Monday, November 26, 2018

Precisely None

In a recent New Yorker profile, Hollywood supertalent Sam Mendes discussed the challenge of being a director, particularly in the beginning of a career.  “Actors see directors work all the time. Directors see precisely no directors at work.”

I read that line a hundred times.  I freakin' love it, with a key word substitution, of course:  Principals see precisely no principals at work.  (*Side note:  I love Mendes's use of the word precisely.  Geek-out moment for word-loving me).

There are a couple places I’d like to dig here. 

First, by the time principals get their first job and first office, they’ve seen the work of one or two, mayyyyyybe three principals.  If they are later in their career, they may have seen a couple more.  But then— it’s over.  As soon as they get their own keys, they will see precisely no more principals at work.  They’ll have a lot of collegial meetings with other principals, may even be lucky enough to have some sort of mentorship-visitation-thing going on with another principal, but that’s not the same—oh, Lordy, so not the same—as seeing one at work.   At real work.  

Another thing to consider:  Like actors working with directors, teachers see principals work all the time.  They are right smack in the center of all principal decisions; they live and breathe alongside the principal's approach to challenges and celebrations.  They have a lot to gain from a strong principal— and a lot to lose from a weak one.  Their emotions and pride and livelihood are wrapped up together and knotted tight with what's happening with the principal.

Like actors and directors. 

Students and parents see principals work, too, though they are the movie-goers in this analogy.  They don't know everything that happened in the making of the movie, but they experience the end result. They like it or they hate it.  Actors and movie-goers are hard-wired to evaluate and whisper their judgments and reproaches about the director.  It's perfectly socially acceptable to blast a director.  

Similarly, for students and teachers and parents, it's perfectly acceptable to blast a principal.  

They can't win, what with the constant judgment and censure.  I'm allowed to say that, because I'm one of them. 

The impossibility of it all, for us principals, is that criticism is based on emotional reactions to limited information.  I did it myself when I was a teacher:  Bolstered by the energy in the lounge, I'd sniff at decisions my principal made.  In climbing up on that critical high horse,  though, I had about ten percent of the information I needed.  It's not just the factual information I lacked—it was stuff about school climate, parent pressure, priorities, even the bone-deep weariness my principal was undoubtedly feeling.

All those things can make what seems like a boneheaded decision make, like, a lot of sense.

If I had a dime for the times I’ve gotten criticism for a discipline determination, a poorly planned meeting, a poor word choice, even a lapse in composure—?  Sheesh. I've heard it from everyone and anyone watching from many degrees removed, anyone who has a free pass to  criticize that which doesn't make visible sense.  Denigrate with gossip and speculation and snippy, snappy commentary—all just out of my earshot.

Noteworthy:  Every single principal I've ever met, from near and far, has one thing in common:  Trying their very best.
Noteworthy:  No principal I've ever met, anywhere, did better work because of the whispered scorn or disparagement.
Noteworthy:  Principals are a hopeful bunch.  We'll keep on keeping on, even knowing we can't see one another work or learn from one another, and we'll deflect the naysayers and stay focused on the work of helping kids.
Alllllll noteworthy.

With four weeks left until holiday break, it's going to be a tough month.  December is never easy.  For my principal brethren, I wish you all a good month of strength and composure.  And precisely no hurtful, unhelpful criticism.



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Precisely None

In a recent  New Yorker  profile, Hollywood supertalent Sam Mendes discussed the challenge of being a director, particularly in the beginni...