The Job of a Principal is an Exercise in Love

John King
John King
Oct 28, 2016 · 4 min read

Dear School Leaders,

During the month of October, our country recognizes and celebrates principals, who work each day to develop and empower their teachers, meaningfully engage with parents and families, and ensure their schools are learning communities where students can reach their full potential.

As a principal, you have taken on a big responsibility. You recruit, mentor, and inspire talented teams of educators, counselors, and school staff, helping them to be as effective as possible in guiding students’ learning and growth.

As an instructional leader, you give your teachers actionable feedback and provide them with opportunities to collaborate and to grow as professionals and leaders. You believe in your students and work with teachers to ensure they are expecting the most of every child. When you see students struggling, you collaborate with teachers, parents, and others in the community to identify interventions that help them succeed. You make tough decisions on school discipline, understanding that every moment is an opportunity for a child to reflect and learn, and that the choices you make help build a school climate that is positive, nurturing, and safe. You collect and analyze data to improve student outcomes. And many of you are taking on the challenging and courageous work of turning around the lowest-performing schools in your communities, transforming them into inspiring places to teach and learn.

The job of a school principal also is an exercise in love.

You develop strong, caring relationships with your students and their families — many that last long after children leave your classrooms. You model for your teachers, staff, parents, and community partners the attitudes and actions that shape a caring school culture — one in which everyone believes, and acts on the belief, that all children can and will succeed. You celebrate diversity and are deeply committed to equity and excellence. You get up early and work late. You worry. Some days, you bear the emotional weight of every teacher, every child, and every parent in your school. Some days are pure joy — cultivating the wonder of learning in your children, encouraging the shy student to try out for the school play, or observing a new teacher reach his stride. Most days are a little of both.

Every day, you ask yourself, “Is this in the best interest of students?” And this is the question that guides you as you make dozens of decisions each day. Sometimes it’s how to ensure an orderly dismissal when an experiment in the science lab sets off all the sprinklers in the school. Sometimes it’s determining whether the one-to-one laptop initiative fits in with the other programs you’re balancing. Other times it’s figuring out how to ensure a child is supported, stable, and learning even when her life outside of school has fallen apart. As you go through each hectic day, you take a moment here and there to connect with a teacher, a parent, or a student who can benefit from just knowing you care.

I am grateful for the teachers and school leaders in my life, especially those who supported me when, by the age of twelve, I had lost both of my parents. It is because of their deep conviction in what was possible that I flourished in spite of difficult circumstances. It is because of them — phenomenal New York City public school educators — that I became a high school social studies teacher and a middle school principal, hoping to share with other students the educational opportunities that were provided to me, and believing that all children are worthy of our best efforts to help them thrive. That is what drives my work to this day.

The insights and voices of principals are critical to ensuring all students receive a rich, rigorous education. That is why the U.S. Department of Education created our Principal Ambassador Fellowship program to bring school leaders into the agency so they could provide input on programs and policy from a principal’s perspective.

This month, the nation reached an important milestone — a record high school graduation rate, of just over 83 percent. More students are earning their diplomas today because of the tireless efforts of principals and teachers across the country, and I know you’re committed to doing everything you can to ensure graduation is a reality for every student. Your work is vital to preparing our students for college, careers, and a life of engaged citizenship.

Thank you for all you do on behalf of our children.

With immense gratitude,

John B. King, Jr.

John King

Written by

John King

Former Social Studies. Currently Secretary of Education.

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