A school principal should have strong principles. When you’re dealing with the health and safety of a whole community, alongside the responsibility of ensuring children have the opportunity to learn in a happy and challenging environment, in an engaging and meaningful learning program, principles are a must. I’m cool with being 24-7 responsible for everyone in my community. But when I think of my ‘fundamental truths’ – that foundational definition of who I am – at my core I am a teacher.
One of the hardest parts of being a principal is not spending significant time in the classroom. I LOVE TEACHING! And let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be here as a Peaceful Pirate Principal if teaching was something I thought was ‘just OK’. There’s an obvious risk-reward scenario of losing some of the best classroom teachers when they move into an administrative role. It happens.
Lately, I have redefined my priorities as a principal – and reset my schedule on what I consider to be a non-negotiable principal’s principle – and I’ve made time to re-engage in the practice of classroom teaching. Last term, I co-taught a ‘Crash Course to Build a Business’ unit in the High School. This term I’m helping out teaching the science components of a thematic class called ‘Water, Waves and Whales’. Last week I spent an hour in a PS Maths lesson. This week I taught two lessons about the Toots Hibbert under the theme of ‘Integrity’ (nice that I could follow-up with my Teach More Toots blog).
What will keep me sane is spending as much time as possible in the classroom doing what I love – doing what brought me to Education. Teaching. Becoming a principal doesn’t somehow mean I am not a teacher. The work-life balance dilemma goes exponentially crazy on you when you move into a principal’s role. Educators, in general, work harder than anyone outside of the industry knows, they care more for their profession than the average 9-to-5’er, and are responsible for the future of the individuals they serve. Becoming a principal doesn’t change that – in fact, the move into admin just means you’re adding teachers, parents, Board-members, and other community-members to the list of who you care for. This job gets a little stressful at times, but teaching keeps me happy.
I also know that being in the classroom is the only way I can really connect and get to know my students. Unfortunately, if they don’t see me teaching the magic of numbers and the beauty of science, if we don’t go on an integrated real-world learning journey together, if I’m not there to provide a balanced and non-prejudiced model of thinking, if I don’t get to laugh and be challenged and fail in the classroom with my students – then they just see me as a principal who sits in an office and talks at assemblies. Teaching makes me a better principal.
Teaching helps me build stronger relationships with my teachers. I learn from them. They learn from me. We collaboratively work together on whole-school pedagogy and curriculum initiatives – right there, ‘on the ground’, in the classroom (not just in meetings and during professional development sessions). We plan together. We integrate skills and values-based learning opportunities. We talk about innovative assessments. We don’t just talk about being ‘life-long learners’ – we walk that talk – and the students see this in practice.
Being in the classroom, connecting with students, sharing my love for learning, lighting a spark, collaborating with teachers – since my very first day as a school teacher, this has been my ‘go-to’ for goodness and purpose in my life. For the sake of my students, the teachers I work with, the learning program of my school, and my own wellbeing – becoming a principal shouldn’t mean that I leave the classroom teaching to others. Teaching needs to be a ‘principal’s principle’