Sending out a ‘Thank You’ in anticipation of School Principals’ Day!
May 1 is School Principals’ Day. As a high school principal for many years, I couldn’t help but think about my first day as principal at Mother Theodore Guerin High School. I remember walking into the office on July 1 and thinking, “Now what do I do?”
It didn’t seem to matter that I had served in an academic administrative capacity for several years prior at Providence-St. Mel School; or that I had done work beyond a master’s degree in educational leadership; or that I had some excellent role models whom I could emulate. Suddenly, I found myself in a school where almost everyone and everything was new to me … and I knew I was ultimately responsible for the education and formation of nearly 1,100 young women who graced our halls every day and for the faculty who educated them.
I will never forget the weight of the responsibility I felt that day.
‘To Minister to’
It took less than a minute to answer the question, “Now what do I do?”, for almost immediately there were people at my door. It was July, and there were myriad things to do, faculty and staff to hire and decisions to make so that school could open smoothly in August. (Did you know that research shows that, on average, principals make about 300 decisions each day?)
So, what is the job of a principal? Oh, I could rattle off hundreds of tasks that a principal does. But this is what I have told my educational leadership students (aspiring principals) for many years: The principal is the major administrator. Note that last word: Ad-ministrator (Which means, “to minister to”). Yes, this is the role of a principal: To be the person who ministers to those around him/her. And that ministry takes many forms.
There are the usual educational and community-building ministries: Finding the most effective yet caring way of helping a teacher who struggled with a lesson; consulting with other members of the administrative team about students at risk; cheering on the various sports and academic teams; celebrating the academic achievements and accomplishments of students and faculty who have worked so hard to make it happen; filling in “on the spot” with meaningful lessons for the chemistry teacher who called in sick at the last minute; and so on. Through some eyes, these might be considered “tasks” that a principal can “check off” each day. For one who sees herself as a minister, it also means seeing each “task” as a call to be a positive, compassionate loving presence.
Bringing ‘Hope and Healing’
And then there are the parts of the ministry that are difficult if not heartbreaking: Talking with and getting help for a student who feels so overwhelmed by school or life that she is considering suicide; strategizing with a parent whose spouse is abusing her; companioning a faculty member whose life is being cut short by illness; working with the school community to wrap in love the student whose parent murdered his spouse; consulting with the counselor to find safety nets for the student who goes home each night to gang-infested housing and rampant shooting. After each of these kinds of interactions, I often found myself asking, “How can I continue to bring hope and healing to those involved in the days ahead?”
Of course, there are myriad administrative meetings that are nestled in each day, so that the school can function optimally and so that future planning can be done; and there are classroom observations and walk-throughs — in every instance, a loving call to each person to be the best s/he can be. And then there are the mounds of paperwork, state reports, special schedules, newsletters and memos … more days than not, those tasks get relegated to the end of a principal’s day, after most of the school community has gone home.
Thank you for your presence!
I can’t even imagine the life of a principal these past 14 months. Overnight, their lives were turned upside down, as principals and staff tried to figure out how to ensure that students had the hardware and internet access needed for remote learning; how to minimize contact among students for in-person learning; how to execute contact tracing in the most expeditious manner; how to afford all the personal protective equipment and sanitization supplies that were needed; how to staff classrooms day after day when faculty were ill. For the past year, they have also been called on to “minister to” in a unique way, whether students and faculty were in the building or working remotely. They have comforted students whose family member died of COVID-19; encouraged students who struggled to stay focused at a computer all day; assisted parents in figuring out how to manage both working from home and assisting their children as they tried to learn at home; coached faculty for whom technology wasn’t their calling; and found food for families who suffered food insecurity. Honestly, not a night has gone by that I haven’t prayed for school personnel who are trying to educate students and support parents against all odds!
So today, all of us in the Providence Community say to principals everywhere: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for the many, many hours you have given and decisions you have made, to do all that you can to create an environment in which your faculty, staff and students can reach their highest potential academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. Thank you for nurturing your faculty and staff so that they can be the role models that our students so desire. Thank you for being ‘omnipresent’: In and out of classrooms, at every athletic contest, at countless meetings, at public events. Thank you for being a personal presence in the lives of so many faculty, staff, students and parents. Most of all, thank you for being true administrators and for genuinely ministering to the school communities entrusted to your care. Our future will be better because of the ministry you do with such love and compassion.”