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Another point about the Principal

Having previously discussed the principal, I want to make one thing absolutely clear, because it occurred to me that I possibly hadn't. I do apologize for the less than stellar outline/organization of these posts -- but I tend to post things as they occur to me, even when I'm working on the middle of the next post (a continuation of grade one).

Being the principal that she was is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the delicate, the emotional, the entitled or the timid. Especially not for the timid. To be the principal that Jane Fletcher was requires a focus, a will, a determined affection and respect for the children of the school and an ability to take a crapload of heat.

Because there will be heat.

The little boy whose mother got the afternoon phone call? She was at work. Jane did not care. Jane didn't care that the mother would have to leave work early with no notice, because there was no one else to come pick the boy up; the boy was going home, and the mother was going to come and get him. The mother was livid by all parental reports.

That livid would of course be visited on Jane (for her total lack of consideration), and then it would, if the parent were determined, go above Jane, becoming employment politics in the process and heat from above as the various people who don't like screaming, furious parents comes to bear back down on the principal.

Add to that the parents who somehow feel that their children are above the rules, that their children couldn't possibly have broken any of those rules, and that there's nothing wrong with their child if he or she did; he or she is just a child after all, and kids will be kids.

(In my opinion, some kids will also drop their pants and pee in the streets without intervention at the right age, but no one would argue that that would be acceptable behaviour in a school yard).

Most of the adults of my acquaintance are conflict-averse. They just are. They're not four, they're not five, they're adults--but they hate conflict with a passion. And this job, if done well in my opinion, is a conflict magnet, at least to start.

I know that people are often frustrated with the education system, and for good reason. But how many people do we know who could handle the conflicts that occur--not with the children, but with other adults, some superior in position--on a daily basis? How many adults do we know who can handle that sanely, rationally and without an ulcer? How hard would it be to just leave it alone for one day or two because today is just not the day to have to deal with screaming fury and the possible angry letters from school trustees?

Not very hard. We all do it. We do it at work; we do it at home.

Jane didn't. She didn't, because she couldn't; the cost to the kids and the overall environment would be too high. And sadly, I think this type of backbone is what it does take to create the safe space that leaves no fertile ground for bullying to grow.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that all parents are difficult or hostile. But most of us are frightened or nervous, which means we're not at our best when discussing the future of our child; it's bloody hard not to be defensive. In some cases, being a quiet, reasonable parent is actually not in the best interest of our children, either -- and it's so hard to know when we're trying to assess the situation.

As the Principal, however, Jane also had to deal with nervous, sometimes prickly, parents like me.

It's not all it takes--but I honestly think having the right Principal at the top of the school chain is the single most important element. Individual teachers can make their classrooms safe spaces. But if they have a Principal who will not support them in their dealings with parents and students, that's all they can do, and sometimes they have to be creative to do that much.

Some principals are good administrators, some are very good at dealing with parents, with bureaucrats, with trustees. They're comfortable to be around for the adults. But they don't and can't, imho, achieve what Jane Fletcher achieved, because they are focusing on the things that will make their jobs more comfortable for themselves, the parents of 'good' children, and the small office they run; they're not focusing on the kids.

And some parents inexplicably want that: they want the person with the winning smile, the charm, the great handshake. What they should want for the sake of the kids is the person who is out there with those kids, the way Jane was.

The other strong advantage of Jane Fletcher: she was a good Principal, and teachers knew it. So they wanted to work with and for her, and she therefore had really good teachers lining up to come to my son's school. Because Teachers also want a principal who will have their back, and who will not dump the ire of a parent or a trustee on the teacher if things go wrong.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 3rd, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
When I had to visit the high school for my son's Nth "doesn't turn in his homework" visit (eventually turned out to be perfectionism caused by undiagnosed severe anxiety), the principal walked him and me back to his class, already in progress. She knew every single kid she passed in the halls, greeted them by name, and told them to get to class. She *ran* that high school. She was also the only principal I ever dealt with who treated my "problem kid" like a person and made it clear that he would be helped or else.

She retired two years back; she's going to be missed.
Nov. 3rd, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
All of this so totally! Utterly!

As a teacher myself I want to quote the whole thing and say this, but you already said it all, so why make others reread it, just so I can say THIS!

If you have this, even a lack of proper training in how to deal with difficult pedagogical situations can be overcome for the whole school.

A clear line of what to do and someone to stick by it and keep our backs free so we can concentrate on making it a reality in the classroom.
Nov. 3rd, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
And we get nervous parents, of course, but it is the entitled parents I remember...
Nov. 3rd, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
We get common-sense parents, too, I should add. They don't seem to be the majority that come in, unfortunately ^^ - because they know the capabilities of their children, and if I as a teacher only react to what their kids do and don't "persecute" them otherwise, they just won't come in.
Nov. 3rd, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
- as long as their kids grades are fine. If not, they sometimes come in to get some helpful hints.
Nov. 4th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
I think that anyone would like to have a supervisor that stands up for you and maintains clear standards. However, I think you are absolutely correct that this is critical in schools. Children of all ages need to feel safe and learn that there are rules for everyone.
Nov. 4th, 2010 02:30 am (UTC)
Ah. Yes. You've described the ideal principal I long to work for, but probably never will.
Nov. 4th, 2010 05:04 am (UTC)
And hence one of the main issues we have in America with our Education system. :(
Nov. 5th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
I just love this series of posts. I love the way you describe the situation from all different angles, and how you present that "problem parents" are not problems because they're malicious or uncaring, but because they're human and normal.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )