He came back into the admin building and leaned in through my open doorway. Pointing to the glass wall that separates my desk from the lobby, he said: “This is the brightest and most open principal’s office I’ve ever seen.”
I smiled at him, a parent who had been in to pick up his daughter early. Literally everyone who enters Diegueño Middle School walks past my desk, so the times I’m in my office are filled with impromptu conversations and (mostly) friendly faces.
Sometimes the interaction is a short as a wave, other times a pinched nod is followed by the no longer unexpected “Do you have a minute?” I’ve made a commitment to myself that the answer will always be yes.
Parents. Teachers. Students.
…and the gift of a chance to make a difference.
“When I was in school,” the man in my doorway continued, “the principal’s office was…” He puffed his cheeks out and widened his eyes.
“Behind the iron curtain?” I asked.
“Yeah. End of a long scary hallway.”
“Things have changed.”
And how they have.
I met my middle school principal once, on the last day of 8th grade when I was called into his office for drawing a mustache on his picture in a couple of yearbooks.
I don’t remember him as a mean man, just thin, and tired, and sad. He said something about being disappointed, and rule follower that I was, I hung my head. But if I’m honest, even now, his words didn’t have much impact; he was a stranger to me, a man I’d seen at assemblies and drifting through the hallways like a ghost in a mid 19th century novel.
Had one of my teachers said the same words, I would have cried.
Then again, I wouldn’t have drawn a mustache on any of my teachers’ photos. I knew them. I respected them.
It was faceless authority the thirteen year old in me was rebelling against. No, not faceless; you can’t have a mustache without a face. I guess it was simply a face I didn’t know. And when I walked down the long, unfamiliar hallway that led to his office and met the man from the yearbook photo, so clean-shaven, and gray, and ready for summer vacation, I felt …disconnected. Here was a stranger. Like him, I wished I could be anywhere but there.
As a principal now myself, I’m thankful that my office isn’t tucked away like a soviet era bunker. I’m also happy that from the first morning bell until the end of the day, it’s a place I don’t spend too much time; classrooms and campus are better places to connect with kids and teachers.
It’s these connections that define who I am as an administrator. They’re built, purposefully, over time, by being available, keeping my door (and mind) open, and embracing the opportunities that come from an office with glass walls.