Saturday, June 21, 2008

Finding Balance


Well it's over. Year one as a principal of Catholic high school has come and gone. I was asked the other day at a graduation party, "what was the hardest part of year number one?" I answered, "finding balance." What is it and how do we find it? We have obligations to our students, staff, and of course family. I see the biggest challenge looming ahead as not building new facilities, working with the staff, or raising test scores but rather finding the right balance to work and family that I don't turn crazy?

I'm hoping that many of you who read this have some answers or advice on this topic. The main point of the blog is to share ideas and strategies with one another. I'll share three examples from this past year that push me to the question of boundaries and balance.

I've inherited my position from a hard working single lady who made it a habit to attend as many events as possible. I can't in justice to my family attend as many events as she did. I knew going into the school year that this would more than likely become an issue sooner or later. As a high school administrator there are many people to share this burden with: athletic directors, deans, assistant principal etc. We do a fairly nice job of splitting up the main games and covering all the big rivalries but alas there really is something every night. I tried to make it a goal of seeing every sports team play at least once.

As I attended a certain girls athletic event late in the year a mother came up to see me and commented sarcastically how nice it was to see me at the game. She then went into the little bit that I should really be at more of their games blah, blah, blah. It had been one of those perfect days of unannounced visitors and little fires to put out so I was not feeling very charitable. I responded in an equally sarcastic tone stating, "You are absolutely right. I need to be here more to see your daughter play. Because you know that at the end of my life, as I lay dying my one regret will probably be that i've spent most of these past few evenings with my own children and not watching your daughter play sports." The crowd around us started to chuckle uncontrollably and as predicted the mother stomped angrily away. Another one to put high on the ask list for our new facilities. I should have been more charitable but I couldn't help myself. The setup was just too good.

The second situation had to do with phone calls to my house over the weekend from a parent who apparently needed to speak with a teacher. I had spoken with the family earlier in the week and explained that their child should really take it up with the teacher and learn how to advocate for himself instead of coming strait to the principal. The parents agreed. Apparently they agreed so much that they had to call me at home to ask for a teacher's cell number so their child could call the teacher. I explained kindly that the teacher would probably be more than happy to speak with their child before or after school during the normal work week and is busy during the weekend with their family. They just didn't get it. I now have caller ID.

The third incident deals with vacation. I think I have a pretty generous package of twenty days in addition to the regular breaks that can be taken throughout the year. I ended up taking two days out of the twenty. I'm feeling this could have been a big mistake but it never seemed right to just up and leave when there was work to be done. I'm not a micro manager and the subordinate administrators seem to find no problem taking all of their vacation time. Am I a chump or is this normal for the principal to end up left manning the fort while everyone else is away to play?

I know that many of you have been at this for a much longer time than I have and any advice or help you can give on finding the right balance would be truly helpful. If you feel like sharing some of your own boundary issues by all means please do. I think we all get a little chuckle from them and then instantly think of people in our own schools who fit that bill.

8 comments:

Claire Thompson said...

Charlie, I love your retort to the basketball parent! I'm not an administrator, so I can't even begin to imagine the demands on your time, but as a teacher I know that it is challenging to find balance as well. I've found that I could spend all my time on school--there is always more marking and planning that could be done.

Having a family certainly gives me perspective. Yes, I want to be a part of as many of the extra-curricular and out of school hours activities at my school. I also want to see my kids and husband and give them my best. If there are school activities that I can involve my kids in (whether it is watching a sports game or attending a 'family dance') I definitely attend. I hope that more of your readers comment and share how they maintain a balance.

Jim Yeargan said...

Charlie, I just completed my 41st year in education. Back in the early 70s, I took all the classes necessary for an administrative certificate, except the practicum. But my family was growing (7 kids) and I knew I couldn’t be effective to both. I made the choice to stay a teacher until my kids were grown and I had control of my life. This was the best decision I ever made. It kept me in their “world” and we had some great summers together. The only sporting or social events I was compelled to be at were ones they were involved in.
I didn’t become a Principal until 2001. I thought, finally, I would have enough time to devote what was needed for the job. I am the only administrator of a small Catholic 7-12 school. The one thing I did not plan for was the fact that I was much older and had less energy and drive. And I also really enjoy spending time with my wife, without all the historical distractions! I also live 25 miles from work. But I do have perspective on student and parental feelings from the previous 34 years. I know they want recognition just as much as they want leadership from me. Now my parents are about the same age as my children. Because of the age difference I get just as much sympathy for being at activities, as I do complaints for missing them! More often than not, I get the comment, “Jim, why don’t you go on home. We can manage from here.”
At the beginning of each month I mark the activities I will or will not attend. If I can’t (or chose not to) be there I arrange for a teacher or athletic director to act in my behalf. After every activity I miss I make it a point to talk with the students and some of the parents involved. I want them to know I am interested.
The most effective tool I have to maintain this sense of presence is that I have moved out of my office. I have a small table, a laptop computer and a telephone in the main hall right in front of the entrance to the school. I see and speak with everyone coming and going from the building. I only use my office for private conversations. I welcome every student by name every morning, and every parent that comes in for whatever reason. This is also effective in greeting the staff as they come and go for the day. There is a sense, especially among the parents and kids, that I am “always there”. I get many comments if something is changed, such as if I don’t wear the school uniform on a certain day, or if I’m down the hall or in a classroom and someone enters and doesn’t see me.
Yes, I get less work done this way, but using my perspective, I feel I’m getting the most important work a Principal can do accomplished. I’m letting them know they are important, and a major part of this institution. I know about their social lives, their good times, and their not so good times. I know them on an empathetic level. They understand when I simply choose not to be at an event, and I understand when they choose not to volunteer to chaperone a particular dance or work the snack bar for a particular sporting event.
My wife still thinks I spend all my time at school. But she is a Kindergarten teacher. She brings her work home with her. We both complain about our long hours, but we both love our jobs, and feel such a sense of mission and purpose in them that the complaints are more for sympathy than a dislike of the paths we have chosen.
Jim Yeargan, Lumen Christi High School, Anchorage, Alaska

Jim Yeargan said...

Charlie, I just completed my 41st year in education. Back in the early 70s, I took all the classes necessary for an administrative certificate, except the practicum. But my family was growing (7 kids) and I knew I couldn’t be effective to both. I made the choice to stay a teacher until my kids were grown and I had control of my life. This was the best decision I ever made. It kept me in their “world” and we had some great summers together. The only sporting or social events I was compelled to be at were ones they were involved in.
I didn’t become a Principal until 2001. I thought, finally, I would have enough time to devote what was needed for the job. I am the only administrator of a small Catholic 7-12 school. The one thing I did not plan for was the fact that I was much older and had less energy and drive. And I also really enjoy spending time with my wife, without all the historical distractions! I also live 25 miles from work. But I do have perspective on student and parental feelings from the previous 34 years. I know they want recognition just as much as they want leadership from me. Now my parents are about the same age as my children. Because of the age difference I get just as much sympathy for being at activities, as I do complaints for missing them! More often than not, I get the comment, “Jim, why don’t you go on home. We can manage from here.”
At the beginning of each month I mark the activities I will or will not attend. If I can’t (or chose not to) be there I arrange for a teacher or athletic director to act in my behalf. After every activity I miss I make it a point to talk with the students and some of the parents involved. I want them to know I am interested.
The most effective tool I have to maintain this sense of presence is that I have moved out of my office. I have a small table, a laptop computer and a telephone in the main hall right in front of the entrance to the school. I see and speak with everyone coming and going from the building. I only use my office for private conversations. I welcome every student by name every morning, and every parent that comes in for whatever reason. This is also effective in greeting the staff as they come and go for the day. There is a sense, especially among the parents and kids, that I am “always there”. I get many comments if something is changed, such as if I don’t wear the school uniform on a certain day, or if I’m down the hall or in a classroom and someone enters and doesn’t see me.
Yes, I get less work done this way, but using my perspective, I feel I’m getting the most important work a Principal can do accomplished. I’m letting them know they are important, and a major part of this institution. I know about their social lives, their good times, and their not so good times. I know them on an empathetic level. They understand when I simply choose not to be at an event, and I understand when they choose not to volunteer to chaperone a particular dance or work the snack bar for a particular sporting event.
My wife still thinks I spend all my time at school. But she is a Kindergarten teacher. She brings her work home with her. We both complain about our long hours, but we both love our jobs, and feel such a sense of mission and purpose in them that the complaints are more for sympathy than a dislike of the paths we have chosen.
Jim Yeargan, Anchorage, Alaska
Lumen Christi High School

Simon said...

A wonderful topic...I too just finished my first year as the principal of a Catholic high school after having worked for five years as an Assistant Principal. I took over a school of 430 students that was led for the past 36 years by an icon of man, someone who had worked at the school for about 45 years. He lived there. He went to a lot of school events, at the expense of spending time with his own family. Admittedly, at a meeting I was at this year with him, he confessed that his one regret was not spending enough time with his children. When I heard that, I vowed that I would never have that regret at any point of my life as a school administrator.

I am fortunate enough to live only 3 miles from my school. So, one most days that I have a night time event, I can leave school, go home to have dinner and see my kids and then return to school for the 7PM whatever and usually still get back home in time to put my kids down for the night. I'm pretty lucky to be in this situation. At most events, I know that the important thing is not that I stay for the whole event but that I show up and make the attempt to be there. I don;t think most people actually expect the principal to stay through a whole game. And unless it's something like the play or musical, I typically will not stay for the whole event. One of the differences between being a principal and an assistant principal is that when I was an AP, I was WORKING each of these events and my job was to stay for the whole event. Now I have more things to go to but I don't have to stay as long for each of them. In the end, it's making the attempt to be there that counts.

However, this year I have struggled with how to make a better connection to students and families. In this first year, I know that I spent more time with my faculty and with the school's alumni and benefactors and our Board members that current students and families. I know this is something for me to work on next year.

Anonymous said...

Charlie;

I have been in Catholic Education for 22 years the last four as a Principal of a coed HS of 910...unfortunately I have not solved this dilemma. The twelve hour days and 1 week in the summer is beginning to take a toll.
One of my biggest dilemmas is w/o a president to handle some of the financial aspects of the school...I am growing increasingly frustrated with the limited time I can spend with the students - The challenge to balance being an instructional leader, a faith leader, and a financial manager leaves precious little time for my family and virtually no "Me" time.

I have strongly considered a return to the classroom; however, I feel we are making some great strides and I do not want to stop mid-stream.

Respectfully,
Dan Garrick

Charlie A. Roy said...

@Jim
Thank you very much for your post. I really like your idea about the desk in the hallway and your emphasis on presence. Your comments about recognition being as important as leadership are packed with wisdom.

@Simon
Thanks for sharing your strategy of attending events for maximum exposure while not being stuck there the entire night. You're certainly right there is no obligation to stay at all the events till the bitter end.

Charlie A. Roy said...

@Dan
My school fortunately operates with a president in the building. One of the frustrations I share is similar to yours. We are hired to be instructional leaders and change agents advocating for best practice. What seems to take up most of each day is petty little problems to solve. The actual time spent doing exactly what we are hired to do is pretty slim.

Clay Burell said...

Charlie, Anybody up there with a divine sense of humor surely got a good laugh out of your retort to Mother Sarcasm. I loved it, anyway.

It's fascinating to read a principal's struggles. And you're fortunate to have such good commenters.

Just popping in. Hope your summer is restful and everything is ripening.

C.