For many principals and other school based administrators, today ends the 2nd week of activities. For most, the teachers returned some time last week, and the students came this week. I recall being overjoyed at the return of everyone for the beginning of the school year. I’ve ALWAYS loved late Aug/early Sept for that reason, no matter what my particular role in school was at that time.
The planning and preparation goes a long way. That’s why many good administrators continue to work long hours in the summer…. so when the unexpected happens during those first two weeks, plans are in place to help the administrator to focus on that event.
I think no matter how hard folks like me work to prepare future principals in order to have the starting of a school year ready to go, I find it hard to demonstrate how many unexpected scenarios can happen that impact the administrator’s work during those first weeks with staff and students. One example I remember was having emergency road work that caused a couple busloads of students to be late to school, and that’s a fairly mild unexpected event. I think the best preparation for school administrators is in understanding that unexpected events will happen always, but especially in the first couple weeks of a new school year. In order to maintain a positive climate, it’s important for that school leader to continue to focus on the relationships he or she is cultivating and improving every day and not of the frustrations of plans gone awry.
The top two recent horrific and perpetual news stories that have me thinking are the Sandusky case and the Batman Returns movie theater shooting. How does this relate to principal preparedness, one might ask.
As a former principal and current instructor in a principal prep program, I try to think about how being prepared for scandels and tragedies is important for school leaders, although any who’ve been through these extreme circumstances will tell you that there is no real preparation.
I think that the lessons from the Sandusky case are clear for ALL educational institutions, whether they be K-12 or higher ed: create a culture where horrific and stupid actions of co-workers are unacceptable, REPORTED, and THOROUGHLY investigated. Unfortunately, every profession seems to have a few folks who prey on children, and although as school leaders we would like to believe those folks haven’t made it into our schools, they have. The only real preparedness (since each of these situations is so different) a school leader can have is the knowledge that no place, no school is immune to unfortunate circumstances like these.
The same knowledge is necessary for dealing with a school shooter tragedy. I shared last week with my administrative supervision class that I used to spend time visualizing (and worrying, of course, since that is one of my ‘main skills’) how I would react if I or the school where I served as a leader came under seige of an attack from outside or within. Having students and staff regularly and seriously conduct drills of evacuation and lockdown commit these actions to their physical memories so that in a real emergency, the bodies know what to do even if the brain is on overload, hence my purpose for visualizing.
In the intro class to our principal prep program, we read Columbine. This is the best way I can see to start to prepare future school leaders for a scenario like this. The students often report a difficult time reading the detailed account by Cullen, but they also state it really broadens their understanding of school safety.