The Reflective Principal: Support Eases Family-Work Challenges

By Laura Griffith
Principal, September/October 2013

Parenting and school-based administration are both rewarding, but challenging, jobs. Parent-educators seek to handle the daily stressors to be an excellent parent and a successful administrator. This balancing act is perhaps most difficult for new administrators. Moving from a teaching position to a leadership role can be overwhelming without support in place in both your professional and personal life. In my current position as an assistant principal and a mom of an eight-year-old, I have found balance, but not without some hurdles.

Transitioning to Leadership
I grew up knowing that I wanted to be a teacher. I imagined myself teaching for 30 years and attending many high school graduations of my former students. As a parent, I would have most of the same days off as my child and the summer days would be filled with fun activities. My career as a general education teacher began the way I planned. I was a sixth-grade teacher for two years and a special education teacher for three years.

At the end of year five, my career pathway took a turn. I was asked to become a special education facilitator. In this role, I supported special education teachers. I went from being a 10-month to an 11-month employee based in the central office. I no longer had a narrow responsibility of worrying only about the students within my four walls. My responsibility increased from one school to nine schools, and I loved every minute of that position.

What was the personal impact on my family? The 11-month role shortened those long, lazy summer days, but not drastically. I could choose the days I worked in the summer and take off days to spend with my family.

My direct supervisor increased my responsibility each year, and I began observing teachers and writing formal observations. I shifted from a teacher support role to one more aligned with administration. At the time, I did not realize this change was happening. It is very different to observe and rate a teacher satisfactory versus unsatisfactory than to provide her with assistance in a “buddy teacher” relationship. After four years, I talked to my husband about how the increased responsibility would impact our family. Then, I took a new position as an administrator intern at a middle/high school.

I spent the year working closely with the principal and assistant principal. I was able to learn the daily skills needed for the job in a supportive environment. After holding the intern position for one year, I moved into my current position as an assistant principal.

Family Support
As a teacher, I often took work home. I was used to balancing work and family life. As an administrator, I felt guilty that longer hours and more work days meant being away from my family. To make this feasible, I needed support from my husband and other family members to take care of our son. I had difficulty with anyone else watching him. From the time he was born, he was either with my husband, his grandmother, or me. I did not think it was fair for my son to go somewhere after a full day of school. This mindset was based on my guilt of being a working mom. He loved going to my cousin’s house after school each day and enjoyed spending time with his cousins. I have learned my son grows as a person when life is not the picture-perfect idea I had in my head.

Professional Support
Transitioning from a teacher to a school leader required a unique set of skills. I was fortunate that I spent a year as an administrator intern. In that role, I was supported in numerous ways. I participated in a four-day aspiring principals’ in-service provided by the Maryland State Department of Education. In addition to the in-service, my county hosted a monthly meeting with all new leaders for the year. We talked about many topics, from how to handle an angry parent to how to conduct teacher observations. I had a list of people to call at the central office and was encouraged to do so if I had questions. Sometimes just attending the meeting and interacting with others in a similar position was enough to keep me going. I survived the first year with the ongoing support from other administrators in my district.

Doing What You Love
My commute to work is over an hour each way. This cuts into time with my family and my ability to take time for myself. I use the commute time to clear my mind of work. At home, I can easily get lost in dinner, homework, and laundry. Taking time out of the evening to read, exercise, or spend time relaxing can seem far from reality, but it is truly important. I once created an entire master schedule after a two-hour walk in a wildlife refuge. Having the time to relax and enjoy nature cleared my mind. We often develop our best ideas when we spend time away and stop thinking about work.

My professional career is a work in progress. I still have moments when I cry after I drop my son off at school because of the guilty-mom feeling. Occasionally I spend too much of my family time thinking about work. I have to remind myself that I am not alone. Instead of being super mom or administrator of the year, I sometimes need to seek support from others. My husband ensures my son completes his homework before I am home. He also takes care of the laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and yardwork. Because of his support, I have more time to spend with my son. When I need help at work, I call upon one of the many administrators in my district for assistance.

I have taken “perfect” out of my vocabulary, and I strive to do the best I can. I end each day with self-reflection, and I begin each day with a positive mind knowing I have support whenever I need it.

Laura Griffith is principal of ChapelDistrict Elementary School in Talbot County, Maryland.


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