Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Role

As August rolls along and the start of another school year draws closer, I feel it is time to put together some thoughts about what kind of leader I want to be next year...

Last fall I put together my application package in hopes of becoming a Principal in the Richmond School District.  After going through the extremely valuable professional development of reviewing my Educational Philosophy, updating my resume and preparing for the interview process, I was successful.  At the time, it was unclear where I would be placed to begin this chapter of my career, since quite often administrators in Richmond move schools when changing roles or after a length of time in one building.  I have been a Vice Principal at J.N. Burnett Secondary School for 6 years and thought I might be asked to relocate, but in the Spring was informed that I would be staying.  I am thrilled with this opportunity, because I feel that learning a new job is much easier if you already know the people and the processes.

I was fortunate to be given a similar opportunity when beginning my Vice Principal career over 10 years ago.  I got to stay at the same school in which I had been teaching.  When I began that role, however, I had very little understanding about the role of an administrator (since working in a classroom I had little exposure to the operations of the office), and fumbled my way through a variety of tasks as well as learning about the leadership and management responsibilities inherent within the role.

Now, as  I prepare to enter a new assignment, this time as Principal of a school, I have a much greater awareness of what the job entails and a much clearer vision for what makes a successful school.  I have worked alongside fabulous mentors over the years who have taught me a great deal about the role of a Principal, and been part of administrative teams that shared responsibilities and discussed decisions together.  I feel much more prepared to make this move then when I moved into the role of Vice Principal.  While I may not get to enjoy the honeymoon phase people often experience when new to an environment, I trust that I will be given the benefit of the doubt by the people who know what I believe and what I stand for.

This blog entry is being written as a reminder to myself and the staff at Burnett of what I believe is important in contributing to a great school, and what I will try to do and model as the Principal (inspired by blog posts I have recently read by Justin Tarte and John Bernia).

1.  Be visible....  As a Vice Principal I prided myself on being in the hallways, getting into classrooms and engaging staff and students in conversation about how things are going and what can be done better.  I understand that this becomes more difficult as a Principal, but I will make it a priority.  I love interacting with people and asking them how they are doing, and know it has a very positive effect on the culture of a school.  It is imperative that I continue this.  I will make myself available to observe classes and meet with staff and students, and I want staff to know that I am not someone to be intimidated by with my presence in a classroom.  I want to help.  I am looking for opportunities to teach and model some new things for staff and students, thus enabling teachers to get release time to observe each other, plan something new or experiment with new technologies.  Please feel comfortable having me work with or observe your class.

2.  Remain a learner and promote taking chances.... I will model for staff a willingness to try new things and support them in their efforts to do the same.  I will take an active role in the Professional Development efforts of the school, and embrace the use of technology and other creative tools at the fingertips of staff and students.  I am a firm believer that we need to challenge ourselves and our students with new and creative ways of doing things and want people to feel supported in their attempts to learn, explore and create.  I love Michael Jordan's commercial about failure and success, and want to model the same for the staff.

3.  Be a listener.... I want to be approachable and keep my door "open" to allow conversations to occur.  I will continue to ask lots of questions and will work hard to connect with parents, students and staff looking for feedback on what is working, what they feel needs attention and what we could be doing differently.  In recent years at Burnett, we have spent time raising student voices, and I intend to continue this and really listen to what students have to say.  I have always tried to listen much more than I speak, and will continue to use this as a guideline for my interactions with all stakeholders in the school.

4.  Make difficult decisions and take action based upon our vision.... I will work hard to create a shared vision for our school, one that at its core, is about students.  That vision will be understood and shared by our staff and will be the foundation for the difficult decisions that we will have to make.  I will take action in accordance with that vision in attempts to make this school the best it can be for all students.

5.   Foster collaborative relationships within the school.... The upcoming year could be challenging on a variety of levels, especially since our teacher union is going into contract negotiations and with that comes the risk of job action.  I want the staff at Burnett to know that I care about them, I support them and I appreciate them.  Regardless of how the year unfolds politically, we are in this together, and will continue to work together after things have stabilized.  Relationships must be at the forefront to allow us to work together successfully in the future.

6.  Be the kind of person Lorne Bodin was....  Lorne was someone who cared about others before himself, advocated for those less advantaged, and made everyone around him feel listened to.  I have written of his influence on my career previously.  I think of him often, miss his guidance terribly and often ask myself "what would Lorne do?"  In answering that question, I am confident I will do what is right for the school and the students and staff within it.

I recognize that I am very fortunate to work at a fantastic school, filled with motivated and enthusiastic staff and students who continually impress me.  I look forward to the upcoming year, and promise to do my part by living up to the goals I have set out for myself above.  If you feel I am missing something, please let me know.  Similarly, if I am not following through as I have indicated I would, please tell me.  I welcome the feedback.


  1. Great stuff Jason!

    I would add a reminder to enjoy each day and have fun. Sometimes we can forget what it at the heart of our work. Our responsibility is to inspire, teach and engage students in their learning. These kids are energetic, dynamic, fun and amazingly capable young people. I have discovered that students (and staff) are not impressed because you're the principal, but people do notice if you genuinely enjoy your work, are engaged and interested in their learning, in their activities and their lives.

    This is good advice for you, for me and for all of us.

    You will be a wonderful principal, enjoy the journey.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jim.

    You are right. Despite some of the frustrations in the job, I do enjoy what I do and can not imagine myself working in a profession other than education. It is important for people to see how much we enjoy and appreciate what we do.

    Thanks for the reminder.