Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Happens When You Sneeze?

As an elementary classroom teacher (mostly 5th Grade), I was always worried about being out sick or attending a conference for a bunch of reasons - I wasn't sure if the sub would cover all the work, if the children would make good choices (i.e.- would they behave) and honestly, I always missed my kids. The feeling was usually mutual (depending on the class or time of year) and upon my return my kids would ask me to never be absent again because it wasn't the same without me. I always treasured and valued this type of relationship with my kids because it was rooted in a mutual respect, concern and investment. My kids knew I would do anything for them and I valued that they would take risks with their learning for me (and themselves).

Once I made the transition to building administrator, I assumed that type of relationship wouldn't exist - not with the teachers (who really cares about their principal?) and not with the students (isn't it true that only the "bad kids" get to know the principal?). Well, after reading various works by one of my gurus, Todd Whitaker, one thing he preached stuck out in my mind... "When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold!" I don't know if I experienced that during my first couple of years as a principal because I literally felt like I was running around like a chicken without a head. But, over the years in my position as a Lead Learner (aka - principal) I realized that my every word, action and decision did have a direct impact on the entire educational community. 

This is a huge responsibility but one that I have learned to value and treasure on so many levels and for so many different reasons. It has never been about "power" for me because it has always been about serving my community with one singular focus and goal - doing what is in the best interest of our children (students). This is what drives my work each and every day... 

I engage in conversations with staff members to better understand what they are dealing with in their spaces and to consider how I can support them and help them enhance their own craft. 

I visit classrooms every day and listen in on what the children are learning and doing so I can better understand the way teaching and learning unfolds in our school from room to room. 

I try to model my expectations and lead by example (I try not to ask anyone to do something that I haven't already tried or would be willing to do). 

I try and personalize professional development opportunities to offer staff members the chance to learn about things that interest them. This also allows us an opportunity to spotlight all the expertise in our building.

I try and learn from our staff, parents and kids - if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't know how to use Instagram, wouldn't have been exposed to different authors and teaching techniques or have a better understanding of different cultures and beliefs. 

I email and chat with parents on a regular basis to integrate their perspectives, meet their needs and address their concerns (after all, we are taking care of their most precious "cargo" for at least 6 hours each day). 

I have lunch with my kids on a regular basis so I can hear from them about what makes them happy at our school, what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. 

Then, at the end of each day, I reflect on all the information I have taken in as a way to better serve our community and ensure that our goal has become, and remained, a common mission for all. 

Now, have I met with success? Am I doing my job well? Have I developed positive relationships with all constituent members in our community? Does our school catch a cold when I sneeze? I am not 100% certain but what I do know is that I have been out over the last few days because my son had surgery and in that time, I have received numerous texts, emails and tweets letting me know that our school doesn't feel the same without me. In my book, that means that I am serving my community well by assessing and addressing their needs.

So, if you are a Lead Learner, Principal, Assistant Principal or any type of administrator serving a school community (or classroom teacher serving a group of kids), make sure you step back every once in a while and see what happens when you sneeze!    


  1. I love this. :) What a great mental picture for making sure you're connecting with everyone in the building. At the school where I taught most recently, I taught in an outdoor portable classroom building. The first time that entire year that the principal set foot in my room was in April - and that was just to help a new student who'd gotten lost trying to find it! His lack of availability and visibility had an obvious impact throughout the school. Congrats to you for doing your part to truly be a "Lead Learner."

  2. I believe you are a wonderful role model not only for the staff but for the children and patents too. I'm sure the school is not the same when you are not there. Our school is very lucky to have you. Wishing Paul a speedy recovery.

  3. Once again Tony, you show why you are the "Lead Learner" of your school. It appears you definitely have your finger on the pulse of your school, but it also appears that you have embedded yourself in the daily fabric of what happens there. When you are so involved in all that goes on, when you go out of your way, to not just be the problem solver but also the "friend" that people can go to, then everyone comes to rely on you. You are obviously an important cog in that building and more accurately that community. That is the reason I have adopted you as a mentor and why you have become such a key in my Professional Learning Network. Thanks for all you do and letting me learn from you.

  4. As I'm home sick, worrying about my students and their education, you hit the nail on the head...as usual. I'm happy that I was able to experience your "sneezing" as a teacher. =) Kudos to a leader who isn't afraid to do or say what's right for kids.

  5. You have effectively shared what mayor us feel. I am off to my first ASCD Conference in about ten days. I am already planning for my absence. While I know I will benefit from the sessions in trend and the relationships I add to my professional network, I know a piece of my mind will be back with my students and teachers at my school. Perhaps, this feeling will be as prevalent as those feelings associated with leaving my own little ones with their mother. Principals care deeply about their schools. A school community knows this. It is great to know that they will manage while you are away, but those messages that you will be missed during this time are accepted fondly. I am also a Whitaker fan, and I forgot about his "sneeze" analogy. Thanks for the share.

  6. This is a great blog. First off, I love the abolition of the term "administrator." I also like the way you weave the narrative of creating that culture--we're all so busy doing our duty that we forget, from time to time, that building the culture helps make things possible that would have made us spin our wheels otherwise... Dawn