Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Good Year

I haven't blogged since November 25, 2015. That's a long time. There are a few reasons this is so:
1) I think people might get tired of hearing about me running. I run now. It's not that special. It's still hard and rewarding and stress-relieving, but not special.
2) My kids are now old enough to not enjoy me posting every hilarious detail of their lives on my blog.
3) My job involves other people's kids, and they also wouldn't appreciate me posting every little thing that happens during my day on a blog. Also, FERPA.
4) I opened a school in the last year.

So let's visit in a little more depth about #4 because it's ridiculous. I didn't do anything.

That's not totally true because I did lots of stuff, but I didn't decide to open up a school and then single-handedly educate 500ish kids for a school year. That was the work of so many people, and I had mostly a supporting role. It makes me a little uncomfortable when it comes up that I opened a school because it feels like I'm taking way more credit than is due. Let me clear that up right now. I am well aware that if it were left to only me nothing would have happened this year like it did.

Now that it's summer, many people have asked, "How did your first year go?" I'm a bit mystified when I try to answer. It seems so trite to say, "Good. It was a good year." It was a good year. Things went well. It felt natural and right and good. Those are the best words I can come up with. Sort of undramatic, I know. It felt like home, and while that lacks drama it holds so much more.

I'll give a sidebar that our STAAR scores haven't come in yet, so if they stink I will feel completely responsible and be a little sick about it, but it will still have been a good year. I preach all the time that those numbers don't define us and they don't; I still want them to be great. 

Back to the narrative...

I decided that now is a good time to reflect on/document some things from my first year as a principal (and maybe laugh at myself a little!). Here goes:

Being a principal without a school and students is boring. For real. The joy and fulfillment I got when there were finally other people around is almost inexplicable. I know I have some real awkward, introverted tendencies, but I also now know without a doubt that I need people.

I can happily and easily speak in front of groups of people. If I ever thought I had stage fright I can be sure now that I just don't. However, I am incredibly self-conscious about other's perception of me. Specifically, any time parents are at school for something, they aren't there to see me. They want to see their kids sing and hear teachers talk about what happens in the school day. I am not ever the star of the show, and that is exactly how it should be and how I want it to be. My job is to be the introducer, the welcomer, the explainer and get out of the way. While stage fright isn't an issue, any time I am in front of a crowd I hear in the back of  my head "Hurry up and get out of the way! Never give the impression that you think this is about you!" This leads me to sometimes not be the best introducer, welcomer, and explainer. I'm working on it!

To that end, principals often have to do things that call attention to themselves. I am always game for some fun, but I am not terribly comfortable with this. For example, when we met our fund raising goal for PTO I had to kiss a snake. It made me a little sick. Not because of the snake (which was gross and icky and freaked me out), but because I had this irrational fear that I was teaching a bad lesson and that children all over the neighborhood would now go out and attempt to kiss random snakes all because I taught them it was an okay thing to do. I went out of my way to make it clear that this particular snake was a teacher's pet and that I had checked carefully to make sure it was a safe snake (I seriously said the words "safe snake" in front of the whole school) and that you should never, ever go near an animal you don't know unless you are with a responsible adult.

Have I ever mentioned that I can be obsessed about the weirdest things?

I also had to lip sync a One Direction song. When I announced to the students that I would do this if we met our goal, I sort of forgot my audience. In case you were wondering, kindergarteners don't know what lip syncing is, and they immediately thought One Direction was coming to our school. I could see it on their faces.

Uh Oh.

So I over-explained and talked about what lip syncing is and how One Direction would not be coming to school and the whole thing was quite a bust. It was like sad music played in the middle of a pep rally or something. So sad. "One Direction won't be here, but you'll have ME pretending to be them!  Won't that be awesome and fun?" Um...not really, lady. Not even close.

Can I call that a life lesson? It was for me!

I put off the whole lip syncing thing because (if I'm being totally honest) I was a little embarrassed every time I thought about it. But I'm a girl of my word, so at the end of the fourth grade talent show my office teammates and I performed our song. There were some technical difficulties with the music, and all in all it was a mostly hilarious, light-hearted thing. It was fun, and I was so glad it was done!

One day in the fall semester, we arrived at school to find it was largely without electricity. We called our operations folks, they came out and did some work, and we got a bit more power. By about ten a.m., we learned that a transformer had blown and would need to be replaced, and in the meantime we would have only 2/3 power. Some rooms didn't have lights, the air conditioning didn't work, the kitchen couldn't cook was kind of a hot mess. After some creativity, our district electricians got the kitchen working. I had to work with the central office people to decide what to do, and I pushed to keep the kids at school. The powers-that-be agreed, and I spent the rest of the day telling everyone what an adventure we were having!  Our whole staff rallied, and kids learned all day. After school the transformer was successfully replaced. It was a win, and a true bonding experience for us all!

On the next to last day of school, which also happened to be class party day, there were tornadoes in the area right at dismissal time. That's not great.

We ducked and covered twice, the second time for about 40 minutes. I did an automated phone call to parents telling them that their kids were safe but that we were going to keep them right where they were until the storm passed. Storms don't bother me, and I'm usually the calm one when there are emergencies, so (weirdly) the day didn't really even stress me out. Once again, everyone rallied together. We had all hands on deck when we finally did dismiss in the pouring rain, and we were able to laugh at the terrible timing. The parents were especially great, trusting us to keep their kids safe and being patient. It ended up being another adventure.

If you know me at all, you know I cry at the drop of a hat. Surprisingly, I did not cry in front of the whole school this year. I didn't cry at sing-a-longs or even kindergarten graduation. This is HUGE for me. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down on the last day of school at the fourth grade program. I held it together until the very end when I recognized them as the first fourth grade class of Spring Creek Elementary.

Dude. I lost it. I tried so hard to stay composed, but my voice turned into a throaty, half weeping mess. I told them I had thought of each of them before they ever stepped foot on our campus. That they were a gift to their teachers, to me, and to each other. To go from our school and continue being a gift to those they meet. It is exactly how I feel about them, and I couldn't get through it without melting into a puddle. I suppose there are worse things.

Another item of note is the power of a group email or text with the other elementary principals. I asked LOTS of questions, and someone was always willing to give me a clear, straight answer. I never felt like my questions were silly or being judged. I was so blessed to have a group of people who were helpful and kind. I often tell staff that we're better together than by ourselves, and I was certainly better because of my colleagues.

I also learned to cut myself some slack.  I learned it's okay to know the answer, to know what my gut says, but to still need to talk it out. I am thankful for mentors who I could call any time to say, "I know what the right thing is, but I need someone else to tell me I'm not wrong." I learned that even if people really want a decision right now, sometimes the best thing to do is sleep on it, pray about it, and not rush. I think I'm much more comfortable with that now than I was at the beginning of the year.

And so our first year is done. I hope it's not wrong to say it's anti-climactic. We're all home, doing what we love, giving our best to kids. As great as this year was, I know that next year will be even better. Looking forward to year two is no less exciting than looking back at year one. I don't think I expected that. I'm ready for summer and some time off, but I am still mystified that they really pay me to do this job.

That's a good year.

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