Rethinking The Principal’s Office

I’m not a principal, and I’ve never had any interest in being one, but this summer, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for administration. Being a coordinator at one of the Camp Power sites has made me the first person that instructors approach when there are problems. Now instead of me being the one calling for support, I’m the one that people call. Over the past 12 days, I’ve worked with various children, and each experience has made me view the office differently. Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I wonder what would happen if each principal’s office was equipped with a variety of sensory materials (i.e., play dough, clay, water beads, kinetic sand, etc.), some building materials (particularly blocks and Lego), beads, a small container of books, drawing materials, and a tent (or a blanket for draping over a table). Couple this with “time” and “building relationships,” and I wonder if the need for punishment would/could be drastically reduced. 

Over the summer, every time that somebody’s approached me with a problem, I’ve tried to think of Stuart Shanker‘s words: “Why this child? Why now?” I’ve attempted to see the problem through a Self-Reg lens, and respond accordingly. I’m not going to say that this is always easy, or that I haven’t made mistakes, but something interesting happens in the “library office.” As children come in, sit down, and play, they slowly start to calm down. As they start to feel calm, they talk. It’s through this discussion that I begin to see the problem from their perspective. We work out solutions together and find a way to make it back to the classroom.

  • Sometimes the child just needs a healthy snack.
  • Sometimes the child needs to bring back an activity from the library to continue in the classroom.
  • Sometimes the child needs a pair of headphones: a way to make any room quiet.
  • Sometimes the child just needs to know that you’ll check in again and make sure everything’s okay.
  • Sometimes the little break is all the child needed and can go back without anything else. 

Punishment was not my goal this summer, and I’m thankful to say that it wasn’t necessary. I realize the camp program is different from a school. We have fewer children. Groups are smaller. Our age range is a lot less. I also don’t have the same additional responsibilities that a principal would have at school. But being on the other side of solving these problems this summer gave me a whole new perspective on what’s possible when time, love, and self-regulation combine. 

While my summer experience made me rethink the principal’s office, it also made me rethink the classroom. What if sensory materials, building items, beads, books, drawing materials, and a safe “hiding space,” were present in all classrooms? Couple all of these with “time” and “relationships,” and I wonder if many problems could be solved in the room and without the need for punishment. In yesterday’s Ontario Edublogs post, Doug Peterson highlighted Sharon Drummond‘s classroom design post. As we get ready to go back to school, I wonder what impact self-regulation will have on classroom design, and how we can design learning spaces that reduce problematic office visits, increase success for all children, and help create a feeling of calm that children and adults both need and deserve. What might you do? 


6 thoughts on “Rethinking The Principal’s Office

  1. I love this post, Aviva! The principal’s office that you described complete with sensory materials, building materials, books, etc. is the exact office my administrators have created for our students. The challenge is that so many – I’m talking about staff – still think of the office as a punitive place, and I fall into that trap from time to time as well. Instead, our principal and vice principal have worked hard to make their offices spaces where our kids feel safe, heard, understood.

    I was fortunate to attend the first day of the Self-Reg Symposium this summer and I am currently making my way through Dr. Shanker’s Self-Reg book. I find myself thinking about my students from last year, many who will travel with me to Grade 1, and even my own kids, and two things keep challenging me: ‘why this child? Why now?’ and ‘see a child differently, see a different child.’

    My goal this year is to work hard on reframing the behaviour that I see and dig deeper to help me understand what is driving the behaviour. And on those occasions where I do send one of my littles to the office it will be with the understanding that they are going because that is what they need to de-escalate and breathe, not for punitive consequences. When I know better, I do better.

    • Thanks for your comment, Chris! I absolutely love this, and your last sentence sums things up so well. I’ve fallen into the “punishment trap” too, and I’ve been fortunate to work with different principals that really try to see behaviour differently. Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and The MEHRIT Centre have helped do the same thing for me. You shared here two of my favourite Shanker quotes, and ones I try to think about during challenging times. Maybe I just needed a different summer experience to further view behaviour through an alternate lens.

      Thinking about Shanker’s words though, I wonder if we applied these same words to adults. Why might an adult be seeking a punishment? How can we change this view? Always so much to consider.


  2. Thank you for this post! I love the idea of principal’s offices being designed through a self-reg lens. I am fortunate to have always worked for administrators that understood the importance of providing a calm space to regroup and -if the child was ready- to talk. I wonder how many less children would need to visit that space, however, if the classrooms already had all of the things you mentioned above: ‘safe’ hiding place, sensory materials, etc.

    I love how you brought up some of the differences between camp and school. I recently took the Foundations 3 course and wrote a reflection about how I considered the summer camp I attended as a child (different from the camp you were referring to but likely some similarities as well) to be a self-reg “haven” and why. It’s so interesting to me to think about why that environment lends itself to children self-regulating so successfully- I think the self-directed learning, the massive amounts of time spent outside, and the close relationships are all so key. Thanks for reminding me of this!

    • Thanks for your comment, Letha! I agree with you that the presence of some of these materials and spaces in the classroom might reduce the need for some office visits. (This is why I just had to add in that last paragraph.) For those students that still need a change of space, having similar items available to them might also lead to the “calm” they need to work through the problem. It’s really about reconsidering “punishment” at a classroom and office level.

      I love your comment about summer camps. As you describe what made these camps “Self-Reg Havens,” I think about our Kindergaten classroom and the similarity in design. I wonder how we could bring more of a camp mentality and environment to the classroom. What benefits might this have for kids and staff? Thanks for extending this important conversation!


  3. I was so excited to respond I must have missed the part in the last paragraph about reducing visits to the principal- thanks for pointing it out.

    To further the discussion re. camps and, like you asked, what could be transferable to the classroom, I think about how much time was spent cultivating relationships. One day a week was spent entirely with your cabin group, engaged in whichever activity you decided upon together- these were amazing opportunities for strengthening connections and building shared experiences- think mud fights, campfires, picnics, art activities, canoeing, etc. Mealtimes were always spent eating with your dedicated group, and, after every evening meal, there was about 20 minutes of singing. I think singing is definitely something I could do more of in my own classroom- as well as making a conscious effort of always sitting down to eat snack with my students. (We are a school with a dedicated school-wide snack time). I have found these moments of eating together among the most enjoyable and relaxed times we share.
    Another thing that camps do well (or at least mine did) was to allow children to pursue their own avenues of learning. They were permitted to follow their own interests and at their own pace. Counsellors were there to scaffold learning – there were levels to achieve- however, children decided when they were ready to demonstrate their knowledge. In the classroom, this to me echoes inquiry-based learning but contrasts heavily with standardized assessments (which, in Quebec, I must administer in Grade 2). I could go on and on, but in my 1/2 classroom, these are some of the ways I think I’d be able to replicate some of the camp ‘goodness’ in a school setting. What about you? What was done differently at Camp Power than a ‘typical’ classroom setting? What could be transferred? Thank you for this conversation!

    • Thanks Letha for continuing this conversation! I love how you highlighted some things that happened at camp, and what you could do in the classroom to create a similar learning environment. At camp, staff eat with students. This is a great way to build relationships and find out more about kids. You mentioned the idea of having snack with your students. In our K class, we have an open snack table and students eat throughout the day when they’re hungry. This allows my teaching partner and I to sit down periodically and eat with kids. We love this time!

      We also have big blocks of learning time at camp. This allows kids to pursue interests, but also dig deeper. This is so important when it comes to inquiry-based learning, and again, makes me think of the K Program Document and our flow of the day. With these bigger blocks of time, instructors can also be responsive to students. If a child is not ready to write in the morning, this may happen in the afternoon. Instructors also find ways to merge reading, writing, math, and play. I see this happening in our K Program as well, and wonder what’s possible in other grades as well as how we can extend this even more this year.

      Our camp also includes wonderful community partnerships, particularly with the Boys and Girls Club of Hamilton. While parent engagement has always been important for me, I never considered community engagement quite as much. I wonder what partnerships we could form and/or what partnerships other schools have formed.

      I’d love to hear more about what others have tried and how they might answer your fantastic questions! As the coordinator, I don’t have a class of my own, so much of what I shared here is based on my observations and experiences in other people’s classrooms.


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