Do Educators Have a Boss?

I’m confused.Is the Customer Always Right?

Who do we see as our boss?

The department head?

The principal?

The superintendent?

The school board?

The community?



Some may say students, but we don’t really answer to them.

If we did, we would give them what they want and not what we think they need.

So who is our actual boss?

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NASSP Principal Leadership Magazine: Principals and Busses.

It’s March.

Another edition of Principal Leadership Magazine.

This version has me breaking the bad news about busses.

If you don’t know what I mean, you’ve never been a school principal.

New principals discover what I know roughly 10 minutes into their first day on the job.

Actually, that’s an exaggeration.

It’s within 5 minutes.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Principal Leadership is the best digital magazine in our business.

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The Secret to Being a Great Principal.

A long long time ago in a school district far far away I was a teacher.Business question

It was so long ago the Evil Spawn wasn’t even around to mock me (I can hardly remember my pre-Evil Spawn life).

As a teacher, I spent a lot of time watching principals interact in their environment (sort of like the monkeys at the zoo… I kid because I care).

Meetings, supervising games, getting yelled at by parents who hated school when they attended, etc.

What I discovered was the secret to being a successful school administrator.

Actually, it’s not really a secret. 

But when you call something a secret, people seem to want to pay you a pretty penny to stand up and explain it (so it’s a secret… and call me).

For this special one-time offer, I’m going to share it for free (I’m an idiot… nothing should be free).

The secret came to me over 10 years ago.

That particular day seemed like any other.

I taught my classes.  Looked forward to lunch.  Waited for practice to begin.

And hung around the office bothering people who actually worked for a living (sorry, secretaries).

On that day, you won’t believe who walked into the office.

The superintendent.

Some of you might be thinking it was mid-morning and he was just showing up for work, but I’m not going there.

I will say it was his 2nd year on the job.

Also, in the office was a high school senior.

When the superintendent walked through and closed the door to his office, the senior turned to a group of us and said “ Who’s the new guy?”.

Again, this was his second year on the job.

And the senior wasn’t kidding.

He had never seen him.

This is both sad and tragic (which is how I like my stories).

At that very moment, I was both doubled over with laughter and the keeper of the secret.

The secret to being a successful school administrator is walking around.

In the hallways.  In classrooms.  At games.

Even around town.

People want to see you.

They assume when you’re out and about, you are working.

They also assume when they don’t see you, you’re not working.

So take a walk.

You don’t want to be the “new guy or girl”.

Especially in your second year.

Even sadder… the district only had 50 employees.  At some point, the two stars of the story probably should have bumped into one another.

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A Good School Administrator Can Smell Trouble.

One of the worst things about being a school administrator is you become jaded.

After a few years (or hours) on the job you begin to get a sense of the people you are dealing with.

Your senses are heighted to the point you can easily recognize an upset person/fan/parent/employee/total stranger from at least 457 yards away.

My 457 yard figure isn’t a guesstimate.  It’s from a scientific study (Google it… actually, don’t).

It’s like playing Where’s Waldo.  Give a seasoned administrator a gym full of people and they can instantly spot the one person who is about to walk up and say…

“I don’t mean to complain, BUT…”

Just once, I want someone to walk up and say “I always complain and I always will.  So sit back and enjoy the colossal reaming you are about to receive!”

What a breath of fresh air that would be (call me a dreamer).

Since this is never going to happen, I want to focus on the downside of having the ability to recognize a complicated situation before it happens.

You (and by you, I mean me) get so used to having your guard up, you sometimes assume there’s trouble where there isn’t.Moist is Not Good.

And we all know what happens when you assume (if you don’t… Google it… really).

Not being able to properly diagnose a situation can make your life even more sad and tragic than it already is.

As I was researching this blog (not)  it made me think of the most horrific moment of my life.

No, not the day the Evil Spawn assumed control of the TV remote (although that’s definitely top 3).

The day in question was so terrible I encourage all of you to stop reading this blog immediately (yes, I know… there’s no way you can stop reading now, but you’ve been warned).

I found myself in the middle of a situation and I didn’t have the ability to pinpoint where my troubles were coming from.

This can be the death of a school administrator (not literally).

Lucky for me, fifteen years later I’m older and wiser.

Okay, just older.

Seriously, this is your last chance to bail out (save yourself, I’m begging you).

No?  So you are all in?  Alright, here we go.

Fifteen years ago, my child bride and I went to the movies.

From the moment we walked in I knew something was wrong.

What was it?

Did the movie stink?  Probably, but that wasn’t it.

Were there creepy teenagers making out in the balcony?  No.  There wasn’t a balcony.

Was the popcorn burnt and overpriced?  Negative.  It’ wasn’t burnt.

What was it?

There was a certain smell I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

A sort of stale moist haze lingered in the air.

It was almost pungent.

What was it?

I wasn’t sure, but I knew it was unpleasant.

Even back then I prided myself on the ability to diagnose a situation.

I can remember thinking I should be able to figure this out.

What is that smell?

I was a college graduate with nearly a year of teaching experience under my belt.  This shouldn’t have been a riddle wrapped in a mystery.

As the movie hit the halfway mark, I began to get frustrated.

What is that smell?  I couldn’t focus on anything but figuring out the strange odor.

Then it hit me.

My pants (or slacks for you older blog readers) were a little wet.

Actually, they were a lot wet.

Had I spilled my soda?  No, that wasn’t it.

What was it?

Had I had an “accident”.  No.  That will likely come in my later years.

Then I figured it out.

It was…

…still time to bail out people.

It was urine.

Yes, I said urine.

My own?


Unfortunately, I had not wet myself.  I have never in my life wished I had less bowel control than in that very moment.

It was urine alright.

The person who “used” my seat during the previous movie had been kind enough to leave me a little present.

They had used the movie seat as a giant urine sponge.

And I sat in it.

For over an hour.

There’s a lesson to be learned here for every man, woman, and child who is considering become a principal or superintendent.

One, always and I mean always make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.

And two, never ever assume where your problems are coming from.  They may not be 457 yards away.

They just might be right underneath you.

Sometimes you are better off focusing inward instead of outward.

Or at least underward.

Let it be known, you will never go to the movies without thinking about me…and checking the seat for unexpected moisture.

PS…I tried to warn you!

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Great Discipline at School Starts with Bad Kids.

Someone asked me what they needed to do to be a successful school administrator.

Since I was unusually polite that day, I didn’t respond “blind luck and lots of it.”

The old saying is that to be successful as a superintendent the finances of the district must be in good shape. If they are, you get to keep your job. If they aren’t, you get to look for a new job.

For a principal, it is all about discipline. If people perceive you to have good discipline and it’s implemented fairly, you will get to keep your job. At least temporarily.

The question now becomes how does one have good discipline over a large group of students?

Especially when these students are dealing with personal issues, puberty, phones (cell), peer pressure, parties, and parents (I think I just made up a cool list of things that start with the letter P).

Easy. Go back to my original thought of blind luck.

If you aren’t abnormally lucky, I have another suggestion. Some Students Just Know...

Student population in regards to discipline can be broken down to the 33/33/33 Rule.

33% of the students will always do the right thing. Good kids with good parents (the ones that want to know immediately if their child is causing trouble… and of course they never do).

You will often find these students in the library, at a student council meeting, or volunteering.

These kids don’t need a principal. If fact, you could give them your keys to the building and they could start the school day without you. This is good to know if you are ever running late.

Teachers love these students. Consequently, as the principal you will never see them.


They don’t need you. Unless they need a letter of recommendation.

The second group of 33% belongs to kids who want to do the right thing, but they could go either way.

You will see them… in the hallways, the parking lot, and occasionally in your office.

They will be on the fringe of both good behavior and bad.

If they do make their way to your office, it is usually just once a year. Most of their troubles are dealt with by the teachers.

Talking and tardies are their big crimes.

As long as these small issues are addressed, quickly and fairly, these students will do the right thing.

So 66% of all kids are pretty low maintenance.

That leaves a principal in charge of only a third of all students.

Not a difficult job. Quite manageable if you can control them.

How does one do this?


Not really, I am just trying to build your confidence.

The plan is relatively simple.

Focus in on this last group. Pick out the meanest and most difficult students and hone in on them.

Every day.

Not by badgering them, or following them around. But by talking to them.

Every day.

Did I mention it has to be every day? Good.

Don’t spend your time with the quarterback or class president (remember, they will find you when they need that letter of recommendation).

Spend your time finding a kid who may get into trouble and speak to them.

Every period. At lunch. Before school. During their study hall. As they leave (hopefully this is at the end of the day and on their own accord).

Will this fix all of your problems? No.

Will it fix all of their behaviors? Are you kidding?

Not a chance.

But it will establish a relationship with the group of students that you will be working with most of the time. And it will make it easier for them to trust you when they do get sent to the office.

You don’t want them to think that you are only interested in them when they are in trouble.

A good principal should know their schedule, their friends, their hobbies (legal and otherwise), where they live, where they work (legal and otherwise), and their parents.

This 33/33/33 Plan won’t fix all of your problems, but it may help you survive.

What about the other 1%?

Don’t even get me started about the 1 Per Centers.

This 1% will take up 99% of your time.

As principal you will know them, their schedule, their parents, their grandparents, and maybe even the lawyer they keep threatening to hire to sue you.

You hope they do the right thing at school, but mainly you hope they don’t know where you live.

They are an entire blog series on their own.

As of now, I don’t have an official plan for them.

Unless you count blind luck as a plan.

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School Administrators Joke #1: How Coaches Become Principals.

This is a brand new feature on

Jokes about us.

We can’t take ourselves too seriously…You Make a Horse Laugh and You've Done Something.

because we have to realize, they (and by they, I mean everyone… remember a little paranoia keeps you sharp and on your toes) are not laughing with us, but at us.

I came up with this feature just moments ago as I sprinted (I mean ran… I mean jogged… actually, to be honest it is more of a walk/shuffle) through my daily (sometimes daily, often it is more of a few times a week) exercise program.

A few days ago, someone (a.k.a. @tjshay via twitter) sent my wife this joke about principals. I had heard it before, but had forgotten it (because I am so busy, I can’t remember everything… or possibly I am just old and forgetful).

The joke.

“Qualifications to be a Principal. A Master’s Degree and two consecutive losing seasons.”

Makes me smile every time I think about it.

Probably because in so many cases it is true. Let it be noted…my last season of coaching resulted in the kids having a winning season (I say kids because it was all them… very little of me).

I like to think I have a great sense of timing. Get out right before things go bad. Don’t overstay your coaching welcome. Leave on a winning note. Let the next coach deal with the rebuilding.

So that is what I did. I saw the writing on the wall. I got out. The very next season the kids had a record of 24 and 5.

I have said it before, but it deserves repeating. I am an idiot.

As usual, the joke was on me.

True story: I met a gentleman from Texas who got “promoted” to high school principal after having 2 losing seasons in a row as head football coach. The “promotion” came with a $7,000 pay cut.

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I Didn’t Know How Much I Didn’t Know.

So Many Questions... So Few Answers.As I move into the twilight of my career (I wish), it has occurred to me that I once was a huge and complete moron.

This is drastically different from today, when I am just a medium and partial moron.

Before my long (okay, short) career as a school administrator, I was a teacher. This is before I took a very secretive oath and moved over to the dark side of administration. I could go into details, but I have been sworn to secrecy.

During my years of teaching, I had the pleasure (not really) of sitting through about 4,000 teacher’s meetings. They were quite productive and I learned a lot (again, this is a little thing I like to call sarcasm).

I realize these meetings are a necessary evil. However, I am unsure who dislikes them more; teachers or administrators?

But that is an argument for another day (and blog… as you see I am banking up material for the slower summer months).

When attending meetings as a teacher, I was impressed by how incredibly smart I was. Or so I thought. I had all the answers. Just ask me.

The decisions being made by administrators seemed so black and white.

I would sit there (half paying attention) and ask myself; how could they be so stupid? How could they make such bad decisions? Why didn’t they make choices that seem so simple to me? Why did they always make everything so difficult?

In a nutshell, why didn’t the administration have a clue?

Honestly, how hard of job could a principal have? In fact, how did they even keep busy throughout the day? You can only walk down the hallway so many times.

So, I was smart and they were stupid. I could easily do their job.

So I did.

Did I mention the part about being a moron?

Here is a small portion of what I learned in my first 17 minutes on the job; I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought, previous administrators weren’t nearly as clueless as I believed, decisions about students and staff are rarely black and white, and I may be in over my head.

And then the rest of my first day took a turn for the worse. You will be happy to learn that I survived my first day; although barely.

I learned more in the first 4 weeks as a principal than I did in 2 years of classes while getting my Master’s Degree plus 8 years of teaching.

But I did learn an important lesson and that was…

…you should never judge your intelligence by how much you know; you should judge it by how little you know.

And in my case that was a lot.

So if you are considering leaving the classroom to become an administrator, remember this; you can do it because of everything that you know, but don’t be surprised by the immense number of things you will have to learn.

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Never Yell “COACH” in a Crowded Principal’s Meeting.

I was asked the other day why so many coaches become principals. This got me thinking. After much thought (actually none), I have come to an intelligent theory (actually more of a guess than an intelligent theory).

Over the course of the last few years, I have had an opportunity to meet a lot of principals and through a totally unscientific study I believe 35% are now ex-principals.

This is for a variety of reasons, but the #1 cause is that I don’t think people actually know what qualities are required to make a good administrator. So consequently schools are hiring the wrong types of people.

But you are in luck; I have a theory (I can almost hear people rolling their eyes as I write this).I Only Owned 2 Ladders.

In all of the good principals that I know, they all have one major thing in common. They don’t care.

Suddenly, I have your attention (I bet you’re sorry you rolled your eyes- apology accepted).

Let me clarify; they don’t care what people think of them. A lot of people say they don’t care, but it takes a certain type of character flaw to really not care.

And what makes this character flaw even more challenging is that it can’t be taught. You can’t pick up the “I don’t care” gene in a graduate class, a good mentor can’t teach you, and you certainly can’t fake it (always remember that kids are like dogs- they sense fear and weakness).

When school boards interview for a new principal they confuse themselves by looking for experience, organization, people skills, good leadership qualities, and high grades on a college transcript.

If you are ever looking for a principal, don’t fall into this trap. Keep your eye on the ball and look for someone who doesn’t care (ball, coaches in the title- I crack myself up).

A good principal can care about the kids, the school, the curriculum, the teachers, and the staff- but they can never ever care what people think of them.

I do have to admit that this can be somewhat challenging.

Everyone has a mortgage and car payment so it is important to stay employed. But when you begin to make decisions based on what others think of you, the end is near.

This brings me back to coaches. Why are so many administrators ex-coaches?

There are several plausible theories to consider.

One is that they have families to support and they can’t afford to coach the JV football team for $700 when their kids will be going to college in 8 years. In review, everyone has bills.

Another is that coaches have summers off and after a few years, they usually wander over to the local college and take administrative classes (you can only play so much golf and paint so many houses).

But I think the real reason coaches become administrators is slightly more complex (look at that, I just used the words coaches and complex in the same sentence).

Coaches are comfortable being in charge, giving directions, getting second-guessed/yelled at, and working long hours.

If they weren’t born with the “I don’t care” gene, after 10 years of coaching it is now ingrained into them.

If you have this character flaw, you have a chance. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, tall or short, mean or nice, but somewhere in the deep recesses of your personality, you must not care.

Technically, you don’t even have to have been a coach, but it helps. There are a few chosen ones who have been blessed with this “I don’t care” gift from a higher authority.

Now granted, this gene doesn’t make you the nicest person on staff, but if does give you the protective armor to allow yourself a chance at being successful once hired as a principal.

That is why you never yell “Coach” in a Principal’s meeting. 80% of the people will turn around and 65% of which won’t care.

The other 35%- we hardly knew you.

As a former coach, any disrespect to coaches in this article was purely for the sake of humor (or attempted humor). I still think it is an honor for someone to address me as “Coach”. I will take that over “Mr.” any day of the week. And I sure do miss painting houses.

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20 Things Principals Hope They Don’t Hear On The First Day Of School.

"The Sheriff’s Here."1. “A first grader just threw up in the hallway.”

2. “The Spanish, Math, and Chemistry teachers won’t be in; they just found new jobs.”

3. “It is going to be 99 degrees today with a heat index of 152.”

4. “Evidently when the first grader threw up, it set off a chain reaction.”

5. “Three busses broke down eight miles from school, and it is going to be 99 degrees today with a heat index of 152.”

6. “Your secretary needs maternity leave, starting tomorrow.”

7. “The Sheriff is here and he needs to speak to you.”

8. “The air conditioner repairman will be right here; in two weeks.”

9. “The teacher didn’t show up for class, so we just left.”

10. “Has anyone seen Roscoe, the albino rat that we keep in the science lab?”

11. “It is just me, or do I smell something burning?”

12. “The copy paper is still on backorder?”

13. “Why are you here? Didn’t they tell you, the school board didn’t renew your contract?”

14. “Something just happened in the gym, they need you in the locker room.”

15. “I just saw the janitor wrestling Roscoe on one of the lunch tables.”

16. “The toilets won’t flush and I just sent the first graders to the restroom.”

17. “The new teacher just burnt popcorn in the lounge.”

18. “Your fly is open.”

19. “The game starts in five minutes; does anyone know why the football lights won’t turn on?”

20. “It is 99 degrees today with a heat index of 152 and the air conditioning is not working. Are we getting out early?”

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.