As the 2021 Minnesota High School Principal of the Year, I had the honor of speaking at the recent Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals Winter Conference.
Everyone there already knew firsthand that these have almost certainly been the two hardest years of our careers as school leaders. Let’s face it: Being a principal is a difficult job, but I don’t think any of us could have imagined what the last two years would be like. I know that many principals across the country are considering leaving the profession. But as I told my Minnesota colleagues, this is not the time to quit.
The well isn’t deep enough for any of us to leave the profession early. I know these past two years have been difficult, and there have been many among us that have either left the principalship or are questioning whether it’s worth it to stay. Well, I say it is worth it—your school community needs leadership now more than ever, and if not you, well then, who? So, don’t quit.
I also offered my colleagues some advice for dealing with issues around equity, which have brought additional political and social challenges to many schools and districts over the past two years and have made the job of school leader even more challenging. My advice is to know your “why.” Or, as Curly says in the movie City Slickers, “This!”
It’s different for everyone. For me, my why has always been aligned to my school’s organizational purpose. “Each and every student will graduate prepared for postsecondary success regardless of race, class, gender, or ability.” Another way of saying this is that you will not be able to predict postsecondary readiness based on those demographic indicators. So, my why is really about student experience. And it’s my why that has helped me navigate tough issues and stay focused.
Equity needs to be about student experience, and it shouldn’t be complex or political. It’s actually rather simple and purposeful. We work purposefully and strategically to meet the needs of all students, individually, regardless of race, class, gender, or ability. We focus on their individual experiences.
We don’t teach theories to promote or achieve equity, and we avoid the equity traps, tropes, and language that prevent this work from moving forward or drawing a counter narrative. Equity is about evolving our practices and our processes to yield higher results and better the school experience for all students, not just students who have the resources or know how to do school well.
Our teachers are responsible for more than just working hard. They need to work smart, care unconditionally, and believe they can ultimately change the trajectory of every student’s life by changing their practice when a student is not having success.
You’ll know you have a good school culture when you can no longer predict your students’ academic success and/or your students’ experiences based on race, class, gender, or ability.
That’s our responsibility as leaders—to ensure this is happening in our buildings. Leadership matters. And good leadership will result in a good culture. And that’s why I’ll say it again: This is not the time to quit. We need good leaders now more than ever.