Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Select Your Administrative Home

Just over three years ago, I interviewed for an assistant principal position at a middle school I had never heard of on the border of Los Gatos and San Jose. Truthfully, I almost didn't turn in the application as it was outside my desired 20 minute driving radius from where I lived. I had even contemplated leaving the field of education at this point. After my years in the classroom and even more time as a site administrator, I longed for a school community that put students first in all circumstances, that had a teaching collaboration throughout the entire staff, and had unwavering support from the students' parents, even if faced with the difficult decisions their children may make during these formative middle school years.

In considering the application to this middle school, I had been recruited for a similar position in a closer district and was a finalist for another position even closer to home. What was the point of applying for a job that I may not even take? If offered the job, how would they react if I declined the opportunity? Did I really want to drive twice as long to work, back and forth, each day for the upcoming school year? It surprisingly turned out that I never had the need to answer these questions. In fact, my first question of whether or not to apply was answered by a speech the current school's principal had posted on the school's website. The principal wrote, paraphrased here by my memory and definitely not verbatim, to his parent community and welcomed them back to school. However, the letter began with an interesting, silly twist: The principal talked of the important event that was soon to occur, that everyone was waiting for, that everyone just couldn't wait to happen. In reading the letter, many parents most likely assumed the principal was talking about the beginning of the school year. With the next sentence, the principal then unveiled his true topic: the start of the NFL season was upon us! As silly as it sounds, I thoroughly enjoyed the letter, the humor therein, and the amazing tone of compassion and togetherness presented to the school community. I realized at that moment that one of the most important decisions one can make in their assistant principal career is to choose a position where you have the opportunity to work with someone who will inspire you, lead you, grow your expertise, challenge you, and most of all enjoy the days in doing so. Simply put, Rule #1: Make sure you work with a visionary, talented principal who will ensure the work you do may be hard and challenging but surely rewarding and fun.

The second rule would be to make sure the staff and community are focused on what's best for kids with an eye on professional growth and in alignment with your goals as well. For me, I knew that the staff and community were a solid fit during the interview process. During my first interview, I sat at a table with no less than 8 community members nearby, firing questions in seemingly random order. At the center of the table sat a male teacher, approximately my age, with his shirt sleeves rolled up and his tattoos colored up and down his arms. To his left was an older staff member who would smile and then look down for long periods of the time, as if she was completing a crossword puzzle. Immediately to my right was the Assistant Superintendent of HR; she had a serious expression and yet was so jovial and welcoming to what can be an intimidating process. A young staff member who I later discovered to be the school counselor was all smiles and seemed to be taking copious notes. There were parents on the panel as well, all of whom smiled and seemed to work cohesively with the teachers. 

The interview itself lasted approximately 45 minutes but truly felt to be no more than 10 minutes tops. While there were questions asked and I attempted to answer them the best I could, there was more of a back and forth dialogue and understanding than I had experienced in any interview up to that point and since. It felt as if I'd had known the panel members for years, that we were long lost college buddies reunited for a weekend, and it was crammed into the awkward setting of the board room on a random Wednesday. Absent from the interview was the principal, something that seemed odd to me at the time. As I thought more about the absence of the principal upon my departure, I decided that he was unnecessary for this round of interviews as he later communicated to me that he had full trust in the panel to make the best decision for the school. What kind of principal gets to have that kind of relationship with their staff? This is somewhere where I wanted to be. As I left the building, I called my wife and said: "This is where I want to be. This is the right fit. These are the right people. This is my home." Of course she replied with "well, I hope you get the job then or else it's going to be really awkward if you move in on their campus."

And so in the end I accepted the position of assistant principal that was thereafter offered and have since moved up to principal at the same middle school. I reflect back at the application process and how I almost didn't want to apply due to the distance from my home. I know now that a simple commute isn't a reason to not explore these opportunities. One shouldn't see a future school community as a commute from where they live but instead as travels back and forth from each home. 

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