Schools exist to educate children. Everyone agrees about that fact. Want to muddy the waters about the purpose of school? Ask those same people if the principal’s job is to serve children who attend the school or serve adults who work in the schools? This concept makes blood pressures rise and faces get red, and everyone has an opinion.
It has been our experience that approximately 98% of what happens in school is best practice, and there is alignment between what should be done on behalf of the student, parent, teacher, and principal. 98% of the time all the arrows are headed in the same direction. Then those rare occasions happen 2% of the time when a teacher makes a mistake, does something punitive, or something happens that is not only not best practice, but is malpractice. How the principal handles those situations has been the cause of many a sleepless night. These are the situations that make the principal’s desk a lonely place to sit because principals know their action will either upset the teacher or upset the parent or student. Sometimes principals have to take sides.
Fortunately for principals there are many great leaders who came before us. Dr. Martin Luther King said “the time is always right to do what is right.” Dr. King wasn’t a principal, but he understood guiding principles. This means that if you are operating in a 2% situation that you remember that schools serve children. In baseball they say “the tie goes to the runner” meaning if the runner steps on the base at the same time the first baseman catches the ball, the runner is safe. Umpires make a split decision and err on the side of the runner. Sometimes principals have to do so as well.
Do not misunderstand. We are strong supporters of teachers in general, and the teachers who work in our schools. We are teachers too. However, we can’t support kicking a student off the tennis team because he was assigned a detention if the child and parent were never made aware that there were team consequences for during school behavior. If this was part of the handbook or contract for being a member of the team, then the principal can support the teacher, but the principal can’t allow rules to be applied arbitrarily or without notice. In this fictitious tennis example the teacher may not feel supported by the principal. Others may say, “This principal wants rule breakers representing our school tennis team?” Those comments are valid because those who question the principal’s rationale often don’t know all the details the principal knows. The critics never have access to the whole story. The critics discuss it because what seems so simple without the facts is actually far more complex when one knows the truth.
So here is how you get through those 2% nights without insomnia. You remember that these difficult situations are when leaders are needed the most. This is the reason you are the principal. You make your decisions using the best information you have, and you ride out the storm knowing your critics be they employees, parents or even the media would see things differently if you could explain what is most likely privileged information regarding student needs or confidential employee issues that cannot be shared. You can’t say what you want to say because the information is protected, but who is protecting you? That’s when you remember you don’t need protection because you do what was right for children.