Crying in the counseling room & other leadership highlights.

It’s a Monday morning start to a much needed weeklong Thanksgiving Break.  So much to be thankful for… but that’s not what this post is about.  Let’s get right to it.

I got caught crying in the counseling room on Friday.  No one likes their principal crying through the halls so I headed for the closest private space.  A good cry, a few deep breaths, dabbing with the tissue to minimize redness and puffiness (nice try) and a few more deep breaths.  Forgot about our psychologist using this space until the door opened behind me.  Dang!

I don’t mind that people know I cry at work.  It’s a tough job.  My heart is in it.  So I cry at work.  What I don’t like is how awkward it is for people to see it.  They just don’t know what to do when the captain of the ship is reduced to tears.  Neither do I, quite frankly.  That’s why I keep it private.

It’s now a joke in the office that my crying spot is the greenhouse.  If you can’t reach me by text or radio, whatever you do, don’t come out to the greenhouse!  My first year at my new school when I didn’t know anything about the culture or community, I spent many frustrating sessions in the greenhouse just letting out my frustration through tears and deep breathing.  The constant feeling of imbalance and uncertainty was overwhelming.

Friday’s cry was miles away from year one’s tears.  Now that we’re firmly in year three, I have the pulse of our culture and know our community.  Now I cry for our students, for my inability to support them enough, for the system’s structures that are too rigid, not child-centered enough, for the stress, frustration and sadness I feel when supporting a student in crisis.

This is the hard work of leadership.  Teachers feel it too.  A student is crying out for help in so many ways and as much as we support, we are never doing enough.

If you know me or have read my blog before, you know I live firmly in the cup half full world of optimism and hope.  I see school as an awesome place to be every day, an opportunity for students to learn, grow, play and explore with caring adults to guide them.  Every moment is for learning–math, games at recess, lunch with peers, walking through the hall to the library.  We are learning how to be in a complex and interconnected world.  We walk quietly in respect for classrooms in session.  We chat with friends while we eat.  We take our outs in four square because it’s the right thing to do.  We work hard through our math problems and get help when we’re stuck.  And even when students falter, it’s about learning.  A reminder about walking quietly.  Facilitating peers sitting together.  A side conversation about honesty and following the rules of the game.  Setting up a partnership so the math can be accessed with confidence and success.

But some needs are greater than these.  Sometimes the learning opportunity, the faltering student is beyond the resources I have at hand.  And I work to preserve a student’s dignity despite the way they behave or the words they say.  Sheltering this moment of struggle and calling for reinforcements.

So I had a good cry afterward.  And my red eyes and puffiness gave me away.

This is the emotional heavy lifting of leadership.  And I can still say unequivocally that I love my job.  I just sometimes wish it weren’t so hard.

From a rejuvenating place on this crisp Monday Morning,




Do they like me? Another reflection.

Warning: Very stream of consciousness today.  No editing; I just need to get it out.  If I edit, I’ll never hit Publish.

It’s pretty silly.  And not in any of the readings about school leadership.  But doesn’t everyone want acceptance?  To be liked?  By students.  By parents.  By staff.

And all through the year, as I hit bumps in the road, corrected systems of operation, developed relationships, pushed us to consider our values and dreams for students, I wondered, Do they even like me?

Ultimately the work needs to be done, and I love it.  And focusing on what’s best for students helps.  I’ve got that down.  But as human beings, we crave camaraderie and fellowship.  Elementary principal can be a lonely job.  So the question would come up.  And some days I’d tell myself it didn’t matter and I didn’t care.  Not true.

There was some weird juju about my office.  Staff would come to the door to speak with me but wouldn’t cross the threshold.  Again and again it would occur.  Do I need to invite you in?  Is there some negative connotation with being seen in my office?  What was the pattern here before me that keeps them at the carpet’s edge?

Education is such heart work.  My hubby’s job isn’t anywhere near the field of education.  And it’s very difficult for him to understand what I do.  I almost had him understanding teaching after fourteen years.  Almost.  And now as site leader, a lot of what I do is even hard for him to grasp.  He leaves his work at work.  We run into my work everywhere we go.  Everywhere.

One morning in early May I had a big discovery when talking with my mentor.  Does the staff know I’m committed to our school?  Do they know I’ve made my adjustments, and I’m not looking to leave?  Remember, we didn’t choose each other.  Transfer.  Bam!  Here’s your new principal.  So this year has almost gone by, many bumps, many triumphs.  I needed to share my intentions.  My settledness.

So I did.  Second to last staff meeting.  After acknowledgements were shared.  “I want to share with you that I feel very settled here at Valley Vista.  It’s something that I couldn’t have said a few months ago and I want you all to hear me just as I’ve come to realize it myself.  I’m not planning on going anywhere.  I am enjoying my work here, I love coming to work everyday, our community is wonderful and I believe we have some amazing work to do together.”  Awkward pause.  A few teary eyes around the table.  Did I feel a collective sigh from the group?  Perhaps my imagination.  But it felt good to say it out loud.

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New VV Logo Sticker! It’s a beautiful tree full of our values for student learning.

I needed to consider my Do they like me? question from a different angle.  Staff is wondering the same thing: Does she like us?  Will she stay?  Are we going to go through another change?  I’m sure a few of them are indifferent or perhaps wish I’d take a hike.  But the vast majority are appreciative of the work we’ve done thus far, my availability and approachability.  Students are awesome, the most flexible of all.  Parents have shared positive feedback as well.  But teachers and support staff keep the ship afloat.  WE keep the ship afloat.

So now to rejuvenate and recharge.  August is around the corner!