And All That Without A Gun

I was talking to an assistant principal friend from a neighboring district who was telling me some funny stories from her middle school experience.
She said her own mom and dad like to ask her to tell stories from school. When she finishes, her dad, a retired policeman will say, “And to think you do all that without a gun.”

I don’t want to get into the politics of whether or not public educators should carry guns. I will go on record as saying I never want to carry one. Even in my younger years when I would occasionally hunt, I always felt lucky to make it back without hurting myself or someone else. I am just too forgetful and careless with a firearm to be trusted to carry one around.

But that is beside the point. Except in rare occasions, school leaders don’t need a gun to get the job done. Ours involve the “soft” skills of communicating, negotiating, instruction, and decision-making as well as the “hard” skills of managing reports, policies, new state laws, and master schedules.

Last Friday was one of those days where my list of to-do’s required both soft and hard skills. Here’s a quick run-down:

1. I was the administrator at two IEP meetings (team meetings with special services students, their parents, a special education teacher, a school psychometrist, and a special services teacher.)

2. I helped two students applying for state arts awards, and wrote a recommendation letter on the spot for one who was afraid that a pending snow day might put him out of school on the date it was to be postmarked.

3. I managed disciplinary action that required a parent meeting and conversation with our student resource officer.

4. I announced our students of the month and took photos to share with parents in a weekly email update I sent out.

5. We have a student who asks once a week if he can perform dance moves during lunch. So I helped him by playing some Michael Jackson music through the lunch room speakers. It was a hit.

6. I talked to a parent by phone who was having issues with a pending court situation.

7. I answered emails with requests for meetings, buses, maintenance, and questions on policy and handbook changes for next year.

8. I managed another disciplinary action that required scheduling a meeting to discuss out-of-school services for a student.

Unfortunately, all of this meant I was unable to be in any classrooms. Thankfully, I had already completed three teacher observations during the week, so I was still on schedule.

After school, I reviewed a 6-inch binder of materials and documents our school will have reviewed next week by the state regional accreditation officer. And that evening, I attended the funeral of a retired teacher who was also a beloved friend.

All of this was accomplished without a gun.

But one the most entertaining parts of my day–the part that reminded me why I like what I do–came at the very start of the day:

I have a special student who visits me almost every morning before school starts. He likes to say hello. He has some specific disabilities I am not at liberty to explain.

Friday, he stopped by while I was reviewing time sheets and other papers I sign every morning before they are sent to the business office.

As he always does, he started talking without any social introduction:

“This morning I got hit by a lucky raindrop.”

“Really,” I replied, looking up from my papers.

“Yes,” he went on, “I was walking out of my house thinking patriotic thoughts about the flag and star-spangled banner. And just then a drop of rain fell on my face right here below my eye.” He paused and demonstrated. “It was like I was crying. It was such an awesome moment.”

And then he paused and held up a Coke bottle. The day before, he had seen it on a shelf in my office. It was an empty bottle with labeling in Spanish that my daughter had brought to show her Spanish teacher. He had asked me then if he could have it, and I told him he could if he was careful with it.

Now he was standing here holding it up. “This Coke bottle is now my lucky bottle. Everything that is happening to me seems so lucky. Like that raindrop.”

He smiled. I smiled. And then he exited to go get breakfast in the commons.

What a job, I thought.

Perhaps, like me, your day requires a good deal of soft and hard skills. Both are important. Deadlines, policies, and structure may drive your organizational outcomes. But listening, encouraging, and connecting with others will drive the emotional morale of your school.

As you hit the crunch time of second semester, don’t forget that at the end of the day, the hidden parts of your job may or may not be remembered by others.

But through it all, whether you are dealing with a matter requiring police presence, helping a student applying for an award, or simply being there for someone who needs to talk, it’s the combination of all those hard and soft skills that make a difference in the lives of others.

And to think, you do it all without a gun.

Now It’s Your Turn:
All of us have moments throughout the day that we need to remember when times get tough. I would love to hear some stories from your day that make your job entertaining or meaningful. Share with the rest of us.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker