By Andrew Hawk
My hire date for my first and current administrative job was June 11, 2019. I started working at my school almost immediately. Now that my first year is coming to an end, I can honestly say that the majority of my job duties as principal turned out the way I had imagined them. I learned a lot of new things, especially about how to set up protocols and procedures. There were certainly some surprises and a twist ending that I never saw coming. Here are a few reflections from my great first year.
You Will Make Mistakes
Becoming principal does not suddenly make a person omnipotent. There are still going to be missteps and mistakes. I remember being a teacher and making a little mistake while teaching but no one taking notice. When you are the principal, it’s not quite the same. When you make a mistake, people notice. The best advice I can give to prospective principals is to model the behavior you would want to see in your staff members and students. Take ownership of your mistakes and take the necessary steps to correct them. Do not get defensive—you are allowed to be human.
Reprimands Are Unavoidable
At the beginning of the school year, the head of our teachers’ association and I had a meeting. During this meeting, she asked me to remind my staff members that they were allowed to have a representative from the association sit in on any meetings during which they would be given formal reprimands. I thought, “Why would I ever have to reprimand a teacher?” Now I know that these situations do come up from time to time. Whether you have to talk to a staff member about a small issue or give someone a formal letter of reprimand, it is best to be up front and calm and not sugarcoat the situation.
Most Parents Want to be Heard
I have mentioned this several times when writing as a teacher, but it is still true. The majority of parents want their child’s principal to listen to their concerns. In some cases, they do not even want you to do anything but “be aware of a situation.” Offer to communicate with parents when they reach out to you.
Positivity Is the Best Counter to Negativity
Whether you are facing pushback from your staff members, feedback from stakeholders, or a conflict with other administrators, I recommend countering negativity with positivity. If you type an email and you are not sure if your wording is too strong, wait to send it and reread it first. It is possible to reinforce your point of view without engaging in an argument.
Students Are Still Funny
Going into my new job, I worried about missing little interactions with students. I have always found children to be entertaining. What I figured out was that I could still incorporate spending time with students into my day. Like many other principals, I started eating lunch with students. One day during the holiday season, a young lady in one of my second-grade classes asked me, “Mr. Hawk, was Christmas around when you were little?” This is my favorite quip from this year.
Some Parents Love Worksheets
You would think that parents would call to tell the principal that their students are being assigned too many worksheets in class and that this is not right. How many of these calls did I take this year? Zero! I did take several calls about teachers who do not send home graded work. I explained that in many cases we had moved to hands-on activities and that class grades could be looked up on our parent portal. Several parents asked me to encourage teachers to go back to worksheets. After schools closed, we switched to online learning. We are one-to-one with Chromebooks, so we were able to do that quickly. Several parents emailed, messaged, and called me requesting paper packets of work. I think some people like what is familiar.
Teaching Assistants Are Hard to Find
I already knew this from my experience as a special education teacher, but my first year as principal reaffirmed it. I took one candidate through the hiring process only to have her quit after one day on the job. The principal of our high school hired someone, and the person never showed up for orientation. Such is the struggle at many schools looking for teaching assistants.
Students Really Like School
Last week, my school corporation held its teacher parade. We drove through the communities we serve with firetrucks leading the way. It warmed my heart to see many of our students holding signs stating that they miss school. I have not heard of a single student who was happy about the school year being cancelled.
It Pays to be Ready for Change
My school corporation went from planning our hiring phase to discussing cuts. A quarter of our state’s tax revenue for this year is gone. Poof! I am lucky to have a proactive superintendent. We are taking steps to conserve resources now, and because we acted so quickly, it is likely we will not have to lay off any of our people.
You Can’t Go Back
High school, preschool, fifth grade—all graduations are cancelled. Senior proms are cancelled and so are basically all events that gather people together. These things are changed, and we will not be able to go back and un-change them. We have to make everything as authentic and natural as we can in this moment.
My school corporation is hosting a drive-through graduation. Seniors pull up in a car with their parents or guardians, walk across a stage, get their diploma, and leave with their parents. All of this will take place in our bus garage and be livestreamed by our technology coach. Is it the graduation we had originally planned? No. But I think it will make our students happy. There is also something to be said about having a once-in-a-lifetime graduation.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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