Several years ago, I remember hearing a lot of discussion about school principals in the role of “instructional leaders.” The discussion centered around the fact that the role had shifted from simply a managerial role to more of a position focused on curriculum knowledge and instructional pedagogy.

When I became a principal, I had a background in curriculum & instruction, so I’ve always felt well-versed, and considered myself an instructional leader. In my first several years as a principal, I prided myself on providing feedback to help teachers grow and to improve instruction for teachers and students. My favorite place to be was classrooms, watching great instruction lead to learning breakthroughs for students.

Then March 2020 hit like a ton of bricks. 

Suddenly, my role shifted. I sat at home, responding to more emails than I’d ever care to answer again. In the year and a half since, my role has again continuously shifted, and I feel like it has become more managerial in nature, only dealing with logistical issues on a regular basis.

There’s a famous scene in the 1999 movie Office Space, in which a pair of cost-saving consultants known as the Bobs, are interviewing an employee to find out what role he plays in the organization. After getting a response from the employee that is less than clear, they reply with a simple but telling question, “what would you say it is you do here?” 

If I think about this question as it relates to my current role, I realize that most of my time is spent dealing with issues related to staffing or student attendance. Each morning, I come in to find out how many teachers are absent, and how many subs backed out at the last minute. I then spend about twenty minutes trying to match our remaining staff with the schedule, like a game of tetris on level 10! It is simply to ensure that all students are supervised for the day. Let’s not even talk about instruction or pedagogy. On most days, I’m just looking for a warm body with enough credits to watch students. 

What would you say it is you do here?

I spend a lot of my time dealing with COVID protocols, and figuring out how many days a child needs to quarantine from school based on contact with another student or a family member. Then there are the hours spent on the phone addressing parent concerns surrounding protocols. The phone calls are always dreadful, and it seems as if the guidelines change from one day to the next. In the most extreme version of “don’t kill the messenger,” I often end up delivering terrible news that no one wants to hear. Quarantined students return to school after a number of days and a negative test only to be quarantined again. And, if only I had a dime for every student that I had to ask to “please pull up your mask.” My role has been reduced to correcting kids about wearing masks instead of spending time to help them learn. 

What would you say it is you do here?

Sometimes, it’s helping to hand out lunches and open juice boxes in the short-staffed lunchroom. Sometimes, it’s managing traffic jams during arrival. It’s definitely waiting for late buses every afternoon. It’s managing the dozens of local and state mandates that somehow seem less relevant right now, but still remain due all the same. It’s more work about work. It’s a million things that really have nothing to do with instruction and learning, but have everything to do with just keeping the school building open every day.  

What would you say it is you do here?

I show up every day to keep us afloat. 

I wear my life jacket but somehow keep drowning. 

I wish I were an instructional leader, but somehow I’m not.




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