Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 1 – 2020-21
From the AWSP Executive Director
Patience, Perseverance, and Persistence
Your students need you now more than ever
Dr. Scott Seaman
Executive Director, AWSP
If the job wasn’t tough already. Seriously, let’s just throw a pandemic and social unrest on top of an already heaping plate called “principaling.”
For the last 15 years, the education reform movement has piled on more and more to the roles and responsibilities of school leaders. “Piled on” is an understatement. And in response, these quiet, unsung heroes called principals and assistant principals have just simply put their heads down and answered the call of leadership.
Principals and assistant principals bravely stepped out of the safety of their classrooms into the vulnerable position of leading an entire school. For most, this was a life changing decision. One that carried many unanticipated consequences and rewards. The call to leadership is special and comes deep from within. It’s a driving force that is hard to describe, but centers on the unwavering dedication to make a difference for the greater good. That’s why we have incredible principals and assistant principals in our schools.
Although principaling is the best job in the world, it has increasingly become one of the most difficult, demanding, and often daunting. Principals prior to COVID were growing weary. Dark circles under their eyes, sleepless nights, internalized stress and anxiety were taking a toll on their fortitude and ability to persevere and persist. Based on a survey we sent out in 2018, an increasing number of principals (44%) were reporting considering leaving the role and/or profession. And, thanks to a recent poll of members across the state, that number is up to over 60% with job satisfaction dropping to an all time low. That should be alarming to our entire society.
Principals are the second most influential people on student learning, right behind effective classroom teachers. Principal leadership matters in the creation of a positive and safe school culture. Principal leadership matters in the dismantling of historically inequitable and bad-for-kids systems. And, principal leadership matters in increased learning for students and teachers.
Simply stated, principal leadership matters.
Principal churn was already wreaking havoc on school improvement efforts across the state because you simply cannot change school culture and systems without sustainable and courageous leadership. It just doesn’t happen. So, how will reform efforts and the much needed changes in our system occur with a potential increase in principal churn? They won’t, and kids ultimately will suffer the consequences.
We need to act now. Just like an environmentalist acts quickly to save our most precious natural resources, we all must collectively work to save one of education’s most precious resources; principals and assistant principals. Let’s acknowledge that we’ve made the job nearly impossible. Let’s acknowledge that we, as a system, have not adequately supported these amazing leaders. Let’s call out the important role principals play in the system and make sure we preserve and protect their emotional and physical health while they unwaveringly persevere and persist for others. Let’s work together to redefine the role, responsibilities, and expectations, so they can answer the call of leadership without dying in the process.
As a high school principal, I used to lay awake at night worrying about the 1,100 kids and 100 staff members in my school. Every night, I would pray for the health and safety of the myriad faces racing through my mind. I would try to sleep despite carrying the worry I had for so many of the kids (and staff) who I knew were suffering through trauma, drama, depression, anxiety, or horrific home lives.
The next morning, I’d race to school to see all of those faces in person. Whether by the buses, in the hallways, the lunchroom, classrooms or the gym, building relationships is what I knew mattered most. Relationships define a school. Relationships save lives. Relationships not only helped me keep a pulse on school culture and individual stories, but relationships affirmed why I left the classroom to become a school leader.
I’m asking you to continue to be patient as the world deals with a pandemic, to persevere as you lead in these challenging times, and to persist in making your school the best school in the world for each and every student and staffulty member.
I would venture to guess that most of you reading this article right now are nodding in agreement as you reflect on the countless lives you’ve influenced, impacted, and/or saved because of relationships. You have tears of sorrow and joy reflecting on the power of those relationships. And, I hope you are also reminded of why you are leading your school and community.
As I’ve talked with countless principals and assistant principals across the state and country, I hear a consistent theme of barely hanging on. Between exhaustion and frustration, our building leaders are bending and on the verge of breaking. What you are doing right now is not the “principaling” you once knew and loved. And, you are feeling the relationship gap like never before, which only adds to the dissatisfaction.
Here’s my belief about our future: We will one day return to brick and mortar schools. We will be back to seeing each other face-to-face and in-person. And, we, as a system, will be better than how we were before. We simply can’t do this education thing without prioritizing what matters most: relationships. You must never forget why you left the classroom, the power of your influence on an entire system, and the forever impact you have on students and staffulty. You are what holds it all together. And, without you, what would happen to your school?
I’m asking you to continue to be patient as the world deals with a pandemic, to persevere as you lead in these challenging times, and to persist in making your school the best school in the world for each and every student and staffulty member.
My commitment to you as your executive director is to continue to fight for the important role you play in our system. To fight for better working conditions, work-life balance, and more reasonable expectations and responsibilities. We will fight for you, so you can fight for your school.
Thank you for your patience, perseverance and persistence during these leadership challenges.
Dr. Scott Seaman joined AWSP in the fall of 2013 after serving as the principal at Tumwater High School. In July 2018, he assumed duties as Executive Director.
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Washington Principal | Volume 1 – 2020-21