertise and good deeds will often go unrecognized, and that one perceived misstep might attract major attention from the media and the nervous bureaucracy at Tweed. Despite the rigorous principal selection process, you sometimes are micromanaged by functionaries who are layers removed from your schools. You are denied discretion over school discipline and climate, at the same time you are held to unreasonable accountability standards.
This is why I will never flinch in support of you. I have vowed not to be distracted by the flowery tributes to you. The hearts and flowers will not lighten your workload, increase your autonomy or help your students succeed. I will not give up or give in until the powers that be show you some degree of the devotion that you show your students day after day. That is my way to salute you during this special month and beyond.
Thank you for all that you give and I will see you at the rally on October 30!
Mark Cannizzaro is president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.