Saturday, January 2, 2016

Principal Code and Homesickness

Holiday break has given me the opportunity to meet up with several friends I don’t see nearly enough.  The break provides the luxurious opportunity to go out to lunch (!!) and chew slowly (!!) and actually linger (!!) while catching up.  I’ve also slipped out early in the morning to meet a friend for breakfast or coffee.  It doesn’t matter how it happens—I just love how the slower pace allows me to connect with people I love dearly.

In the course of these conversations, like clockwork, each of my friends has wrinkled her brow, tilted her head, and said, “So… how are you doing?”  Their tone is similarly compassionate, curious, and empathetic. 

Legit question, given the complete change my work took last fall when I started a principalship at a new school in my district.  I was transferred—happily and willingly, and I was excited to go. I went off to meet my new challenge, eager to work with a new group of people and make new relationships.  And I’ve loved it.  It’s been fantastic in countless ways.  The work, day in and day out, is what I love.

But in leaving my previous building, I have been taken aback by the unexpected flashes of homesickness that occasionally swept over me, without warning, strong enough to make me need to stop and breathe carefully. 

Here’s the thing.  There is a code between principals.  There are lots of Principal Code components, but one of the biggest is that when you’re gone, you really go.  For good.  You pack up your office, and you go off to whatever is next—retirement, another job, a promotion, whatever.  And you don’t look back.  You don’t show up for staff parties or student performances or just to visit at the end of the day.  You leave an open, empty canvas for the new principal to paint—to create a new culture, refine expectations, and tweak instructional practices as he or she sees fit. 

You go.

But that really sucks sometimes, because it means you have to leave behind the very real relationships you’ve forged. 

It’s like a bad breakup.  It’s happened to all of us:  you have a boyfriend you really like, and you like his friends and his parents and his house and the things you do as a unit.  Then he breaks up with you.  He moves on; he's gone.  But you miss him.  Suddenly, you can’t really talk to his friends anymore, because they’re his friends.  They are his parents.  It’s his house and life.  You have nothing to do with any of it anymore.

Same with leaving a school.   We build strong relationships with people when we work with them, and we begin to know a lot about them—the nuances of their laughter, the cadence of their voice, the moment when they’re about to cry.  We know their flaws and strengths.  We begin to love them in spite of—and because of—these things.  In many ways, working closely with someone is like living with them.

So when you leave, even if you’re happy to do so, there’s still some mourning that happens. 

Seeing my friends and talking through this natural series of emotions has been cathartic.  They have done what friends do—legitimize and validate my emotions, reassure that it is temporary, and plan a lunch date for summer break.  The homesickness will lessen in time, I know; indeed, it already has.  I've developed new relationships and connections quickly, and the lost ones don't cut quite as deeply anymore.  So when I see my friends again, and they ask how I'm doing, I am sure I will be able to grin back and say, "I feel right at home.  Thank you for asking."  


  1. Switching schools does bring homesickness but you have to break away to be stronger and begin again. Thanks for clarifying emotions I have had.

  2. Loved reading this although it makes me sad. Let's get together soon!


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I’ve listened to the fabulous Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs speak many times, and frequently studied her work.  When she speaks to groups of educat...