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A Day in the Life of a Principal

October 2012, Volume 36, Issue 2

By Lisa Piehota

Patrick Henry Elementary Principal Lisa Piehota (center) and Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle (right) work with a fifth grade student.

On October 9, I spent the afternoon with Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle, as part of the principal shadowing program arranged by NAESP, NASSP, and the U.S. Department of Education.  I welcomed her visit as an opportunity to highlight the great things going on at my school, Patrick Henry Elementary, as well as the day-to-day challenges that school principals like me face.

That day, I was a bit nervous. I’d even cleaned my office thoroughly in anticipation of her visit! But no amount of preparation could change the fact that that morning, my strong-willed, just-turned-five granddaughter insisted on wearing to kindergarten an outfit that she had clearly outgrown last year, matched with a pair of high boots! Did I mention she attends my school?

Despite the bumpy start to my morning, I was amazed by how comfortable I felt when I met Assistant Secretary Delisle (pictured above, in gray). She immediately put our staff members at ease and was clearly at home in an elementary school. We began by talking about the responsibilities of a school principal. She said that she understood the multifaceted role of the school principal, and wanted to support administrators and the good work they do. As we walked through the building, Delisle had no problem “getting in the trenches” with our students. She worked with fifth-grade students in a science class, and talked with a student with a hearing impairment.

Delisle also had the opportunity to take part in a reading group for small English-language learners (ELLs). At one point, she was talking with students about the panda at the National Zoo who recently “lost” her baby, and one fourth grader asked if the mama panda ever “found” her baby. This student was taking the conversation very literally, as ELLs are apt to do. Delisle and the reading teacher both worked to explain to the student the use of the word “lost.” I think it helped Delisle gain insight into just one of the challenges teachers and administrators face when working with ELLs.

It was evident that Delisle is keenly aware of the intended and sometimes unintended effects of policy implementation. We discussed teacher evaluation and the importance of hiring quality teachers who are both master practitioners and who also have the ability to build strong relationships with students. She asked me about Title I, describing how the Department of Education will be looking at Title I funding and how to meet the needs of schools in determining funding stipulations. I appreciated the opportunity to explain how we use most funding for additional staffing, including a reading teacher and a math coach.

As an administrator, the best part of the day was hearing Delisle say that she’d gotten an immediate “good feeling” about our school, sensing that staff is comfortable and students are welcomed and can achieve their greatest potential.

I’d welcome the opportunity to partner with the assistant secretary again in the future. I was heartened to hear about her dedication to implementing policy that enables our nation’s children to thrive. It is clear to me that while our day-to-day work differs, our ultimate goals are the same.

Lisa Piehota is principal of Patrick Henry Elementary in Arlington, Virginia.

NAESP and NASSP’s principal shadowing program placed staff members from the Department of Education in the shoes of 30 elementary, middle, and high school principals for a day to learn first-hand about the myriad challenges of leading schools. The program, the first of its kind, culminated on Friday, October 12 in a briefing with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. 


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