Twenty years ago I was named the principal of Mattawan Early Elementary School, a rural K-2 center with 660 students. Although I had been a teacher and Instructional Specialist for 14 years, and had watched and learned from several principals, like any first year rookie principal I was nervous about what I was taking on. I displayed confidence that I knew what I was doing, but just like my first year of teaching had been, being a new principal meant learning on the job.
In my district, every principal was automatically enrolled in MEMSPA and so my relationship with this organization began. I had a mentor of sorts in our middle school principal who graciously answered any questions that I had, but I embarked on this journey as a new principal primarily alone and with only the guidance of my instincts and knowledge to guide me.
A friend of mine had a brother who was a principal on the east side of the state and he called to invite me to come to Camp Kett! At the time, Camp Kett was MEMSPA’s Summer Leadership Institute and we would meet for a few days in August to build a network of friends and principal compatriots and most importantly, become learners of our craft!
It was at Camp Kett when I first attended a session with Nancy Colflesh and learned about William Bridges book Transitions and learned, “You have to grieve your endings before you can start new beginnings.” We participated in varied teambuilding exercises from obstacle courses to line dancing and other getting to know you activities. I picked up quickly the importance of incorporating these activities in my repertoire as a principal.
Individual principals would do learning sessions and I gleaned information about how to coach teachers and/or document poorly performing teachers if needed and learned how to fill out mandated state reporting. Our sessions were always highlighted with fun intervals of entertainment where the latest and greatest traveling school assembly performers would highlight their work. These Camp Kett sessions provided some nuts and bolts learning for an early career principal. Plus, when I went to the MEMSPA annual conference, I already had some well-connected principal friends!
I remember sitting around the campfire my first night and a principal said, “Hey rookie! What’s your theme this year?” Well, it was almost two weeks before school started and I didn’t have one! She proceeded to tell me about hers- Happy New School Year! Just like when I was a teacher, I knew how to steal a great idea! For my first back to school faculty meeting I served apple juice in plastic champagne glasses, played Happy Days are Here Again while having everyone wear Happy New Year hats, hum tunes with party blowers and celebrate together with champagne bottle poppers. My very first staff meeting was focused on learning, about ourselves and each other while we celebrated a New School Year. My ticket out was to have people write their New Year’s resolution of how they would collaboratively commit to working together toward ensuring the social, emotional, and academic achievement of our children.
Every year after that, I had a theme and I express thanks to the principal that I will forever be grateful to for pointing me in the right direction. I know that if I didn’t have an idea of what the first meeting of the year should look like it would have been a disastrous administrivia sit and git that I was used to observing year in and year out as a teacher. Doing what I knew was done to others.
Throughout my career the learning opportunities provided by MEMSPA have been integral in my development as a principal and it is the main reason that I want to make my legacy work focused on supporting and influencing aspiring leaders and practicing principals.
Debbie McFalone and I would like to provide an opportunity for new and beginning principals to be supported in this work, start out with more confidence this September AND have a theme! The MEMSPA Summer Institute in Grand Rapids is providing an opportunity for new and early career principals to spend a day at a pre-conference session entitled Setting Up for Success!
This day long interactive session will be filled with practical learning focused on setting up early career principals for a successful start of the school year. Our goal is to provide information to help new and beginning principals start strong and set the stage for a positive and productive year of leadership. Participants will focus on:
● Practical skills; communicating clearly and organizing for a productive and engaging first faculty meeting
● Learning quick tips and strategies for organizing and taking control of your calendar
● Thinking about how to nurture relational trust, and support strong collaboration in your school
Most of all, participants will have an opportunity to meet other principals and form a supportive network of leaders from across our state. Our intention is to have this group meet again in a pre-conference day long session in December before the 90th Annual MEMSPA State Conference in Kalamazoo.
Steven Spielberg says it best:
"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves."
Do you know a brand new principal or are YOU an early career principal who could use a boost to start the new school year off right? Come to the MEMSPA Summer Institute pre-conference session Setting Up For Success on Monday, August 3! Debbie and I promise we will give you the opportunity to create yourselves!