PFAD Blog: Principal for a Day 2015: A reflection

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PFAD Blog features blogs written by participants in the most recent Principal for a Day event. Guest blogger Dr. Judith Allen-Bazemore, president and CEO of Communities in Schools of the Dallas Region, shares her thoughts of the event.

There are moments in your life when you are set in your routine – comforted by the sense that you know what you are doing and why. When my staffer approached me and recommended I sign up for this year’s Dallas ISD Principal for a Day Project, I did so, but not with a whole heart. Why would I?

Communities In Schools is a 30-year-old school-based program, housed on K thru 12 campuses, with the sole purpose of alleviating whatever distracts a child from learning. Looking at my career choice, including 20+ years experience, I wondered why I would need to pretend to be a principal. I already supervise a team, with oversight of 100 staff supporting thousands of children. It was a pompous thought, but being Principal for a Day almost seemed to mimic my current life.

I obviously needed to reset my perspective.

Randomly assigned to Quintanilla Middle School, I spoke to the very busy Principal Angela West 24 hours before my visit. She instructed me to arrive at 8 a.m. and begin my role in the coveted Principal reserved parking. At 7:55 the next morning, I was greeted with an occupied parking spot and the charming faces of the Cadet Corps ready to be my personal escort. Thinking about the contrast between the two, I realized everything I thought I knew needed to be left on the curb.

There is a point in the process of a new experience when we try to relate it to something familiar. Somewhere early on, I decided not to. Instead I would listen, learn and interact with the students and faculty based on their need and what they wanted me to know. This was not about me. Keeping my notebook handy, I noted key elements of my day:

  • There was no way a Principal could be THIS charming ALL the time, but West was as genuine an educator and leader as presented. Teachers openly approached me and talked about their teaching experiences, sharing what helps them propel their students forward: leadership and resources.
  • Middle school is the Middle Earth of human development with the extreme variety of student needs, abilities, demographics and engagement. What we think or assume are givens are absolutely not. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a pencil is not just a pencil. Lacking the basics creates barriers that are so mind-numbingly simple that we second guess ourselves into thinking it MUST be something more.
  • Teachers are building humans. School is a humanity factory complete with an army of caring adults who have based the success of their careers on the free will and adaptability of people over which they have no control. The very weight of that premise is evident on the Quintanilla MS campus with inviting walls, open space, natural light and a warm energy even in the occasional frown creasing a team member’s face. They make the students WANT to be there.

My day as the principal of Quintanilla Middle School was an opportunity to learn what it takes to lead in the ever-changing climate of the field. Many moments stood out: a shared joke between two Assistant Principals, a student’s ever changing “uniform out-of-compliance” excuse, the use of early warning indicators to help coach a teacher’s success, as well as the grin on Principal West’s face when today’s fire drill evacuation time beat the last. The bar is set high on this campus, just high enough for our fingers to brush against, reminding us it’s there, and to keep reaching. There is no public glory here in this hidden gem, but a myriad of battles won and lost in the name of our children. Quintanilla’s mascot is the Stars, and its students, faculty and administrators live up to that name. Stars, every single one of them.

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