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Rough Day in the Life of a Principal? Getting Back to WHY

Build your School Community.

I’m proud to say I have been in a 17-year relationship with education. I love what I do, and the kids and teachers are great (well most days albeit full moons on Friday nights). It’s analogous to being married for 17 years.

When it’s new it’s fun and exciting and you’re passionate about starting your life or your career. As with most everything the romance stage begins to fade. It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day”. Every morning the alarm goes off, you get up, have your coffee, and the hum drum once again begins (good movie if you haven’t seen it).

Day after day, year after year, routine after routine you fall into a monotonous pattern. Some days you find yourself looking for some new adventures or ideas and then you go home tired (disclaimer: except days you are in triage).

This pattern or mundane routine subconsciously has an effect over time.  You lose motivation some days…especially as the year goes on.  As a teacher, I found my “Why” was to create a safe learning environment where kids can blossom, evolve and grow. Any kid. All kids. I did this in my country as well as others.

I visited many countries where education was more of a burden than a benefit for kids. Countries like Guatemala where the average age for dropouts was third grade because the children were needed to work on the farm. Or in Peru some children in the Andes walked 5 miles during all types of weather just to get to school, and then walk back.

It is more of a chore getting to school than actually attending school. Lack of education can perpetuate poverty in some cases. For some kids, school is a pathway out of poverty or a miserable home life.

I realize that these are just words but the power and meaning of these words are much more influential and meaningful when you have visited and provided help to children and teachers in countries with stressed economies. This was very influential in my Why.

My Why as a ‘teacher’ still exists. My Why is to stop perpetuating what already exists. Giving troubled kids an opportunity for a step up. Giving mediocre performing kids a chance to find their passion and shine. Giving gifted kids opportunities to be the best they can be. Is it not what we are about?

Showing kids how to go from mediocre to great! Helping them find their passion to be the best they can be. There are many obstacles and milestones on this journey. Helping them Mine their Lights, I firmly believe education is the pathway to enlightenment. Educating the individual, families, neighborhoods and the masses provide a path to fulfillment and to an enhanced life and country.

Although I still carry that teacher Why, I also carry an administrator Why that is linked to being a champion for kids. Because how I interact with teachers impacts kids. It is important to empower your staff to make them heard and feel successful.

But you need to remember your Why as you empower your staff, too. It is important that the staff has “ownership” with this empowerment.  Only then will it be successful. Avoiding mandates and giving strict directives lacks “ownership.”

Sometimes finding your Why is right in front of your face and you don’t see it…like when you walk into a room, forget what you are looking for even though it is staring back at you, and then you just walk out and tell yourself you’re just getting old.

Then I got an unexpected rebirth of my Why…when I wasn’t even looking. I didn’t realize I fell into the mundane routine.

In my case, my why was buried like a crumpled up Post It living in the bottomless abyss of my purse. I bring it with me everywhere, every day. It’s always with me. But somehow the crumpled up Post It slowly migrated its way to the deep, dark depths of my purse, suffocating under a bunch of random odds and ends called daily life. A lonely wrinkled Why in no-man’s land.

Then I went to a conference.

Enter Jimmy Casas and his engaging dialogue on Culturize. I’ve seen a lot of gurus, but this guy oozed passion for education. Because he lived it, he made admitted mistakes as an administrator, and he strove (and continues to strive) for excellence. His conference was intoxicating, energetic, and contagious. His ‘lecture’ was so interactive and engaging I realized a couple hours went by and I hadn’t even checked the clock. Impressive for a full day conference. He personalized it. He knew my name. He modeled the importance of relationships.

Teacher relationships. We are talking admin to teacher and teacher to teacher. He said that our responsibility is to lead learning and build culture.

He has 12 Ways to Lead Learning in Your School that provides ideas on how to lead learning. But I want to focus on building culture.

I believe I have a good rapport with my teachers I have known for seven years. Let’s just put it right on the table…yes they call or email me when there is an issue. But my turning point was when I was invited to a grade level lunch. I knew something was up…so I waited and waited until finally the end of lunch bell rang. I asked the teachers,

“we didn’t discuss any issues you have, what’s up?” They said they didn’t have any…they “just wanted me to hang with them and laugh, eat and talk.”  Wow! Talk about a strong relationship.

But after listening to Jimmy Casas, I still want to do better! He encouraged me to dig deeper and change my methodology. So he suggested a few things to Culturize (these are my take-aways that I have been doing and it has been working):


Go engage with people and bring back your Why…why you got into this profession. Use this to fill your cup. Lose your why, lose your way!


Interact with people, their stories are incredibly powerful. Create a process where staff share stories with each other to build a sense of community.


However we treat our staff, we need to model how we behave. He meant not just here and there, but as a regularity. Be in tune with your own behavior. Model your own behavior.

Even your daily routines send messages. For instance, when you do your morning rounds, Jimmy suggests not talking to the same people every day because that sends a message that you have ‘favorites’. So be sure to mix it up and visit everyone during the week! Great idea…get out of your comfort zone!


Ask a lot of questions! As a matter of fact, ask questions and sit back and listen. You will get more information than you ever thought just by letting teachers have their voice.

I still have a lot of work to do. Jimmy gave great pointers to use right away for when I returned to work the next day.

So Culturize and see yourself as a community builder. The more you build relationships, the more you build your culture. Build those communities you want to have that don’t yet exist. Have a vision, lead and inspire. Model the behaviors you want in your community, from your staff, from your students. And be sure to bring the staff together to share and celebrate successes!


Let’s hear how you have been a community builder.  Leave your comments below and on Twitter or Facebook.