Wish you were Here

What's on my [Crazy] Desk?
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Andy Woo via Compfight

Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail… How I wish you were here –Pink Floyd

Today’s post is largely about the hidden world of administration.  Its about the things that go on behind the scenes to ensure that schools stay open, teachers continue to have jobs, and students can continue to learn.  I often hear educators lament that they wish they could “just teach”, yet frequently there is a lack of understanding of what must transpire to allow educators to “just teach”.  One of the greatest complaints I often hear from teachers is that they wish that their principal could be in their classrooms more often.  As a principal, I share this frustration.

All principals began as teachers, they hold their teaching credential and I believe most (not all) still find that the classroom is where their heart truly feels at home.  Yet, the awesome responsibility of helming the ship that is the school and steering it on a particular course often means that we have to judiciously choose when, where, and how we can interact with the classroom environment.  In self-contained classrooms, it is very easy for teachers to develop a myopic view in which their classroom becomes the only world in which they live.  The principal understands this world, but also has the worlds of every other classroom in mind when charting the course for a school.   To help breach the event horizon of the classroom walls and principal’s office, I’d like to share a typical day of a principal with those of you who are reading this.  Perhaps a better understanding of what principals do and what keeps us from being in the classrooms every moment of the day will help to illuminate what is often a teacher’s complaint and a principal’s greatest frustration.

6:30-7:00AM – Arrive at school, start up office machines so that teachers can make copies without waiting 8 minutes for the machine to warm up, check voicemails, emails, calendars, lesson plans for the day.

7:00 -7:45AM – Greet parents, and students as they arrive to the school, listen to parent concerns and ideas about the direction of the school, speak with teachers about how they are doing, monitor traffic safety, direct security assignments for the remainder of the day.

7:45-8:15AM – Close down entryways to the school, secure perimeter, and begin working with those who are arriving tardy to school, escort late arrivals to their classrooms.

8:15-8:30AM – Re-check emails, respond to emails, review attendance reports, respond to voicemails, morning meeting with office and administrative staff.

8:30-9:00AM- Meeting with major shareholder of the school and campus grounds, issues dealing with property management, non-school time room assignments, safety issues.

9:00-10:00AM – Scheduled meetings with parents, business leaders, parish employees, etc.

10:00AM-10:40AM – Supervise recess with students, meet with students and teachers, at conclusion of recess observe a classroom.

10:40-11:00AM – Conduct walkthrough of entire building, informal observations of teaching and learning.

11:00-11:30AM – Check and respond to emails, voicemails, issues as they have arisen throughout the day.

11:30-12:00PM – Administrative meeting

12:00-1:00PM – Supervise lunch (if lucky eat lunch while supervising) meet with teachers and students

1:00-3:00PM – This time usually varies but it is often booked with diocesan/school district meetings, Consultative School Board Meetings, Meetings with the local public school district, Meetings with parents, Meetings with business manager regarding budget, etc. Largely this time period is very booked and many of the meetings take place off-campus.

3:00-4:30PM – Meet with teachers that have requested appointments, meet with parents who could not take time off from work to be present during normal school day hours, review financial situations of families and help design payment plans to assist families in need.

4:30-5:00PM – Review lesson plans, review grades and assignments teachers have submitted for students, review events of the day, check and return emails, phone calls, and other important matters, attend school events (choir, art, athletics).

5:00-6:00PM – Meet with administrative team (If lucky get something quickly to eat), prepare for next meeting.

6:00-7:00PM – Parent Guild meeting, then return home.

(Though this is off-time often we are constantly checking emails and reviewing education issues for the rest of the night)

It is quite a busy schedule and one that I have only begun to scratch the surface of in terms of describing all that goes on to keep the school running.  There are many days with alternative meetings or responsibilities.  Days in which a budget must be constructed, reviewed, and invoices and reimbursements paid out. Days in which a parent reveals that they have just lost a job and that he or she does not know how to keep his or her children in the school. Days when a medical emergency takes place, or an important teacher review takes place.  These all occur, ebb and flow as the school is in operation.

Believe me when I say, that the best place to be and the place most principals desire to be is in your classrooms. However, also know that we are steadily charting the waters of education through a sea of obstacles.  We steer a course that takes us from your classrooms so that you have the ability to teach children.  We have faith in you as educators to do what is best and to make smart decisions to help every child succeed.  To that end, we are constantly checking lesson plans, grades, summative assessments, and conducting informal observations as we sail through the tumultuous seas of teaching.

There are times that we schedule more formal observations, however we cherish and take any chance we get to see what is happening within the walls of your classrooms.  It may look like we are simply moving from one emergency to the next, but in those few brief moments we are walking through or by your room, we are present.  We are observing. We watch, classroom management, pedagogical practice, student interaction, methodology, and a myriad of other important factors that relate to your teaching of students.  Just as you are trained experts in teaching (as are principals) we are trained experts in observing and leading. It’s a daunting task to get to know your classroom of 30 children, but remember the principal is charged with the wonderful duty of learning every child within the school (often some 200-600 students).

Again, I share this so that a greater understanding of what transpires for a principal can be shared with teachers.  I am often amazed that the one greatest complaint from teachers to principals is often also the one greatest frustration of principals.  Yet, there are duties that must be followed if the school is to remain open and students are to be able to learn.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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