Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Embedded Principal

Recently I was channel surfing and came across the television program “Undercover Boss”.  The premise is simple: the CEO of an organisation goes undercover to discover the challenges and triumphs of his or her employees with the hope that better decisions will made at the “top” of the organisation. 

While not a fan of the show (I don’t consider myself a CEO or going “undercover”), it did get me reflecting about my role as a principal.   

My situation allows me to be a teaching principal (I teach Law 12 - see the student moderated class blog here).  I do so for the following reasons:

It’s my "time out" or safe haven
I look forward to taking a “time out” from the day to day administration of running a school.  It also gets me away from the adults and with students in an authentic and exciting way.

Authentic relationships with my students
As a principal I value my relationships with all my students.  Developing authentic relationships can be more challenging outside of a teacher/learner setting.

I can walk my talk
We spend much time and energy planning, creating and implementing our School Growth Plan.  Teaching allows me tremendous insight and credibility with my colleagues when it comes to the implementation of our Growth Plan. Having a tough time with our Assessment and Grading Guide, Pyramid of Intervention, Literacy across the Curriculum or Technology Integration?  My ongoing experience in the class allows me to offer a more genuine and empathetic ear.  It also allows me to share my current struggles and successes as a teacher!

Rooted in the “why”
Teaching provides me a constant reminder as to why I decided to join the profession in the first place.   This anchors me as an instructional leader.

Keeps me relevant
Being an active practitioner in the classroom gives me another, often more pressing reason to be relevant and “up to date”.  I owe it to my students! 

Of course, I realize that every local situation is different.  I would, however, recommend that all administrators find time and a place to embed themselves as teaching professionals.

In the end it helps me be “up to my neck“in teaching and learning at my school.


  1. Very nice post Johnny! I think it's awesome that you have the opportunity to be in the classroom while maintaining a principalship. It definitely has to help keep you grounded and in the so called "trenches." Additionally, I would imagine that it makes it much easier to be an instructional leader since you are experiencing and dealing with some of the same issues as your colleagues. I know most public school districts don't allows administrators to teach as well, but I think it would be a healthy and productive change if more administrators had this opportunity.

    Great post as always!

  2. Appreciate the comment Justin. Sometimes I have to miss some classes for other pressing issues - but we have ongoing conversations in class about me being away. It tends to work quite well. I also appreciate that some administrators work in different circumstances. Still worth having the conversation. Thanks for adding your comment and continuing the conversation!

  3. Nice post, Johnny
    I really like the notion of framing the classroom as a "safe haven" both for your students and yourself - it really does allow for "authentic" relationships based on trust.

    As well, having their Principal teach them . . . those kids will definitely remember the experience well beyond their 10 year reunion!

    Because of the 'volume' here at JO, I can't commit to a regular block of class time; however, I do 'guest lecture' in Lit class a few times a year. Had them turned on to Milton about a month ago - new definition of "keeping it relevant" :)

    Thanks for sharing

  4. Thanks Gino. I would imagine that "volume" would be an issue for you. It is great that you do make an effort to "guest" teach a Lit class. Ans yes, the students think it is "cool" that the principal is their teacher! Appreciate the comment!

  5. Well done and well written,Johnny. I believe that there isn't a time when you are reluctant to go to teach your Law students because of everything else you must do that you ever regret it. It must energize you and make you feel better to face whatever the rest of your day will bring. You enrich the lives of your students by being their teacher and principal.
    I admire your commitment to reflect and to write.

    One little story of how I changed my students perception of me being one who could wield all authority over them. I named one of my grade 12's to be my designated "finger-wagger". Always chose an unlikely character who relished the role.We created good memories.