In one of the most validating moments of my year so far, a ninth grade student let me know, in the slightly off kilter way only a fourteen year old can, that I might be doing a good job.
Principals each have to find their voice, articulating through both words and actions who they are as a leader and as a contributor to the education students at their school experience. Some choose to be the person in the suit, dressed to show the high expectations they have for themselves and all those around them. Others choose to be the intellectual, masterfully connected to pedagogical advancement, engaged in professional development, and always able to quote the latest educational research. Some drape themselves with spirit wear every day, shouting their school pride from the rooftops. I suppose the best have an element of all three, and pinches of others.
As for me, a teacher at heart, I spend much time thinking about how I can best connect with the students at my school and support their learning, both inside the classroom and beyond. To do this, I tap into my paternal nature, and hope to project an accepting, benevolent, and committed deportment, one that sees the best in students and expects the best of them.
In a word: Atticus.
Truth be told, I’m no Gregory Peck, a fact I was reminded of in that honest and disarming way students have of speaking the truth. Walking across campus this morning, a student called out to me from where she was standing with a group of freshmen. “Mr. Paige!” she said. “You should be Mr. Incredible for Halloween!”
“Yeah!” she replied, with a smile that showed neither irony nor malice.
“Okay,” I said, unsure of what else to add. “Something to think about…”
I did think about it.
Hair thinning, middle thickening, and a bit long in the tooth, Pixar’s Mr. Incredible isn’t unfamiliar to a fellow like me; I see some of these attributes in the mirror every morning. Beyond those physical casualties of middle age, however, he’s also a character with more than a few of the qualities I strive for as a principal.
Protective, durable, and ready to help, this cartoonish dad doesn’t always get things right; often enough he even looks silly, but he keeps his center and knows that with hard work and his heart in the right place, he can make a difference.
As much as I wish students would see me as Scout saw her father, at least in To Kill A Mockingbird, I realized this morning that I’m comfortable with the fact that my students might see me as a more …contemporary father figure, one that smiles a lot.
Will I put on a red suit this October? No. But I will carry with me the incredible feeling that at least one of my students sees in me something good.