Happy School Principals’ Day: What I’ve Learned, And Continue To Learn, From Principals

Yesterday, all HWDSB staff received an email from Manny Figueiredo sharing that May 1st is School Principals’ Day.

As someone who’s taught at eight different schools and with countless principals and vice principals, Manny’s email really had me reflecting on my experiences over the years. At first, I was tempted to send out a bunch of threaded tweets thanking the many different administrators that I’ve learned — and continue to learn — from. Then I feared that I would forget someone important, so instead, I settled on a couple of tweets and a few personal messages to principals of the past.

I still felt that this wasn’t quite enough though. The truth is that over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to call many principals “colleagues,” and a few other ones, “friends.” As strange as this year has been for educators, I can only imagine the additional stress for administrators. If ever there was a time to recognize administrators and wish them a very happy School Principals’ Day, I think it would be this year. And so, this blog post is for all of you. Here are the numerous things that I have learned — and continue to learn — from incredible principals and vice principals in our Board, across our province, and around the world.

  1. Take the time to connect with kids. This might seem obvious, but sometimes, as educators become inundated with collecting data, meeting expectations, and worrying about what is next, it’s easy to lose sight of the value in these small moments to just chat with children. Right now, I’m thinking back fondly on many principals and vice principals that I know, who do exactly this. Maybe it’s when they go outside for recess time with the children (back when we were in physical buildings), start the day greeting families (again, back when we were in physical buildings), and/or pop into in-person or virtual classrooms to say, “hello.” I have no doubt that every principal and vice principal right now is overwhelmed with paper work, administrative tasks, and reports, but even these few minutes of connection make a huge impact. I’ve yet to find one child that doesn’t glow when connecting with an administrator.

2. Share your strengths. I’m regularly reminded that principals were teachers first. I love when they come into the classroom to co-teach and co-learn with us and with our kids. It’s a good reminder that it’s okay to ask for help — whether it be from an educator, an administrator, a family member, a community member, a student, or someone else entirely — and we can always learn a little something new when we do. With COVID restrictions and now with being online, these experiences might not always be easy to support, but I continue to wonder how we can open up our virtual classrooms as well as our physical ones.

3. Find your patience. As a kindergarten educator, there’s no doubt about it that I have to have patience … sometimes lots of it. I’m also someone though that seeks out change and am often eager to see change happen. A few principals that I’ve worked with before are helping me see that sometimes change takes time. Sometimes people need to come about the reason(s) for change(s) on their own. I’m not going to pretend that I’m always happy with slowing down and waiting this extra time, but I do appreciate the administrators that continue to teach me why it’s valuable.

4. Small talk matters. There’s no doubt about it: I might be the worst person in the world at small talk. This is especially true when I go to talk to my principal or vice principal. I often just want to get down to the issue at hand and get out. Maybe it’s because I know that they’re busy. Maybe it’s because I know that I’m busy. Maybe it’s because small talk tends to have me let down my guard, and this is when the emotions flow. Over the years though, I’ve noticed a bigger focus on the addition of small talk in conversations with administrators. Why? I wonder if this comes back to connections. Just as we want to connect with kids, is it just as valuable to connect with adults? Is this when the real dialogue and the real learning happen? I might still need to work on my small talk, but I’m beginning to better understand its purpose.

5. Presume positive intentions. There is no doubt that this is another area that I need to keep working on. I’ve worked with a few administrators over the years that most certainly have this as their motto. While I understand why it’s important to “presume positive intentions,” sometimes I wonder if making this presumption becomes the stumbling block for change. In the past few years, I’ve had a number of great conversations with my teaching partner, Paula, on this very topic. I’m now wondering if this might connect to Self-Reg. Could this be about noticing adult stress behaviour versus misbehaviour and getting to the root of the problem? Is this when and how change happens? I wonder if reframing “positive intentions” in this way helps me begin to view them differently. What about you?

6. Hear multiple perspectives, but keep the groups manageable. Strangely enough, I thought of this point as I tweeted about read alouds the other day.

I appreciate the many administrators that bring problems to the staff: to hear different opinions and to hear a variety of solutions. But when the group is too large, often the discussion ends at the sharing of problems. Over the years, I’ve had many principals and vice principals that form voluntary committees for those that want to dissect and solve problems. Thinking about the classroom connection now, a small group helps with hearing multiple voices and moving forward with solutions. How might we support these small groups more inside the classroom and online?

7. You don’t have to do it all. Yes, I like to be able to hear and see everything. If I think back to the many years when we were in-person, at times this would lead me to moving more frequently around the room. Have I connected with every child enough? Is there someone that I need to see more? Over the years, this has led to Paula and I talking more about whom we’ve each seen. I’m slowly coming to realize that it’s okay to let go and share responsibilities, so that I can go deeper with some kids instead of a mediocre amount with everyone. This makes me think as well about principals and vice principals that I’ve worked with before. How do they divide tasks and responsibilities? There’s a huge element of trust here, and maybe it’s the connections that happen first that allow this trust to also happen.

8. Consider multiple perspectives. As a classroom teacher, it’s easy to get caught up in what might work best for our students and our families. Principals and vice principals though need to think about the entire school community. Sometimes both perspectives don’t align. Yes, I might still fight for OUR kids, but hearing the “why” from administrators gives me a better appreciation when things don’t go according to what I might like/want. Connecting to an earlier point, it’s those principals and vice principals that take the time to talk you through the thinking process that often help with furthering understanding and a changing perspective.

9. Sometimes it’s valuable to just be blunt. I understand and respect the challenges with always saying things as they are, and I’m not going to pretend that I’ve always been happy with bluntness, but over the years, I’ve asked for it from administrators. I’ve wanted to know, what worked? What didn’t? How could I do better? And once I had the chance to get past my emotions and think about the feedback, it was their advice that helped change my teaching practices for the better. This makes me think about the relationship that Paula and I have now. We can also be blunt with each other, and we are. It’s how we question choices, dissect problems, and explore other possibilities that continue to help us improve our program. Trust and relationships are the key to making these tough conversations work, and I feel fortunate that I’ve had some amazing administrators as “critical friends.”

10. Say “thank you.” Everybody wants to be recognized for the work that they do, especially when it’s hard and/or has been a challenging year. I think about principals over the years that wrote notes of thanks, whether it be when returning report cards/Communications of Learning, for a holiday message, and/or at the end of the school year. At a stressful time, these words are often ones that I return to and that keep me going. They’re why I try to say thank you whenever possible, and strive to keep my “thanks” genuine. As a little added bonus, a humorous note is also wonderful. Never underestimate the value in a good laugh.

On this School Principals’ Day, I’d like to thank each and every administrator that I’ve worked with, connected with, and/or befriended over the years. May you all have the relaxing weekend that you deserve. What have you learned from principals and vice principals, past and present? I hope others can add to this list and share their memories from over the years.


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