Friday, June 30, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: Week #4

This summer, I am getting my first hands-on experience at being a building administrator for my site of about 300 1st-5th graders.  I know that summer school is different than the regular school year, but much of the "blitz" I am feeling reminds me of being a first year teacher (and what I expect being a first year administrator may feel like).  One of my personal commitments in blogging is to be honest, open, and transparent (while protecting privacy) about my experiences - and I'm sure that, someday, I will smile looking back at what I was feeling at this time.  Hopefully it can help someone else learn, too!

We have the week of the Fourth of July off, and here's Confession #1: I'm ready for a break!  This has been a wonderful experience and I'm enjoying it, but I will always jump at the chance to rest, relax, spend time with family & friends, and invest in other parts of my life that get put on the back burner when school is in session.

As with any job, I have experienced some of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the past four weeks.  This week has me reflecting on the best and worst parts of my job as an administrator.

The Good

The best part of my job is that I get to see so many great things happening in the school on a regular basis!  I love welcoming students in the morning and being a friendly face at the door.  My favorite practice of late is playing violin or cello to the kids as they walk in, mixing pop/movie music with classical music, and seeing how excited the students are to hear what is coming next (this feeds the music teacher in me)!  I love being a professional problem-solver and figuring out how to make everything run more smoothly for my staff.  The best days are when I get to spend lots of time in classrooms, absorbing the atmosphere and great instruction that is going on.  I love seeing happy and engaged kids, and I love seeing teachers work their magic with the amazing ways they reach students.  I'm filled with pride as I do a walkthrough of the school and take note of the learning, the inquiry, and the care that fills each room.  I love when students call me over to show off their latest creation.  I love making positive phone calls home about how awesome students are, and I love handing out prizes and stickers as a part of our PBIS system and seeing the students' excitement when they are acknowledged for doing the right thing.

I also like working with students who end up in the office for their behavior.  Maybe it sounds strange, because I often end up with kids (or parents, or teachers) when they are at a low point, when things didn't go well.  In these moments, I really feel like I have an opportunity to reach in and make a difference.  I like helping kids think about how their actions affected others, and seeing the connections go off in their brain to hopefully help them make better choices in the future.  Many times, kids who end up in the office are scared and upset - I love making it a supportive place for them that acknowledges that sometimes life is hard, and we need to develop strategies to manage it (there are still clear boundaries and consequences, but they are not handed out in a punitive way).  This is different from the smackdown discipline that is portrayed in the media in the principal's office, and I love changing the narrative about what it means to be sent there.  I love the success stories and when students that I see in the office all the time come back to share what a good day they had.

The Bad (which is not 100% bad all of the time...I'd rather call it The Hard Stuff)

It's not all sunshine and roses, though - there are hard parts of my job too!  One of the worst parts of my job is having to deliver bad news.  If a student makes a poor choice, I have to call the parents and tell them, and that hurts.  In the situations that are hard to handle, were no one knows what to do, I end up having to make the decision (even though I don't know what to do either)!  The stakes are higher, the responsibility is greater, and the ripple effects have the potential to reach farther than when I was a classroom teacher...and I feel that weight!  As a leader, part of my job is to protect the school, staff, & students.  That means that sometimes I take the brunt of someone's displeasure or anger so that someone else doesn't have to.  I am happy to take it for my team, but it's not always fun in the moment.

We don't like to talk about it, but I've learned about threat assessments, suicide assessments, connections with law enforcement, connections with housing & human services agencies, etc.  This is the reality - these things come up regularly.  Some of my kids' stories are heart-breaking, and I hold that when I interact with them.  I hear from families who are struggling and I just wish there was more I could do to support them.  I also see situations when kids have to bear the brunt of their parents' decisions, and it makes me sad for them.

The other situations that make me sad are those where I feel like I can't quite reach a kid.  As nice as it would sometimes be to have a simple formula for everything, kids are people who get to make their own choices, too.  There are times where I can't get a kid to open up and share what's going on, when I can't get a student to acknowledge that they did something that affected others, or when I think we've had a successful resolution only to find that kid back in my office a day (or an hour!) later.  I want to solve every problem that comes my way, but the truth is, sometimes kids just respond better to other people or need supports that are different than what I can provide.  This doesn't mean I stop trying, but I also have to acknowledge that I'm not Superwoman and be willing to seek other options to figure out what is best for a kid...not just best for my ego.

The Ugly

I'm just going to sum this one up by saying school/district politics.  They exist everywhere, and the "higher up" you go in leadership, the bigger picture you have of what's going on, who is jockeying for power, and the different moving pieces related to federal, state, and district funding & regulations.  The most frustrating part is when I am mandated to carry out something that I do not personally believe is best for kids or for the school in general (these mandates come in big and small varieties).  There are times I stand up and fight it, there are times I have to implement it, and there are times I choose to just let things settle and only deal with it if it becomes an issue.  No matter what I do, I will face criticism from somewhere...often from those who only see a part of the overall picture.  I've never loved politics, and figuring out how to be ethical, strategic, compliant, and kid-centered has been a challenge when those priorities are sometimes at odds with each other!

In the end...

...I love what I'm doing, and I wouldn't trade it for the world!  Some of my daily good, bad, & ugly is similar to when I was a teacher, just on a larger scale, but some of it is completely different than what I have experienced in the past.  I'm looking forward to taking a week off to recharge, but then jumping back into the fray to finish out our summer program!


  1. I'm glad you're still finding ways to feed your musician's soul in your new position! It sounds like things are starting off well for you and I hope the transition is going smoothly!

  2. Hey Aubrey, you hit the nail on the head! I've been in admin for 19 years now and can honestly say it still feels like what you're describing. I never get used to the difficult conversations or the politics, but I do love my contact with the teachers and the students. I missed teaching desperately, until I realized that my job is just another form of teaching and learning...which helps me enjoy even those tough conversations. Thanks for sharing - your words make me feel less alone :)

  3. So many great points here, many that I feel apply to teachers as much as admins. I'm a pretty high-stress person, I can get focused on something bad in my life. I'm always astonished at how my students often put things into perspective. This is not generally a "good" thing, as it often means that they've shared something troubling. I'm with you on the politics part �� I hate boys club politics!

  4. You're amazing, Aubrey. You're doing incredible work, and thank you for being transparent on this journey. I just love how you play music for the kids as they walk in--you definitely need to have someone take a picture of this!

    1. I keep trying to get someone to take a picture, but it hasn't happened yet. Well, somebody took a picture yesterday but never sent it to me...I'll get it one of these days!

  5. Aubrey, this is great!!! This may be your best piece yet!!! I can also see you perched on your chair playing your cello. What I love the most is your think aloud. I have a better picture of a school setting because of this post. The joys, the struggles, and the politics. Thanks for sharing "the good, the bad, and the ugly" with your tribe. I can't wait to hear and watch you grow as an administrator.