I went into my 12:30 parent meeting with the smell of Readi Whip in my hair. I’d been sensible enough to bring a change of clothes; when students throw pies at their principals, part of the joy gets taken away if the target in question is covered in a garbage bag and shower cap, but when I lurched back to my office after the pies had flown, whip cream dripping into my eyes, my hair a blur of white and gray, I knew the smell would stick around.
Part of being a principal is being willing to play the fool, to dance at an assembly, to join in at a Comedy Sportz performance, and to say “yes” when the students ask you to play.
But those are the fun parts.
Another element of being the guy in the tie is being able to pivot on a dime, transitioning from a classroom observation to a construction meeting, from lunchtime supervision to a school board presentation, from taking a pie in the face to a high stress parent meeting.
Both sides are vital to helping a school thrive, and while the juxtaposition of whimsy and seriousness may seem dramatic, they’re two faces of one job.
The principal needs to be ready for anything.
Today’s Pi Day activities came sandwiched between discussions with parents on how best to help students make healthy decisions to avoid drugs, how we might support a student whose family was moving to the Persian Gulf, and a stressful conversation about a discipline issue. To dodge one to do the other was never an option, and while the frivolity of lunch seemed at odds with the gravitas of the rest of the day, I would argue that both were important to my school.
Being able to talk seriously about the issues that challenge us means that we can make progress toward solving the problems that vex our school community. Keeping a lightness in our collective hearts gives us the strength to make those solutions happen.
I once had a student ask me, with curiosity, not snark, “What do you do as the principal?”
My answer, given honestly, would look different every day.
Last Friday I had to give letters to all my temporary teachers letting them know that they would have to re-interview for their current jobs, I visited a “Senior Java” where the 12th grade class got together for bagels and conversation in the quad, I hosted a graduation planning meeting, met with some history teachers about master scheduling, and was slated to go to a robotics tournament in the evening.
Monday I met with parents about how to support kids in classes, parking tickets, and a contested suspension. A little later in the day two teachers from Japan visited to discuss an exchange program, I spent some time preparing for a parent Foundation meeting, and I visited classrooms.
Tuesday, today, my assistant poked her head in my office and said with a smile “looking at the stressful day you have ahead of you, it’s fun to see ‘pie in the face’ on your calendar!” It is. It certainly is.
Perhaps the best answer to that student’s question would have been: “Every day I do my best to help our school.” That’s not a poetic answer, but it is a true one.
Today that work involved tears and whipped cream. Tomorrow, who knows. Whatever it is I welcome the work with a heart open to hope and a mind prepared to listen. And if the kids ask me to sing Carpool Karaoke, I’ll say “yes.”