Being a high school principal is not glamorous. Case in point: last week, there were way too many chicken nuggets on the student cafeteria floor. Note to ourselves: re-teach cafeteria cleanup.
Chicken nuggets included, I love my job and would choose no other. This week, as I watched a staff trainer work with a student, I realized my experience is unusual.
I hired the trainer to show my staff effective ways to coach students through challenges. I watched the trainer talk to a student named Samantha, who was struggling. The trainer was skillful in getting Samantha to engage in the conversation.
Then the trainer said, “Samantha, I know you’re not excited to come to school today. In fact, I don’t think any of us were excited to come to work. Even I had to make myself get up this morning. None of us really want to be at work.”
Wait a second, I thought. Really? This trainer is brilliant and has made an impact on many schools. She wasn’t excited to come to work?
I realized the trainer was expressing a common statement and this was her way of building empathy and agreement with Samantha: that work is a chore and we “have” to do it, versus we “get” to do it. I saw that it’s cool to groan and complain about work rather than express how great it is.
I feel alive at work. Yes, there are challenges, but I no longer spend much time resisting them. And I know why: through my leadership coaches Ariel and Shya Kane, I’ve strengthened the ability to make even challenging circumstances my preference. Work has become a “get to” versus a “have to.” It’s been surprisingly easy: their seminars and coaching require only listening, not an endless to-do of things to work on.
Unexpected challenges happen at work: the other day, my superintendent visited my school for an evaluation. During the visit, a fire alarm was triggered and wouldn’t stop ringing so that we had to evacuate the building for over almost two hours until the alarm was fixed. Five schools, over 2000 students, outside. Waiting.
Not my initial preference. Visit disrupted, an entire building evacuated.
And yet, as I dealt with the situation with my colleagues, I could appreciate how the staff supported the students, how my superintendent supported the principals,** how the students found ways to entertain themselves while they waited to go back inside. It was a beautiful day. I noticed the bright yellow leaves on the trees around the school and realized that fall is here.
I recently read an article about a barber who is 107 years old. I found the article inspiring, and the desire to keep working rang true for me. “I think I could do this job until I’m 90,” I told my assistant principal last week. We laughed, but the essence for me was true.
*The names and identifying features of students and have been changed.
**There are five schools in my campus building, each with its own principal.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman