A Peculiar Principal

Miss Peregrine resonated with me.

My daughter, an avid reader and creative soul, had just finished reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and over the weekend we tromped off to the movie theater to see Tim Burton’s take on the unusual story.

I hadn’t thought about what I might think of the show; every parent knows that taking your kids to the movies is for them, not for you, a lesson I learned when years ago I took my niece to see Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief. Oops. But that’s a story for another post.

peregrineSo as we settled into the theater it surprised me that from her first appearance at the front door of her home for peculiar children, the fierce, droll, pipe smoking Miss Peregrine struck me as a kindred spirit.

For those as unfamiliar with Ransom Riggs’ book or the new movie as I was, Miss Peregrine is a person with special abilities, particularly around time, who looks after a collection of unique children held in a limbo of time in an effort to keep them safe from a malevolent force manifested in long limbed eyeless creatures invisible to all but a few. Oh, and she can turn into a falcon.

What struck me first, as a high school principal always trying to do his best, was just how deftly Miss Peregrine handled her complicated and high stakes duty. Things weren’t always smooth. How could they be while bending time, watching twins who could turn anyone to stone by removing their masks, or fending off invisible monsters? But she was able to toggle between little issues and big without losing her grin. Eye eating creature climbing up the cliff? Grab the crossbow. Kids squabbling about who gets to play with a teddy bear? Show the wisdom of Solomon.

bear-twinsMiss Peregrine knew that when working with those not yet adult the best approach involves patience, the ability to stay calm, and a certain smiling determination that I’ve seen in the best principals I know.

Efficiently, and maybe a little wild eyed, Miss Peregrine took her job seriously and her self a little less so.

She knew her kids. She knew their quirks and their abilities, their foibles and their aspirations, and not only maintained a clear vision of each as her or his own best self, but she encouraged them to be true to her they were on the inside. What this meant over the course of the story was that what appeared peculiar early on proved to be vital to the success of all by the end of the story. We as an audience might not be able to predict how a curse could be a blessing, but Miss Peregrine, who chose to see the strengths in her students, could.

This didn’t mean that she wasn’t fiercely protective of them, but even as she held aloft a pocket watch to keep them accountable for timeliness, she was willing to let them explore, have adventures beyond the bounds of the home, and push against the boundaries of their world.

missperegrineMiss Peregrine was a problem solver and a guiding hand. She was there for those in her charge not as a friend, the responsibilities of the world are too much for any leader really to be, but as a benevolent and constant force for good puffing on a bent briar.

Protection and encouragement are two issues always on my professional mind, and to see a character, particularly a flawed character, balance both with such grace couldn’t help but inspire.

Literal monsters aren’t storming the gates of my school, but Miss Peregrine’s sense of duty and role as leader of youth feels very real to me. Now if I could just figure out how to turn into a bird.  

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