Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Principals Are People 2

One of the clearest memories I have of undergraduate school as an education major was someone along the line telling us that when we had our own class, we should not let the children see us smile until December - at the earliest! If they saw us smile, they could see "cracks" in our armor and would quickly take advantage of them and all order would be lost and anarchy would unfold (ok - those weren't the exact words but you get the idea). Well, I am thrilled to share that I barely made it through an hour on the morning of day one and I couldn't contain my joy, enthusiasm and excitement - they saw me smile day one. And you know what? There was no anarchy; there was no lack of control; there was some chaos but it was the best kind and in the end, I had an amazing eight years as a classroom teacher filled with joy, happiness and awesome memories. I knew there was something about those words of advice that did not sit well with me!

Fast forward to my days as a graduate student in an educational leadership program and I have another pretty strong memory. That memory revolves around the words of one of my professors; the words went something like this... No one can ever see the principal sweat or get frazzled or show much emotion - everyone is looking to the principal to decide how to react. Really? So the principal is supposed to be a robot that lacks some of the essential qualities of a human being? How could that really work?

Based on how well the whole "DONT SMILE TILL DECEMBER..." thing worked out for me you can imagine how the no sweating, no getting frazzled and no emotion thing played out in my time as a principal. To be honest though, during my first two years as a principal, I tried hard to abide by those words of advice - I walked around with a smile on my face most days, put out everyone else's fires before I even ate or used the bathroom and always stayed organized and tried to be calm. While that might have worked in the building, I went home and cried about four nights a week about how stressed, overwhelmed and defeated I was feeling by the job. It was killing me because I was trying so hard to maintain this facade that I was slowing dying inside - fleeting was the joy, passion and fun that I experienced each day as a teacher.

Needless to say I knew something had to change - either I wasn't cut out to be a principal (still a very likely possibility) or I needed a fresh start where I could show emotion, where being frazzled might be a possibility and sweating wouldn't be frowned upon. Before giving up on the profession (quitting doesn't come easily for me) I decided that maybe starting over again at a new school would be worth the try. Well, here I am, six years later as the Lead Learner of #Cantiague Elementary School and I can honestly say that this change has reignited my passion and excitement because I threw those words of advice from educational leadership school out the window before day one and I decided to be me - the whole package - the good and the bad - the pretty (ok - there isn't much of that) and the ugly - the teacher and the learner - I decided to be Tony, the person!  

You see, the thing is, principals are people too. Sure, we are technically the leaders of the organization (although from my vantage point the students, teachers and staff all assume leadership in some way, shape or form but that's a whole other post) but the bottom line is, we are people with emotions and lives inside and outside of the school that impact our work each day. We get speeding tickets when we're running late (at least I do); we forget to respond to an email every once in a while (even though my email shows up on my phone); we have to choose between work and family on many occasions (this one is so tough); we forget to eat lunch or use the bathroom (I think at one point I went almost two days without doing either); we get happy, sad, excited, angry, etc. - you name it, we feel it! That's right - principals are people too. And you know what I have learned from my experience at #Cantiague as the Lead Learner? That because I try being transparent with those around me as often as possible, they have come to appreciate me as Tony the person... not just Tony the principal! Yes, they know what I stand for and believe in as an educator but they also know that I cry because my son has to have surgery every six months and that I love to drink Mountain Dew on a somewhat regular basis and that my heart bleeds blue and orange for the Mets and that I am prone to pulling into the parking lot at school most mornings with the windows down and music blasting! You see, they don't only know me as Tony the principal but they have come to care about me as Tony the person too.   

So, if you are a #Cantiague community member and you are reading this post - thank you for supporting me and for accepting Tony the person! 

If you are a teacher who might have raised your eyebrow or snickered at some point when your principal spoke or did something that seemed ridiculous, try and give them the benefit of the doubt and remember that at the core, they are people too (even though we may seem unemotional and robotic at times). 

And if you are a principal reading this post remember to be real - be transparent and honest with your community! Be a learner first! Remember to always keep kids at the center! Don't be afraid to openly reflect on your failures as often as you celebrate the successes! Be a person first and principal second because I believe it will serve you well!

Finally, a special shout out to some very near and dear friends of mine who joined me on this blogging challenge and posted their own takes on the idea that Principals are People Too. Check out their posts here...

Curt Rees      


  1. What a powerful piece Tony! It is so important that you said and wrote this. Too often I think we burn ourselves out when we need to lean on each other. I have heard first hand that you are an incredible source of comfort to many. I think we also need to understand that it's okay to see students in this state and that we can be there to help them and they actually have the power to help and heal us. Great piece Tony!

  2. I am going to share this. I know my principal is human. She drinks coffee and likes donuts!

  3. Thanks for this post, Tony! If we can't be ourselves, who can we be?

  4. Tony,
    I'm so thankful that you share your "genius" with us. We don't want robo-Tony. We embrace and love the real-Tony. The leader that is 1,000,000% about kids. The leader that is humorous and humble and collaborative to the core. Thanks for keeping it real and helping me be a better person and leader.

  5. Tony,
    What an important message and reminder to be who you are because if we cannot be our authentic selves how can we honestly ask the same of staff or students.

  6. Very true! Thanks for sharing Tony! True of any leader.....love this line: "That because I try transparent with those around me as often as possible, they have come to appreciate me as Tony the person... not just Tony the principal!

  7. Love this post Tony. It's so you and so reflective of why I respect you so much. Keep on keeping it real and showing the rest of us how to do it.

  8. Amen! I struggled with this last year (my first year as principal) and really identified with your post. Thank you for taking the time to write and share!

  9. AGREED!! I am just ending my second year as a principal. I had a situation that I felt I needed to apologize about. ALL of my mentors advised me against that. AND, I apologized. It wouldn't have been true to who I am to not. Keeping kids first and being true to what I know and what I value is in everyone's best interest. Always open to talk about anything...and admit my mistakes. Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. Tony: You have certainly out done yourself once again. You have made me realize how similar our paths and experiences in education have been, minus the fact that you are a Mets fan, while I am a former Bleacher Creature and die hard Yankees fan! Yeah, I think I can look past that ;-) Again, thanks for sharing and as always keeping it real!

  11. One of the best principals I ever had, Tony, took the time to get to know ME as a person beyond the classroom.

    He knew where my wife worked and said hello whenever he saw her. He knew who my favorite teams were and was all too ready to give me guff when they lost. He knew that my daughter was my world and reached out after she was born even though he'd moved on to another school.

    No matter how much time you invest in a school, until you genuinely care about the people that you work with, you can't possibly make a difference -- no matter what position you are in.

    So I guess the question is why do we set the humanity aside when working with our peers?


  12. Tony,
    I'm so glad I read your post and I'm thankful you wrote it. This is one of my struggles over the years.
    Thank you for bearing this piece of your soul.
    Take care my friend!