How Principals Can Set Limits With Their Superintendents

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have come to your conferences and I follow you on Facebook. I agree with you completely that everything that is asked of teachers in the form of testing, paperwork, etc., is totally unrealistic and does not help students or teachers. As a building principal, I see that the demands are destroying my staff and my school. So, what do I do to help them? -Anonymous Principal, Somewhere in a State Somewhere


Dear Anonymous,

I’ve been waiting for years for a principal to ask this.

I will show you how to help yourself first, your staff second, and your students third.
The status quo all but forces good principals, superintendents, and other educational leaders to be dishonest in order to do their jobs. Pretending that we can do this all without hurting kids is a universal problem for every public school principal and teacher in this country. I know you know this. I just want you to know that I know that you know this.

It’s soul-crushing. Human beings need to live in a truthful way, or they slowly destroy themselves a little bit every day. I have seen so many principals go through this. I went through this as a principal, though, sadly, demands were not as ridiculous then as they are today.

Principals have to walk into staff meetings and tell fantastic and hard-working people about another piece of garbage, useless, waste of time that they now have to spend their time on. Principals know that they are ruining the days of everyone in the room, but they have no choice but to do this because they have been handed this nonsense by their Department of Education (DE).

My suggestion is that you take a stand so that you no longer have to lie to anyone. It will take some courage, but I suggest this:

Write a paper letter to your superintendent and hand it to him in a private, scheduled meeting. Let him know that if it is his wish, you will never show anyone else the letter or talk about it. In that letter, make it clear that you recognize your place in the hierarchy of the school system and that you will not be insubordinate. Then let them know what they all already know: that all of this “alphabet soup” (RIMPs, RESA, SLO’s, whatever testing letters we have today, etc.) is utter nonsense, does not help anyone, and is destroying the lives and careers of educators and students. Let them know that you will no longer lie to your staff by telling them that these dictates are a good idea.

Include the fact that living this series of lies is destroying you, in part because it’s destroying your school, your teachers, and your students. Let him know that you would like to send this letter to the DE, and that you would like to also share it with your staff.

If he says “no”, do not become insubordinate, unless you want to risk losing your job. If you do, prepare to get fired or to quit, and have a plan for that: you may wish to go to another district, and, as a condition of working in your next district, you should make sure your superintendent will allow you to give this letter to your entire staff on your first day.

If your superintendent agrees to allow you to distribute this letter to the DE and to your staff, and he allows you to live by the provisions of the letter: that you will faithfully hand down and administer the nonsense handed to you, but that you will no longer lie to anyone about the fact that any of this is a good idea, helpful, or benefits any human beings on earth (besides the people who own the testing companies), you will have significantly improved the quality of your life. You will have made it very clear to your staff that you are on the same team and that you have the same mission: to jump through all of the flaming hoops from ODE, while trying to serve the students in your care. This will greatly improve their lives, which will greatly improve the lives of the students in your building because everyone will be acting with honor and integrity.

If it won’t get you fired, encourage your staff to organize or participate in protests in your state capital, and see if the people above you in your district will participate. Maybe parents will even get wind of this. Please let me know when and where these protests will be happening, and I will be there fighting alongside you and your staff.

Maybe then, we can change things. Maybe then, people will start to listen. Just because they haven’t so far doesn’t mean that they never will.