Recent events have highlighted how precarious being a School Principal can be.
Imagine for a moment the thoughts that went through the mind of Dawn Hochsprung, Principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, as the sound of gunfire filled the air. Sadly her efforts to try to protect her students were in vain. I can only imagine the angst that she felt in those last terrifying moments. I have no doubt that her thoughts were solely focused on the safety of her students.
In the past fortnight, a Deputy Principal that I know in Hong Kong, committed suicide, leaving behind a grieving family, friends and school community. Early reports in the media speculated that ‘work pressures’ contributed to his suicide. I can only imagine how the Principal of that school feels and the questions he is asking himself.
Both situations highlight the challenges of leading a school and how precarious the position can be.
Whilst not on the same scale, earlier in my career I faced a dilemma, that I now realise, could have prematurely ended my career. A neighbour had called the school on a Friday morning to advise that one of the older primary school aged boys was riding his bike dangerously. She informed me that for the past two or three weeks the student had been carelessly crossing the road, riding erratically and wasn’t wearing a helmet.
I thanked the neighbour and planned to go across the road, that same afternoon, to hide behind a tree and catch the offending student. I had a fair idea that it was probably ‘Sam’ but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and catch the culprit red-handed.
At 3 pm that day, I was in a case conference in the Special Education unit. It was a difficult meeting as we were helping parents of a six year-old boy come to terms with his recent diagnosis of autism.
I was in a quandary. Should I apologise to the crying parents of the six year-old boy and leave the meeting to go and catch the boy who had been riding dangerously or stay and catch him on Monday?
Fortunately for me, I chose to leave the emotional meeting and went across the road to catch the boy. I honestly believe that it was a 50 / 50 decision. I could have easily convinced myself that he had been acting that way for two or three weeks and another day wouldn’t matter.
I’d love to tell you that it was my dedication and commitment to student safety that led me to leave that tense meeting, but in all honesty I was probably escaping the tears of the difficult meeting that led to me making that decision.
After catching ‘Sam’ riding dangerously, I reprimanded him, demanded that he walk his bike home and that a consequence would apply on Monday. In a little over 5 minutes I had returned to the Special Education unit feeling pleased with myself.
However at 4 pm that very same day, Sam was hit by a car, outside the school, in the same location where I had caught and reprimanded him an hour earlier.
Whilst he suffered a fractured skull and spent over a week in hospital, thankfully he was okay and didn’t suffer any long-term consequences. Despite everything that I had done Sam had still managed to get hit by a car.
I share my story because I was VERY lucky. Imagine if I had decided to stay in the Special Education unit and had not caught and reprimanded Sam at 3 pm. I would have blamed myself for his accident and would never have forgiven myself for not putting his safety first.
It is vital that we monitor our own ‘self-talk’ and the messages that we say to ourselves. That little voice inside our head is very powerful.
Being a School Principal is a difficult and challenging position. We do the best that we can, with the resources that we have. However our situation is precarious. We deal with people all day and we never quite know what is going on in other people’s worlds.
The tragedies in Connecticut and Hong Kong and to a lesser extent, my own lucky escape highlight the demands placed on Principals.
Planning a School Review in 2013?
School reviews are part of a cycle of school improvement. It is essential that reviews gather information that helps to steer the school on the path to continuous improvement. We have developed interactive Happy School Surveys of Students, Staff and Parents to assist schools to effectively do this.
A number of schools have already booked in surveys for 2013. The surveys not only provide data about levels of satisfaction, they also identify specific issues that can be addressed to increase school effectiveness. Identifying and overcoming barriers is the fast-track to school improvement.
Contact us if you’d like to set up surveys as part of a benchmarking or school review process in 2013.
In 2013 Catch the New Wind…
Thank you to colleague John Milne for sharing lessons from the Sydney-Hobart yacht race that can help us make the most of 2013…
In Australia the Sydney-Hobart ocean yacht race is a Boxing Day classic. Yachting on Sydney Harbour is an exhilarating and challenging experience for young and old. Yachtsmen and women catch each wind change. They change course to move towards their destination with as much speed as possible. Solo skippers and teams compete fiercely in open water. Prominent landmarks and new technology guide each crew.
Think how this race can help you create a climate in your school where you work so that innovation and experimentation is encouraged, supported and implemented. Entrepreneurs live it now!
Prepare thoroughly for the race. Yachts men and women spend weeks preparing for their journey from Sydney to Hobart. They check their equipment, weather forecasts, and supplies. Thorough preparation is important for each person. Having all that you need to hand inspires confidence. It leads to high performance.
Know the crews’ strengths and limitations. A wise leader knows their people as a farmer knows each animal by name and behaviour. They utilise strengths and accept the limitations of skill or temperament. Drawing out the best is as beautiful to watch as a flower opening in time-lapse photography or a sportsperson’s strike or stride in super slow motion.
Invest in the best equipment you can afford. Great teams deserve great equipment to allow them to do their jobs well. Buying cheap products or cutting corners rarely pays off. Quality pays again and again!
Update the weather forecasts. Trend spotting is as vital as weather forecasting. It opens the door to growth, expansion, turnaround or acceleration. Reading emerging markets, social and technological trends can save and make money. It can make progress possible.
Give total physical and emotional commitment. Winning the wholehearted commitment of staff involves telling a story worthy of your organisation.
Plan and change your plans. Be flexible as conditions change on the journey. Rework strategies. Set new targets. Try different things. Change direction to take opportunities.
Celebrate success, completion, best practice. People delight in knowing about progress in meeting goals. They want to know that their efforts have made a difference. Even bad news is better received when it is honestly presented with a turnaround plan. Celebrate success with all your team. Praise is a powerful motivator for young and for old. Begin the New year on a positive note.
(C) John Milne Ring John on 0448357626 Executive Coaching for your team.
Trends For Schools to Watch Out for in 2013
The following are my top 10 issues to be aware of in 2013.
Helping teachers to be the best they can be by giving them feedback
Schools exploring strategies for increasing student engagement
Using feedback from students TO teachers to increase teacher effectiveness
Increased use of value added data
iPad minis becoming common
Optimising the use of school facilities after hours
School funding and implications of Gonski becoming a hot political issue
Australian Curriculum roll out becoming more contentious before calming
Increased staff absenteeism due to Change Fatigue
Parent satisfaction having an even greater impact on enrolment trends
Teacher stress levels rising as accountability increases
What Is YOUR Biggest Challenge in 2013?
What keeps you awake at night?
What problems need solving?
Happy School articles this month include…
Ten Keys to Happiness
Secrets to a Great Year
Involvement or Engagement
‘Moments of Truth’ – Keeping parents on side
Email Madness – keeping it under control
If your school is not currently subscribing to receive the weekly articles, click here and become a subscriber today. For less than the cost of ONE supply teacher day you can provide a weekly article to boost staff morale and reduce teacher stress.
We are all aware that PEOPLE make the difference in schools. Therefore investing in your people needs brings the best returns. Professional development sessions for your staff are available on a range of topics. These are ideal for student free days or twilight sessions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to check availability of your preferred date and book now.
Which topic does your team need most?
Increasing WORK-LIFE Satisfaction
Building Trust – Essential Skills
Thriving in Times of Change
Gr8 People are Part of Gr8 Teams
Feedback – Helping Teachers Be the Best They Can Be
7 Secrets to Motivating and Engaging Students
Conferences and Work With Schools
In coming months I’m looking forward to working with …
- Teachers at the Teachers Matter conference in Sydney
- School leaders throughout Qld via the QASSP Webinar series
- Associate Administrators at their conference at Bond University
- Aspiring school leaders at Toowong
- Qld Outdoor Education Centre aspiring leaders
- School staff at Nundah, Carmel College and Torbanlea schools
- School leadership teams from a number of schools on Establishing a Feedback Culture
If you’d like me to present at your conference or work with your staff, email me email@example.com
On January 17 and 18 I’m looking forward to presenting in Sydney at the Teachers Matter Conference. Further details here.