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,




My Heart Hurts for Students as the Year Winds Down

My heart is so heavy these days for a handful of our students who are struggling to end strong, get to school every day and stay positive as we wind up another school year.  So many standard responses: change is hard, transitions are difficult, school is better than ambiguous summer days, etc.  Intellectually I absolutely understand all of that.  But it does nothing to ease my heartache.  And impulse to take them all home with me.

Not an option.  I know.  But I dream about it.  A rescue, of sorts.

Some students’ lives are so complicated, so topsy-turvy, so disheveled.

Lots of directions to point fingers and place blame, but that doesn’t interest me.  I’m sure we could point a finger at school (or at me).  I just want to fix it.  But that’s naive, simplistic, VERY Pollyanna.

So my strategies are consistency, tough-love (with an emphasis on one or the other as needed), lots of TLC and communication.  Snacks help and so does a game of Connect-4 during lunch in my office.  And smiles and “Good morning, happy to see you today!” along with a, “Have a great afternoon.  See you tomorrow!”

I stare at my own sons more these days.  Thankful for our messy house, chores & allowance, little league baseball, home-cooked meals (and take-out) and arguments between brothers that end amicably.  For toys in the front yard, homework discussions, conversations over breakfast and movies in the evening.

I cannot bring all our students home with me.  But my heart can hurt for them and move me to action.  I’d love to hear how others support students when the end is difficult.