Inside the Trenches of the Principal: The Final Post

11 months.
47 weeks.
334 days.

Around this time of the year, it’s commonplace to be asked “How was your first year as principal?” I feel obligated to reply with a simple answer, like “Good,” “Great,” “Tiring.” And while all of those are true, there’s so much more to it. You can’t measure the year with a word, or a number, or a caption.

I am currently reading a book by my favorite authors, Dan and Chip Heath. My introduction to them was their book Made to Stick, and now I am reading The Power of Moments. In a nutshell, it’s about how we are so greatly impacted by significant moments in our life. I suppose when I look back on this year, that’s what I will ultimately remember. The moments. There were highs and lows, or as they call in the book, peaks and pits. There were also pivotal moments that changed the course of my direction, which they call transitions in the book. Either way, I think this final post for my first year as principal would be best explained by a few of those moments that have stuck with me most:

1) July 17, 2017: This was my first day on the job. I remember walking into the school for the first time (I had never seen it before getting hired) and the previous principal handing me the keys to the building. It was a surreal moment, but one I will never get out of my head. I was proud, overwhelmed, scared, and exhilarated, perhaps all at the same time.

2) August 28, 2017: The first day of school. The dreams, the planning, the sweat that went into getting the school together in one month was here. We had a block party to welcome the kids back, and I’ll remember the faces of these 560 students who had smiles from ear to ear getting to be welcomed back by music, bubbles, and their teachers.

3) First sign language: I was doing my daily car rider name calling and I saw my 1st grader Colin, who is deaf. I had just learned “How are you?” and “Have a good afternoon” in sign language and I told him those two phrases. I know it sounds small, but just having him understand what I was saying was a proud moment and I have latched onto sign language since then. I continue to be a student of sign and will hopefully continue to learn more next year.

4) Morning Choice Bins: In late September we constructed all 31 of our Morning Choice bins. I had promoted Morning Choice so much to other schools and teachers, so now having the chance to do it school wide at Moore was exciting. Seeing those bins lined up across the lobby floor was such a pivotal moment for the shift in our morning routines.

5) Community Day: I had spent several days over the summer when I got this job walking around the neighborhood, introducing myself to local business people. I invited them to Moore to see inside and meet our students. On Community Day, it was my Ambassadors’ first chance at putting into place their training by conducting tours of the school for our guests. It was a proud moment to see my 5th grade team put their skills into action.

6) Critical Conversation: I will never forget my first “critical conversation” early on in the year with a staff member. It was hard, uncomfortable, and trying. We made it through, however, and it was really encouraging the positive relationship this other person and I have developed since then.

7) The Amazing Shake: December 1 was our 5th grade Amazing Shake competition! 93 students, 29 judges, and hundreds of interactions between individuals solidified that we were going to teach “soft skills” at Moore and give students opportunities to apply them. The excitement for this competition continued the following week as we had Rounds 2-5 and named a champion. This was all capped off by taking two of my students to the Ron Clark Academy National Amazing Shake Competition.

8) House Party: January 3rd was our first day back from winter break and we welcomed the students back with our “House Party,” which was the official kick-off to our House system. The Houses have become a pivotal piece of Moore and will expand to even greater lengths next year. The students and staff have taken great pride in their House and we were able to crown our first House champion at the end of the year.

9) Discipline Data: I was heart-broken at the end of the year to find that our final discipline data had not improved to the degree that I had set or had hoped for. As I sat in my office with my assistant principal looking at the data, I just shook my head in disbelief that all of the initiatives and efforts (Awesome Office Visits, House points, Moore 4, engaging teaching, incentives) had not done more to vastly improve our discipline referrals.  

10) My Birthday: I am not one for surprises being done to me, but I got the surprise of a lifetime when my assistant principal arranged for the entire school to go to the gym and surprise me by singing happy birthday.

11) Book Release Party: Having so many of my staff members and friends there to help celebrate the release of The Limitless School meant a lot, and having the opportunity now to make the book come to life at Moore has been the most rewarding part.

12) Dance Parties: There have been some fantastic spontaneous dance parties this year. From dancing with Ms. Pratt up on her table to having a dance-off with my first grader N’Kya in the gym before Morning Rally, it was always nice to be able to laugh and dance away with my staff and students. 

13) Professional Development Trips: Having the chance to travel with 25 of my staff members to professional development this year has allowed me to bond more with my staff. There were many funny moments and great stories (and adventures if you were stuck in New Orleans!) that have allowed me to get to know my staff more.

14) Room Service Cart: Getting to travel around the school with my assistant principal using the Room Service Cart was always a highlight. Seeing the excitement on my teachers’ faces when they had that cart enter their room made my day.

15) Teacher Appreciation Grill Out: On the Friday of Teacher Appreciation Week, I brought my grill from home into school and grilled for about 3 hours for the staff. I have never been so relaxed at school!

16) Spring Break Painting: We have done our fair share of painting this year at the school, but over spring break I had a group that put in some serious hours to create the first mural at the school in the hallways. It’s just so much better than looking at white walls!

17) Crazy Clothing: My wife is starting to get angry with me because my crazy clothing is starting to take up an entire closet! From fun suits, to costumes that includes bacon, Avengers, and turkey hats, there was never a dull moment when I got to look ridiculous at school.

18) Special Visitors: It was an honor to host some of my friends from all over the country at Moore, including Michael Bonner, Todd Nesloney, Wade and Hope King, LaNesha Tabb. We also hosted over 300 people on tours, including district folks, educators from my county and others, local business people, perspective families, and community members.

19) Racing: On April 20th I got invited by my Let Me Run boys running club to race their coach, Neb, and Wake Forest football quarterback (and NFL prospect) John Wolford. Needless to say, I got burned in the race, but it was fun to let my students see me in a different light and trying to relive my track days.

20) 5th Grade Celebration Surprise: Admittedly, I’m not the most emotional person in the world. One of my students got me though at the 5th grade celebration. As Eliana was making her speech about her memories at Moore, she said she was going to go “off script,” at which point she shared some very special words for me. It really made the tough days, long hours, and endless decisions all worth it.

There were plenty more special moments this year, of course. There were also many other “pits” as well that I am choosing not to dwell on. I’ve aimed through this blog to share a bit of what it can look like in the principal chair, especially for someone doing it for the first time.

Year 2, like any job, will inevitably be smoother. I have more awareness of what to expect, how to handle issues, and how to get things done. I’ve been able to bring on amazing new staff members, who are going to help carry the mission and vision forward. But it will also be more daunting in other ways, as we are digging deeper into rigor and raising expectations even more for students, staff, and myself. The work truly begins in year two I believe, and I feel good about the prospects going into it. 

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One Comment

  1. This will be my first year as a principal. You have so many great ideas about changing culture. I was wondering how the room service cart worked? Did you go into all the classrooms on the same day and what time did you do it? Was it while they were teaching or after school? Also, about how many times per year did they get it? Thank you so much …