Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What Happens After The Principal Says "No"

"I'm sorry, but the answer is no."

"I really would like to make this change for you, but it's not going to be possible right now for a variety of reasons."

"I understand that you are unhappy with the decision that was made, but it is in the best interest of our students and the school as a whole."

One of the biggest challenges as a school principal is telling one of your staff members that the answer is no. It's something that principals really hate to say. I actually enjoying saying yes to our teachers' requests, whether it is to try a new elective, to venture to a conference, or to just switch up their teaching style. These moments are so incredibly important to our educators, especially after they've achieved "veteran" status on their school campus. It's a great way to take a different look at the classroom experience and to reinvigorate oneself.

Sometimes, however, there are reasons why the answer is no. Often, we can share these reasons with the staff member. Perhaps it would create a secondary effect that our school community would have to endure. It's possible that the timing of the request complicates matters just a bit too much. The request may not be in line with our district policies or the teacher-district contract. As much as I can share, I always do. I want to maintain the level of professionalism and respect that I have for each staff member as their site administrator. Plus, I want them to know that if I could truly say yes, I would... but for the reasons explained, it's just not possible right now. And I wish that the staff member would understand and our relationship would actually strengthen based on this conversation. Sadly, this is not always the case.

As a third year principal, it has been a trying year. A teacher resigned a few days prior to the start of the school year. Three math teachers already or soon to be out on leave to spend time with their newborn babies. We have had an influx of students at our school, closing in on 1000 middle school kids, up from 750 just a few years ago. This means more teachers sharing classrooms, more new staff members joining our team, and a strain on every resource possible from previous years. Add in a gradual shift to the common core curriculum in our classrooms and you have quite a busy year.

It has also been a difficult year because I've had to say no to a few teachers and their varied requests. Even more challenging is that I'm a huge fan of these staff members. They are some of my "above and beyond" educators. I regularly spotlight their work to our parents and staff. I love visiting their classrooms and watching the amazing learning taking place by our students. I've attended conferences with them and do my best to always reply with a yes. Unfortunately, for each of these staff members, I'd had to recently tell them no. And sadly, I think that our relationships have suffered because of it.

Before I informed them of my decision, I worked tirelessly behind the scene thinking of every possible way that I could say yes to them. That's something I'm not sure teachers know about their principals: we work relentlessly to turn an inevitable no into a yes -- when we actually have to say no, it's not without us putting forth much effort and contemplation to come to a different and more positive conclusion.

When I met with the staff members, I could see their disappointment. Inside, I felt ten times worse. I wanted to rewind time and spend another week trying to figure out how to make their request happen. This was despite knowing that I tried every possible avenue to find a way to say yes before this fateful conversation. I explained to each of the staff members the reasons behind the decision. Truthfully, I shared more than perhaps I should have. I want our staff members to be as happy as possible to be at Union Middle. Looking ahead, I led these staff members on a journey how the current outlook could always change for the next semester or next school year and that they shouldn't give up hope. I also stressed how beneficial it was for us to have this conversation in anticipation of future changes. But in the end, the answer was still no.

So now, months into the school year, I'm working on trying to rebuild the hurt I see in these staff members' eyes based on the hard decision that was previously made. Even if they maintain that we are "ok" and everything is good, there is a lingering sense of disappointment in our relationship that feels very prominent to me. I check in regularly, profusely express how blessed I feel to have them as part of our staff (which is very true, for the record), and hope that we are making small steps in getting back to how things were.

It's just really hard to say no.

And it's ten times harder to work through the aftermath after the no.

But I think we're getting there.

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