Do you remember your first day as an administrator?
I certainly do. I was one of two rookies VPs placed at a brand new school. This was a dynamic school with an affluent population combined with an academic drive in French Immersion. This was a school that had a varied teacher population ranging from veterans to brand new teachers and everything in between.
As I entered this new school, I remembered (from my brief training) that I was now an administrator and I felt that I needed to establish certain guidelines and principles for action. The administrative team was very much focused on a discipline-based approach.
On my first day, I remember reprimanding a student for being on her cell phone in the hallway. Unbeknownst to me, the cell phone policy only existed in the classrooms. Unfortunately, this student took the brunt of the new VP’s discipline.
As I reflect back on this simple case, I realize that as new administrators, keeping the peace seems to be what we see as our number one priority. The vice principals that I had growing up were regarded with fear and I think they liked it that way. As I continue
in my own career, I am starting to see that is not necessarily the best approach.
In Surrey, all new administrators are put through the Leading the Learning program. This yearlong program provides “newbies” with research-based practice. We get to learn from professionals in the field and are given skills that will help us function in different situations; however, the theory remains just that – theory. We don’t learn about the real world situations until later. After the research, we are shown the ropes through the mentorship that we receive from our onsite administration. These are the experiences that will help mold us and move us forward. The “real world” of a high school can only be seen once you are inside the doors. I have been fortunate to have been in three very different schools and it is
clear that the dynamics of an administrator must be adaptable. We have to start creating a toolbox of skills similar to the teaching toolbox.
The first days in a new school can be a foundation for the skills that you will use later but I believe that it is the individual experiences that are the most valuable in shaping your administrator character. My mentor principal once told me – “fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me”. I have lived by this adage for a number of reasons; it has provided me with guidance on how to deal not with people but with situations and it has given me the strength to think before I act.
Similarly, he taught me that you need to understand that the tyranny of the urgent can greatly undermine the things that you might be trying to achieve. You do not always need to act quickly. We have the ability in our jobs to take a step back sometimes to assess the situation, to find a suitable reaction or solution to the problem. Many times in that first year, I reacted to something very rapidly only to find out shortly that reacting in haste caused me more grief in the long run.
Those first experiences guided me greatly in my career. When I was moved in the summer to a new school, I felt comfortable in my ability and was rewarded with that confidence in the way that my new principal worked with me. She trusted that I was competent and allowed me to be a mentor to a new vice principal. Though I was working at a new school, my toolbox allowed me to flow into the new position with ease. I no longer felt like I needed to prove myself; something that new vice principals might feel the urge to do.
As I have transitioned again recently to another
new environment, I can safely say that the only constant that we have in our jobs is change. Circumstances will change but your leadership capacity can be the one variable that will weather you through.