*This story was originally published in Fueled by Coffee and Love, a collection of short stories by educators, edited by Mari Venturino. You can purchase a copy of the book here; all proceeds go back to educators and classrooms! The book is such a positive, uplifting reminder of why we all entered this amazing profession. Mari is seeking entries for Volume 2, so consider submitting your own story!
Being an elementary principal is as close to being a rockstar as I’ll ever be. Walking around campus and hearing students call out, “Miss I!”was so much fun!
When I was principal, our school had a Friday Flag event each and every Friday morning. The entire school community met on the back playground where we did the pledge of allegiance, made announcements, and where one class would lead us in a song for the week. These songs were often patriotic or fun kid-pop songs that we all knew the words to. This was one of the ways in which we built our community.
Each Friday I would make my way to the back of the school after finishing my morning supervision out front. [Don’t be jealous of the glamorous life of a principal!]
On this particular Friday I was the last to arrive out back. All of our students were gathered with their teachers and many of their parents, in a large semi-circle. There was our usual flag and microphone set up ready and waiting for me to begin. Only, before I could reach the microphone, a teacher was holding it and beginning her own announcement.
I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I remember that I began to cry almost immediately. She quickly explained that today was now known as “Miss I day,” and that today they were all here to appreciate me. All of a sudden, each class held up a sign the students had made. I saw “We love you!” and “Miss I-nspirational!” and many other cute messages on banners around the playground.
After the announcement, a group of teachers came up to the front and sang a song. But this was not one of our usual Friday Flag songs. The staff had rewritten lyrics to “Walking on Sunshine” to be all about me. This was an inside joke that showed just how well my staff knew me. They knew that I had worked at Chuck E. Cheese as a teenager and that “Walking on Sunshine” was the song I was required to memorize a dance routine to as part of my job.
Hearing my hard-working teachers sing a song they had written to thank me for being leader was overwhelming.
When I returned to the office, still wiping away the tears of joy and gratitude, I was met by yet another surprise. My office staff were all wearing the same t-shirt, and the shirt had a picture of me on it! They had made their own appreciation shirts to wear just to make me laugh!
One of the best days I ever had was when my staff planned an appreciation day for me! But it wasn’t because it was a day all about me. This day helped me see the impact I was making as a leader. Leaders know how important trust is when building relationships.
Three years earlier, I came to this school as a brand new principal, new to the district, new to the elementary level, and just plain NEW. I worked hard to get to know the staff and I struggled with how to let them get to know me. We, collectively, worked hard to support our students, many of whom came from rough situations outside of school.
As we got to know each other on behalf of the challenging work we shared, I learned how valuable appreciation can be. Leaving a simple hand-written note to thank a staff member for doing something didn’t take much of my time, but it brought me closer to individuals. Making sure that each of my weekly bulletins and Friday Flag announcements included some note of appreciation for a job well done by a student, a parent, or a staff member, became invaluable.
Receiving a thank you from a staff member or a hand-drawn card from a student also meant a lot. Being an elementary principal is a very isolating job. During most of my time as a principal I did not have any assistant principals, counselors, or other administrative support working alongside me. I relied heavily on my amazing secretary, my dedicated head custodian, my literacy coach, and my lead teachers for support with academic and operational tasks.
I tried to acknowledge hard work and dedication as much as possible, but it is never enough. Educators today work harder than any other profession, in my opinion. We serve as the teachers, counselors, nurses, therapists, parents, friends, and coaches for hundreds of students every year. We work long beyond “contract hours” and our work follows us everywhere- sometimes in the form of stacks of papers to be graded and other times as a sleepless night spent worry about a homeless student and his or her family in crisis.
What I learned from “Miss I” day was that appreciation matters. No matter the role you play, please take time to share your appreciation with your colleagues, your mentors, your friends in the trenches with you, doing this work that is a calling for us all. Appreciate big and small things. Appreciate a kind gesture, a smile in a busy hallway, a functioning PLC, an empathetic leader, a supportive colleague, and anything else that helps you be the best you can be for our students every day.
I appreciate each and every educator I’ve worked with and learned from. I appreciate each educator who is reading this collection of stories. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.