When my kids were younger and I was able to pull off some trick that amazed them (pretending to pull a quarter from behind their ears, say, or opening a jar of pickles that they couldn’t unstick) I’d look at them and answer their unspoken question: “how?” with two simple words: “Dad magic.” They’re ten and six now, and hardly astounded by the ability to take off an accidentally locked door handle, though my two word explanation of success still finds its way out of my mouth often enough to be expected by them both.
As a principal at a middle school my day to day opportunities to help aren’t usually so simple. The issues 7th and 8th grade students face, from peer conflicts to pressures in school aren’t fixed with a screwdriver.
Instead, the privilege I have to make a difference brings with it a need for patience and listening, and a mindset steeped in protection and caring. This responsibility isn’t something I take lightly, and as I was explaining to a mom just the other day, I feel like the parent of more than 900 students at my school. I’m here to look out for them, help them learn, and provide a safe space for them to grow up.
To accomplish these ends I’m blessed to be surrounded by caring adults who share a parental attitude and caring sensibility.
My assistant principal has the uncanny ability to balance both a strong professional presence and a true sense of joy. The kids see in him someone they can trust, laugh with, and respect.
My office staff bear witness to the aphorism of it taking a village to raise a child; their caring, mothering, teaching, and holding accountable students helps our kids make the transition from elementary school to young adulthood. Students who pass through the doors of the administration building get more than PE clothes or hall passes; they learn in every positive interaction how to be wonderful people.
From my plant manager and campus supervisor who look at every issue from a student safety point of view, to my registrar who is the biggest advocate for kids I’ve ever known, to the teachers who make all the difference, the adults I share my day with are astounding.
The issues we help kids through range from profound to silly, a reflection I suppose of life. We work hard at jobs we love, and in a profession that has called us to make a difference. I know I’m not alone when I look at the students and see myself as their parent on campus.
And then yesterday I had something happen that in a moment took the concept of in loco parentis out of my head and put that feeling of being a parent directly in my heart. It was a hot day and the lock on the new gate was acting up. Not broken, but fussy, the push bar was sticking and making it difficult for some kids to go out that one door.
I spotted a group of students, five or six 7th grade girls just two or three years older than my own daughter, pushing on the release bar without results. At under a hundred pounds their center of gravity wasn’t helping them with the oomph they needed to budge the stubborn door.
I joined them, always happy to help, and used the tried and true method of unsticking a door: a burly Swedish guy swinging his shoulder against the problem. I’m well more than a hundred pounds. The door popped open.
Because our kids are wonderful the first thing I heard was a chorus of thank yous, followed by one girl who said: “How’d you do that?” Her friend answered her: “Magic” and without thinking I lifted a paternal finger and added my voice to the conversation “…Dad magic.”