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Challenge: Finding Your Village

My Principal’s Principles - Beyond the Classroom

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It seems like just yesterday I was preparing for my first day as the newly appointed middle school principal. I had spent the last couple of weeks making sure all the students' schedules were accurate, all textbooks were delivered to the classrooms, homeroom assignment were perfectly posted on the front door of the school and my staff was prepared to motivate and educate. The first day arrives and I drive up the Avenue that led me to a perfectly manicured lawn which surrounds a state of the art school building. I still remember the thought of this being “my building.” As I walk into my office perfectly decorated with motivational posters and my education degrees framed on the wall I sit back in my leather desk chair and thinking about all the hard work to get to this point. I gaze out of my window noticing the American flag blowing in the wind as I prepare for the first bus to pull up. My thought, “This year is going to be amazing! The students will be eager to learn and will be so excited to be in school.” That is what I was taught in all my methods classes.

Here the bus comes toward the school. I make my way to the front entrance, smiling ear to ear ready to greet my students. I say a quick good morning to the staff members as they are making their way to their morning posts. Life is good! Then I hear the squealing of the bus’s brakes and take note that not all of the students were sitting quietly in their seats like they did in all the textbooks illustrations we reviewed in college. Don’t get me wrong, most of the kids were arriving to school sitting in their seats but I noticed one boy with his arms hanging out the window, another student standing in the aisle and yet another one yelling from the back of the bus to the front. Oh No! Not at my school. I quickly enter the bus and welcome the students but remind them the proper way to ride the bus to school. Mid speech, three more buses pull in with similar circumstances and there is no way I am going to be able to address each one of them. Think Jessie, think! Awe-Harry Wong!

As an aspiring educator, I was exposed to an array of techniques suggesting how to be a successful administrator. Everything looked picture perfect, efficient and organized. I can recall numerous references to a particular educator, Harry Wong. Mr. Wong was an expert on teacher effectiveness providing effective teaching skills, classroom management, and delivering teacher’s expectations to students. His techniques and suggestions almost looked redundant as he explained step by step how to collect papers from rows of students, how to get their attention, etc. Now I know why he was so precise and regimented. The message I took away from his lessons is that students of all ages need direction, rules, procedures and guidance.

So it is my turn. After six years watching these school buses pull up to the middle school, I have developed my own techniques when working with my students. My students, parents and colleagues now know that I cut straight to the heart of any “issue,” demonstrate overflowing compassion and work as a team player. My intention is to advocate for all my student’s education and safety while I work tirelessly to ensure I never leave any stone unturned when trying to help one of my students. I protect my students when in my care or when they are out in the community and I will continue to support them as they become grownups. Those same people know that when faced with that “issue,” I don't beat around the bush. I feel like a large portion of my job description is to ultimately prepare youth to be productive, respectful members of our community. This is not an easy task, but I have never been one to succumb to a challenge.

Yearly, I am honored with the task of educating and maintaining the safety of 700-750 students - not just any students - but middle school students! So to maintain my sanity, forestall the gray hairs and decrease the appearance of stress related wrinkles, I have to be organized, efficient, on my toes, speak with a teacher’s voice and guide with an open heart. I developed clear guidelines of what I expect out of my students and after 17 years I have streamlined what I believe are paths to success: my Principal’s Principles!

  1. Whatever you do...own up to it - Nothing drives me more crazy than a kid who can blatantly deny something they did when caught red handed. I have yet to allow a student to pull the wool over my eyes and find some of the excuses students can come up with quite comical when backed into a corner. What makes it more entertaining is that as a middle school educator, I know that an occasional student is going to make poor decisions that will shock any adult, but if you are man or woman enough to do the deed, be man or woman enough to admit it. Which is a nice segway to my second principle.

  2. Mistakes are okay….. if you learn from them - We were all kids at one time. We can all take a stroll down memory lane and laugh off some of the ill advised choices that led us into the principal’s office. All kids make mistakes and most adults understand it is a part of the adolescent period of growing. As educators, we issue discipline based on the severity of the situation and on what measures will inhibit the behavior from happening again. Those students survive their punishment and all parties involved can agree to leave it in the past; tomorrow is a new day. Now, if the same students repeat the same behavior a week or so later, believing that lightning won’t strike twice, they are in for an electrifying awakening. At that point, The Compassionate Educator is on high alert realizing history is repeating itself. I would not want to be that student.

  3. Only believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear. - Sometimes I wish MY messages to students where taken HALF as seriously as the rumor that started during 2nd period history class. Don’t these students know that I know what I am talking about and not the members of the drama club ready to stir the pot? My first question to any student who has passed on gossip about another student is “Did you witness this happen?” If the answer is no, then spreading that rumor only makes you look silly. If the answer is yes, mind your own business because most likely you only caught part of the action or conversation.

  4. I might have been born at night, but not last night- It is amazing how students think their prank for lack of a better word is original. They must never have heard the saying “Been there, done that.” We all know that if a group of boys all have to go to the bathroom at the same time, there will be an altercation. We know that a bully is not a one time offender so when girls continuously issue a complaint, we have a repeat offender. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck. Cheat sheets have always been hidden in calculator covers; students have always sold term papers to other students; the frogs have always been freed to avoid a lab assignment, etc. I do sometimes love the challenge of them pleading their case when I already know the outcome.

  5. Using bad language shows lack of intelligence - My favorite “Dr. Scottism” - Anyone can spout four letters words in daily conversation, but only students with intelligence recognize those words as offensive and mediocre and chose to make Mr. Webster proud. If you want to be a kid who is popular and stand out in the crowd, then learn how to express yourself like you know what you are talking about and value your reputation. Leave the offensive and bad language for someone else.

  6. Modern day heroes are kids who can walk away from drama - Anyone can be pulled into drama because the magnetic force is fierce, but it takes courage, self-confidence, and discipline to walk away from the majority. All childhood heroes have a superpower or ability that makes them stand out for the greater good. Students who can go against the grain have that superpower and become the most respected amongst their peers. Be that hero!

  7. Respect is given only when given back - Automaticity is a word I use when I think of respect. I was raised to say please and thank you, use words such as sir and ma’am (madam), and to respect everyone. Respect is automatic in my book and can only be taken away when disrespected. Teachers choose to be educators, to work with students as they prepare for the world beyond high school. Those same teachers respect their student’s uniqueness, learning styles, families and opinions, but in return demand that same appreciation from their students and their families. This is where I see the most change in the attitudes of our younger population which is often aggravated by guardians lack of respect for educators. Education is not just a mandate from the state, but is the key to success. If a student was raised believing that education is not important, they will lack the respect for teachers. Teach kids the importance of school and that it is a gift to be educated.

  8. Anyone who says “snitches get stitches” are at least passive bystanders and at most cowards- If I have not heard this a million times, I have not heard it once! Are we really going to believe that in this day and age if a student reports something that has the potential to hurt another student, they are considered snitches? With all the issues related to school violence and bullying, plus the amount of students diagnosed with mental illness, first reporters (otherwise referred to as snitches) should be commended by their peers for their courage to speak out even if the perpetrator is a friend.

  9. Strong girls are ones that can hold each other up; weak girls are the ones that throw you down - I remember in high school, a common saying was “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Let’s face it, girls can be mean, but haven’t we evolved to be mighty? Have we not learned that we are all equal and have opportunities to do anything we want? I guess some girls have not received that message and have not learned that there is power in numbers. Support your peers -girls or boys-and protect them from individuals who are always putting them down. Steer clear of those weak girls and jump on the strong girl bandwagon.

  10. Boys who threaten to fight lack confidence to not fight - Who actually wakes up and starts to plan who they are going to threaten to fight today? Is it really impressive to think fighting makes you cool? Look at yourself in the mirror and think: “I am better than that and I will make choices to show I have confidence and the ability to avoid fighting.” Is there not anything more important than a fight? I know I would want to be on the side of confidence and not waste time on petty arguments because the commotion surrounding a fight lasts a few minutes. Having confidence to avoid a fight leaves a lasting impression.

  11. Successful kids are the ones that can block out the “white noise” of unsuccessful kids - Did you ever notice that students who like drama tend to surround themselves with other kids who like drama? These students are more worried about their social status than how well they are doing in school. These students are extremely capable of being successful, but they let the distractions get in the way. Students who always seem to avoid drama, bypass a distracting situation like it is not happening. They most likely are oblivious to what I call “white noise” and their focus is on more positive things.

  12. Kindness is the only thing that is allowed to be thrown around - School Rules 101 clearly state the following: We do not throw food in the cafeteria; we do not fling inappropriate language around the halls; we do not launch spitball or pencils at our classmates; we do not shove each other across the room and we definitely do not scatter rumors amongst our friends. There is one thing we are allowed to throw ......KINDNESS!

  13. Respect yourself enough to stick up for yourself - No one has the right to take advantage of you and it is your responsibility to stick up for yourself. That does not mean to physically hurt someone or to seek revenge, but it is okay to ask someone to stop doing what they are doing or to report any issue to an adult. That is why we are here, to help direct you with positive decisions. You should never let anyone walk all over you nor should you let anyone take advantage of your kindness. Respect yourself!

  14. To be safe, listen to country music - The more I research pop culture, the more I feel like I want to go back in time. I love all genres of music, but do we have to include explicit and vulgar lyrics? No wonder our student’s vocabulary includes so many inappropriate words. The sad thing is, they feel like these words are okay because their teen idols use them in daily conversations. I am sure I was exposed to the same issues when I was a student, but I must have turned the station to country more often than not.

This might seem like a lot to take in, but I want to cover all my bases when it comes to what I expect of my students. This is my roadmap to success and my ideas on how to treat others. I refer to these often when talking to my students so they know where my heart is when molding them to take on the world!

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