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THE PRINCIPAL: Surviving & Thriving
1. LOVE KIDS….. Treat every kid as if they were your kid.
This is like the golden rule of hiring people and our daily philosophy with our staff. Love kids. Act it. Live it. Demonstrate it. Treat them how you want your own children to be treated. This will be the number one best thing you can do as Principal. Which is why I have written this first as the first wisdom point for you. You will read this theme throughout the book. It is in multiple tips and sections of the book. It will make your job so much easier if you have people around you that adopt this philosophy and way of working with students in the school. This doesn’t mean be a pushover and give them anything they want. That’s not loving kids nor is it good parenting. You know that. Some of our best teachers who love kids are also the toughest on them and run the most challenging classrooms. Add in compassion, understanding, forgiveness, kindness, openness, humor all wrapped into one and it comes out and is received by the student. If they feel love, they will do better in school and have a better overall experience. Create this type of environment in your school!
2. Don’t ignore small irritants. Meet them head on and address them on a daily basis. You’re in charge.
Whether it is that same teacher coming in late, staff or students parking where they shouldn’t, that squeaky door that squeaks all day long, or that custodian that does not clean their area that well: DON’T IGNORE THESE THINGS. The buck stops here and if you allow it to go, so will everyone else. They are watching you and testing you all the time to see how you handle things. Don’t let the little things go. Don’t settle and make it happen. When you see it, address it. If you cannot immediately, put it on your to do list until it gets done. If you allow the small irritants to pile up, they will and then you will have a big mess.
It reminds me of the story of when as a young teen; I worked in my Dad’s pharmacy in Staten Island, NY. We grew up in a nice area called Ward’s Hill, near the Staten Island ferry. His pharmacy was right near the ferry in a not so hot neighborhood called Tompkinsville. My Dad was one of many good people in that neighborhood who really cared and tried to keep it clean. Part of my job was to sweep the sidewalks each day and make sure the outside of the shop was clean. If there was graffiti on the wall, I had to paint it right away. I did that once in a while, but one time there was a graffiti artist who would not quit. I’d paint the wall, and he’d be back the next night. I’d paint it again, and he’d be back. I’d complain to my Dad that we were just wasting time and money and he’d calmly say just go out there and paint it. We will not let him WIN. My father would not be beat. This went on for about two weeks until finally, I came in the next day and we had a clean wall. I was so proud. I felt like good conquered evil and that I beat the graffiti artist. I learned a valuable lesson through that experience with my Dad and the graffiti. Do not let small irritants go. The store might have been fine on the inside but if we just left that graffiti there, it would have given a poor image to the store. It would have showed neglect. That graffiti bothered my father and he would not let it go.
3. Show people that you care.
People do not care how much you know unless they know how much you care. This business is all about connecting with people. Your people. You could be the smartest person, the best dresser, have the best teaching tools, or know the most about curriculum. If they believe that you don’t care, specifically about them, you have no shot. You have to show people that you care—about the school, the kids, and them as people. When someone is sick, you ask about them. When someone dies, you go to the services. When a staff member’s student gets accepted into college, wins an award, has a baby, etc., you acknowledge and celebrate those things. They are important. It is in your actions that they see your care. You need to be consistent with these items and when you bring it up to people, as I wrote earlier, use their child’s name. This shows you care about them beyond the classroom, offices, etc. Take a moment to show them you care.
The famous line that May Angelou lived: “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Make them FEEL that that you care through your actions.
4. Don’t be, look or act defeated.
You are the leader. You are in charge. If you act positively, MOST (& I write MOST) will follow your lead. If you look or act defeated or overwhelmed, that is how your staff will be. Even if you feel that way sometimes, do not act like it. Snap out of it and look the part. Be positive. This is from my good buddy Dr. Robert Gilbert, sports psychologist at Montclair State University in NJ: Your actions change your attitude, your motions change emotions, and your movements change your moods. Make it happen!
Think about when you go to a comedy show. How about a wedding? How about a concert? When that MC, DJ, or singer grabs the mic, you right away notice their body language, their energy. Their body language and energy effect their audience and away they go with their show. Well, you have a show every day and regardless of what is going on in your building, do not look or act defeated.
5. Beg borrow and steal ideas and things that work in other schools and use them in your building.
As I sit here writing this section of the book, I am in a Middle School in Pennsylvania at my daughter’s swim meet. (She won her first ever heat!) I saw a bench in the hallway named the Buddy bench. I love it and already took a picture of it and will be sending it to our tech department. I want on it our school! John Xanthis, our former Superintendent, and now current Superintendent of Schools of Valley Central schools in Montgomery NY gave me a great idea once. He did it at one of his former schools: coffee Fridays. A group of volunteer students delivers coffee to staff members on Friday afternoons for free! I loved the idea and took it as my own. It was a big hit at PJHS and we still run it to this day. Take and make these ideas your own and put them to work for you. No one is charged with reinventing the wheel, nor should you. Use great ideas from others and put them to work in your schools.
6. Adopt the captain of the ship mentality:
A parent falls on a water spill at the play. There is a fight between the both teams at the boys’ basketball game. The Board of Education President’s daughter is caught cheating on her final needed for graduation. The ski club sneaks alcohol on the trip. These are all real events that can happen every day. They are all your fault. Yes, they are. You may be asking yourself: How are these my fault, I wasn’t even at the basketball game? There is one simple answer that if you understand early, you will do well as Principal: You are the captain of the ship. You are the Principal and everything that happens in and around your building is a reflection if you. You are responsible and if it happens on your watch—take responsibility for it. Use the words: I am sorry this happened to you and I take full responsibility for what happened. I am the Principal. I learned this from my friend and mentor Tom Bongiovi. He likes to say he’s related to the singer, but he’s not. He had on his desk as Principal and as Superintendent: “The buck stops here” sign from the days of President Harry S. Truman. I learned and watched this from Mr. B. This shows strength, it shows ownership and investment in what you are doing and where you are. Own it. You are the boss. People will respect you for it. Do not blame the Superintendent, the BOE, the teachers, the community, the custodians, and especially the students. DO NOT BLAME THE STUDENTS. You are the boss and make it happen.
Now the flip side of this is that you have to make sure these things do not occur on your watch. If they do, you have to handle them appropriately. Address them, fix the problem, and communicate about what happened.
7. Stay calm but don’t be afraid to use a little extra mustard.
Lots happening: Snowstorm, fire alarm rings, and you have a three-car accident out front of your school. You are the boss and you are in charge. Stay calm. Everyone is following your lead. They are watching what and how you are going to do it. Stay calm, catch your breath, and make smart decisions. This goes for an emergency like the one I just wrote about or really, anything, that happens to you: a parent is bashing you at a school board meeting, there is a heart attack in the faculty room, or there is flooding in the girls’ locker room, you will handle it and do so with confidence and skill. So where is the mustard in all of this and what the heck does that mean? Well, that has nothing to do with a hotdog. It has to do with you matching the intensity of the situation sometimes and letting people know you mean business. Like a mustang revving its engine everyone once and awhile cruising down the road or a singer with a knockout voice hitting that amazing note: every once in a while, you have to let them know you are there. So you put a lil’ extra mustard in it. That might be you raising your voice to clear the hallway after a fight or calling an emergency faculty meeting after school to address something important. Flex your muscles sometimes and remind them you are there. Just today, I went into a freshmen Global class 8th period. There was a brand new teacher in there in just his second day on the job. The students were being disrespectful, loud, and obnoxious. I was walking by and heard the noise in the room. I stopped in, stayed very calm, but let them know in a strong stern voice that we were not going to have this. I didn’t need a lot of mustard, but a little squeeze on it to send the message to the students that they needed to get in line. It is my hope that they teacher followed my lead and capitalized on the situation. We shall see on Monday.
Another story that happened to me years back was a fire drill. It was 7 degrees outside and there was a false alarm that tripped the fire alarms. The building began to evacuate quickly. I said in my head “Ohhh sh*&!” I knew we only had a few minutes before we had to do something. The rule is that all students and staff stay outside until the local fire department arrives. I knew in this circumstance that I could not have my people outside for ten minutes or more while we waited to for the fire department so I hustled to find out what caused the alarm. It was a heat sensor in the cooking room. There was no fire, no emergency, and all was ok. That took me about 40 seconds to find out. I made an executive decision that we would bring the students and staff into the gym and auditorium until the fire department arrived and gave the green light. I put the order out over the walkie-talkies and they came inside. The fire department eventually arrived, cut off the alarms and I was summoned to the custodial office. The chief was there questioning why I had brought my people in prior to their arrival. I explained about the outdoor temperatures and that I determined the alarm was not an emergency by getting to the classroom and finding the sensor. Well. Well. Well. That led to a tongue lashing from the chief claiming everything from me interfering with an emergency situation to me being responsible for Watergate and WikiLeaks. I took most of it, but eventually had to stand up for my decision and myself with-you know it: a little mustard. So pick your spots when you use it, but have the mustard in your pocket for when you have to use it. For the most part, stay calm regardless of the situation.
8. Be the most energetic and enthusiastic person in the building
I write this a few times throughout this book, but this also does not take any talent or skill–this is in your heart and mind: BE THE MOST ENTHUSIASTIC AND ENERGETIC person in the building. I cannot stress to you how important this is. I am giving you 139 other tips in this book that I want you to do but this one is probably one of the most important pieces of advice I can give: get after it! Bring the energy each and every day. Your students will feed off it, your staff will too. As the Principal goes, so goes the school so you need to know, understand, and take this one to the heart. extra sleep, vitamin c, coffee, Mountain Dew, prayers….whatever you have to do to have the energy when you arrive at the school and keep it throughout the day is what you have to do. When you’re on the announcements, greeting the students, meeting parents…have positive energy and enthusiasm. This will carry you through the hard times and set the tone for student learning. If you want your students to be excited and energetic about learning, so you better be as you go about your duties. Nothing good was ever accomplished without energy and enthusiasm so get after it!
“Andrew Marotta’s The Principal: Surviving & Thriving increases my belief in education and provides a solid foundation in ethical and intentional decision-making for the community of stakeholders within and outside our schools.”
– Suzanne Carbonaro, Director of Assessment & Strategic Partnerships, Rider University, School of Education
“Andrew Marotta is a superstar in the world of education because he’s mastered the three E’s: Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Energy. The Principal: Surviving & Thriving should be required reading for every school administrator in America. Fabulous book!!” – Rob Gilbert, Ph.D., Professor at Montclair State University
“… compilation of tips and anecdotes accurately reflects the persona of not only an exemplary school administrator, but also of a passionate, pragmatic, unpretentious, and sincere human being who always has a wink in his eye and a smile for everyone.”
– John P. Xanthis, Superintendent, Valley Central School District
“As one reads through these thoughtful tips and anecdotes, it is clear that it will aid the reader not only in becoming a great Principal but more importantly an overall decent person… perhaps if your own high school Principal had applied some of these helpful ideas, that maybe you might have been a stronger student.”
– F. Celis, DO FACC, Cardiologist
Coming next 2018: The Parent: Surviving and Thriving
Andrew Marotta is an energetic and enthusiastic school leader
who has put his positive imprint on his beloved school.
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