Her response to me was;
"I used to want to be a principal but now I look at that job and I don't think so anymore...it seems like it is more like running a business now.'
Food for thought. Here are my wonderings.
1. Are schools like businesses?
I would have to say that to some degree they are. In New Zealand, we are self managing, which means that we run all aspects of our school, from finance, property, health and safety, self review, staffing and of course, most importantly, teaching and learning. If you don't pay the bills, you get your heat cut off. That might seem a bit extreme, but when I was a beginning principal in a small semi rural school, I spent the first six weeks staring at a white box that had 'finance' written on it, not realising that the school cheque book and the bills lived in there. It was only when we got a reminder notice by the phone company that I needed to find out where the cheque book was, how we paid the bills and what I needed to do! I liken my first year of principalship to that of baptism by fire!
The point is, part of the role of a school principal in New Zealand is that of the CEO - we run our budgets and all aspects of a 'business' just like the business down the road. The only difference is that we are not for profit - although one might think that was debatable sometimes with some schools (enough said about that for now!). A wise accountant once told me that schools are not for profit but they are not for loss either, so it is a constant juggle. Add in the complexities of teaching and learning and there are days where it feels like you are running two businesses.
I can understand that the 'business side' of running a school can seem like a big turn off. Certainly when I first entered principalship I was very green, and I had no idea what a complex job it would be. Three schools later, and the job is no less complex, but as long as you remember what it is that you are there for, that your students, your team, your community are the real joy in leading a school, then the other bits become a necessary part of that package. The better you do that job the easier it makes the leading of teaching and learning. To unpack that would take longer than this blog post so you will just have to trust me on that!
2. Am I and other principals she knows, the reason we have put her off?
This wondering is the most significant and worrying of them all. What am I needing to do differently to 'sell' the job of principalship? Does the paperwork, constant juggling, endless conversations, hours spent putting out fires and dealing with bureacrats, meetings and phone calls to a multitude of people, look unappealing?
As I write, I think about how uninspiring it seems. I do try to spend less 'contact time' (school hours) in my office doing those things above, and more in classrooms, with students and working on the teaching and learning part of leadership. I figure, the only time I have to work with classrooms is during 9-3. It is not like I can bring the students back! There is only a limited time during the day we can touch base with our key purpose. Does this juggling not seem appealing? Is it not enough?
And so I wonder, what is it about what I, or my colleagues do that needs to change? How do we show the rewards of our job? Perhaps I need to smile and whistle as I work more. Perhaps I need to say 'I love my job' more.
3. What responsibility do we have to encourage our young talent to take over our jobs?
There is no denying that principalship is not the easiest road to travel. It is however, an amazing journey. Put aside the potholes and the road works and wrong directions and you are left with some real treasure. The ability to work with others to shape the future for our students is magic. When things are going well, and you see the hard work paying off, there is no better reward or sense of satisfaction.
It is this that we need to show our up and coming leaders of the future. We need them to see what kind of a difference they can make, and we need them to take over the mantle, grow our profession and lead the next generations.
4. What am I going to do about it?
I have always felt that part of my job is to grow my teachers leadership capacity and help those who are keen or have the potential to achieve great things. I feel that it is irrelevant if they are using their skills in my school or yours, as long as they are using them and students are benefiting.
I will continue to reflect on what it is that I need to change so that her, and those young talents just like her, see principalship as a real option - and the best option - for impacting change that makes a difference in our profession.
My first step has got to be painting the picture that yes schools are like a business, but our product is teaching and learning and as the CEO, we can produce a pretty amazing result!