Truth.

The principal job can be lonely. I’ll never forget one terrible time at our school, where one of our students had been killed by a drunk driver. And another one of our student’s fathers had been killed during a robbery. That student was beaten and was in the hospital. Those two events happened on the same night. A student was killed and another one was beaten and in the hospital, after his dad had been killed. The next day was the most horrible day I had ever experienced as an educator. Picture an entire school of over 600 8th and 9th graders walking from class to class in utter silence. The shock and distress was simply too much for any of us to bear. We got through it with love, support, prayers, and a caring army of supporters. I remember a friend catching me in my office, by myself, wiping my eyes, as I struggled. Her comment was, “You can do this. You have to. You’re the principal. Keep us all together.”

Being a principal is very special. I’ll never forget when I got my first big principal question. I kind of looked around the room and thought, “Oh. That’s me. I’m the principal. I am the one that makes that decision now.” And man. There are a lot of decisions. Big ones. Little ones. And pretty much all of them affect other people. In fact, I’m not sure there actually are little decisions. My experience taught me that the little ones are the ones most likely to bite you. I liked the decisions that allowed me to hit the brake, not the gas. Slow down. Think it all through. Talk with respected and trusted colleagues. My line always was, “Do we still hold all the cards? Have we screwed anything up yet?” And if we still held all the cards and hadn’t screwed anything up, which usually happened by acting too quickly, that was a very nice place to be.

There are lots of principals in the United States. All kinds of principals with a wide range of skills and expertise. I was a principal for 12 years at a junior high school. I loved that job. My story is, however, that my favorite job is always the one I have at the moment. My favorite job right now is being the Executive Director of Teaching-Learning-Innovation. I LOVED being a teacher for 16 years. My first job. If I had to pick a job to go back to….I’d go back to the classroom.

Danny Steele and Todd Whitaker are principals. They also happen to be great thinkers. And great writers. And excellent sharers. They’ve put together a book of 48 Essential Truths for Principals. It should be required reading. We had our principals’ meeting today, which I have the good fortune of leading…and I shared the book, with the offer to buy it for any interested principal. They are interested. The orders are in.

The cool thing about the book is that is, in fact, a collection of essential truths. I told our principals that we could have written this book and that we’ll recognize the truths. But we didn’t, Danny and Todd did. And we’re glad they did, and the truths are gathered nicely in one place for us to contemplate.

Danny and Todd are soliciting other principals to share #essentialtruths. A truth I would share is that it’s the best job a leader can have. And it can be one of the loneliest. The great days will far outnumber the tough days. You have the chance to impact thousands and thousands of kids. Any staff that has ever had a poor principal knows how different everything is when they have a great principal.

We have great principals in our district. It’s an honor to work alongside them. I thanked them today for all they are doing. Their energy, passion, compassion, and leadership are evident, necessary, and changing kids’ lives.

That fact is an essential truth.

Author: Jeff Nelson

Jeff Nelson Fife School District Assistant Superintendent:Teaching-Learning-Innovation 36 years as an educator. 16 years teacher 3 years assistant principal 12 years principal 5 years Assistant Superintendent BA, Washington State University MAEd, Washington State University Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining. Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years. jnelson@fifeschools.com twitter.com/jeffnelsonTLI

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