Friday, November 6, 2015

Is it just a parking spot or a strong message?

I dropped my children off at school today.  Something that I do not regularly do as I generally go to work really early. I relish in being able to do it from time to time.  I noticed something this morning that I have not noticed before.  It really bothered me, like got red in the face, the vein in my neck popped out, I started turning green like the HULK.  It is right here:

It was right up front and clearly marked.  I thought, "What is that?" or more like, "What the ?!@#?#! is that?"  I realize it is a parking spot, but it is also a message.  Not just PRINCIPAL, not just RESERVED, NO it says, PRINCIPAL ONLY.  Now I do refer to myself as a Principal, and I think all the talk about lead learner, servant leader, blah blah blah is silly.  

I do have a problem with parking spots dedicated to PRINCIPAL ONLY right up front.  Below are my initial perceptions about the Principal. I saw this and immediately wanted to spray paint it all black to block it, out of shame, for our profession.  For the record, I am not degrading or want to imply this Principal is a bad person, just the message a parking spot displays.  Here is what this parking spot tells me about the hypothetical person who parks here:  

1. I am better than you.
2. I am more important than you.
3. I am privileged.
4. I work harder than you.
5. I may not look you in the eye when you talk to me.
6. I may not have time for you to discuss your concerns, because I am THAT important.

There were so many more thoughts that popped in my head.  I stopped there a good 30 seconds to take this picture and my children wondered why I was taking pictures of the ground.  My son said, "That is where the Principal parks."  I said, "yes," it is clearly marked!  At this moment I realized my anger was a little silly/displaced towards an individual and more an idea of who we are. 

As I write this though, my anger is back!  What is wrong with a parking lot symbol...? So many things.  I would never park there, NEVER, as Outkast sang, "Neva Eva, Neva Neva Eva.," although I will let you in on a secret to build some context. 

When I got my first admin job, which I will describe in a minute, I really thought I would be able to do things like eat lunch sitting down in my office.  Run out to the store if I needed something, and shut my door to work on things.  Had I not made it?  I was the man, I was an admin, leave me alone, right?

That was quickly erased on my first day which was more like the song "bombtrack" from Rage Against the Machine than "Don't Worry Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin.  

I became assistant principal for the first time in 2005, the day after Thanksgiving break, with not one day of transition.  I literally found out a week in advance and then, there I was.  I had spent the previous 2 months as a student advisor in a middle school, but that was it.  The school at the time had a "difficult" reputation, although now, in my opinion, is one of the greatest middle schools in Delaware.  A lot of sweat and love were applied with a new Principal +Holly Sage in 2009 (I remained assistant) that created this great environment of students and staff. 

(side note) For the record, I have only eaten lunch sitting down 11 times in 11 years, Teacher Appreciation Day. Ask anyone that has done lunch duty with me in the last 11 years, they will back me up.  I eat or don't eat, but done with the kids, standing up.

Back to the story, I was somewhat in charge, not the principal, but close enough.  I thought people would respect me because of the name on my door.  That was diminished November 29th, 2004, the day "bombtrack" played out.  

Those teachers, who I love, did not care it was my first day.  They wanted help, action, a strong person to guide them.  I was none of those at that moment.  It was #eastcoastlove and they told me to "MAN UP", I joined them, talked to them, became a trusted advisor and support person.  It took a while though, it was not an immediate transition.  I struggled for a while, and it was hard.  

"WE" worked together to improve and get that hallway and classrooms the way we wanted them.  It was absolutely AWESOME at the moment. It did not happen because of a parking spot.  It happened because we worked together and we fought for each other, knowing I had their back!  That is super important.   

The point is, I realized that working in schools, whether it be a teacher, secretary, nurse, counselor, or admin is not about status or "making it."  It is not about saying, "I am more powerful than you", or "I make the decisions around here."  It is not about saying things are all great because they are not.  We are there to help and assist hundreds if not thousands of kids.  

Now I am at Carrie Downie, I bring those lessons I learned.  I am smarter, I have experiences, many more than most, I am blessed.  I am NOT Principal Only!  I want to be with you, I want to feel your pain, I want to empathize, I want to work through it with you.  My drive is your struggle, the struggle of staff and finding success with "our kids."  No one should be PRINCIPAL ONLY, we are in this together, we celebrate and cry together.  

This post though is not about our kids. They are super important and the reason why we do what we do, but this post is about our staff.  Our staff need to know that we ride with them, we fight with them, we cry with them, we support them, we backchannel with them, we text them, we laugh with them, we do all that and more.  I ran into a teaching partner today at WAWA, when I taught 5th grade, yes I taught a REAL class at one point.  He only remembers me as a teaching partner.  There was no fake respect, it went right to "what's up dude?"  It was natural, and REAL.  

Putting a ?!@#?#! parking lot sign up that says PRINCIPAL ONLY tells everyone you are not REAL.  Don't do it, sit at tables with staff at PD, teach their classes, bend over when talking to kids, eat lunch standing up or with kids, laugh a bit, apologize when needed, BE REAL.  Don't hide behind a parking lot spot and expect respect.  I am ?!@#?#! angry again. Don't be that Principal.  If you are call me (302) 323 - 2926.  That is a real number and I will talk to you about how you can change.  

Challenge me, my staff at Carrie Downie does this all the time, because I truly want them to feel like they have equal say.  I do still make final decisions.  I am not a servant leader, as I feel decision making is important, to drive vision and mission of a school, but I also want all to feel they have a voice.  Don't be a PRINCIPAL ONLY. Be real, be who you were when you got into this.  Don't expect respect, earn it, model it, talk to your staff, and don't put up symbols like parking spots that separate you.   

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