Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A New Principal's First Speech

I have recently been hired to serve as principal of another high school. This will be my first principalship. Today I met the faculty of my new school for the first time. I knew I could stand in front of them and ramble for fifteen or twenty minutes and say almost everything I wanted to say, but I chose instead to write out my first speech and deliver a more deliberate discourse in under ten minutes. Below is the greater part of that speech, which I publish here for I believe I had something of value to say. I look forward to your comments.

As an educator, I spent 18 years as a classroom teacher. During my early years, I experienced having four principals in five years. Therefore, I know you have no reason to believe anything I say today regarding how long I plan to be here or what I hope to accomplish. It will be my actions that will communicate my commitment to you, to the students of GHS, and to this community. Still, I want to take this time to express some of my beliefs about education, from which you may deduce the expectations that I hold as principal.

First, I am a supporter of teachers. Years ago there were the license plates in Indiana that declared “Kids First.” I wanted one that said “Teachers First,” not because I think less of kids, but because I believe that if we have great teachers in our classrooms, then we do not have to worry as much about the kids. Many kids come to us with their backs against the wall—home life is abysmal; parents have given up on their children and expect the schools to fix the problems; students have experienced so much failure in life that they now refuse to try. There is little we can do as educators to change these factors. What we can control is what happens at school and in the classrooms. We can call parents. We can ask parents to come in to meet with us. We can talk to the kids. We can set expectations and help kids meet those expectations while we hold them accountable. We can be the calm voice in the crisis. We can speak with reason when emotions are high. We can do so much. Therefore, great teachers are the most important ingredient to the success or our school.


Secondly, the outrage over No Child Left Behind has faded and we are now beginning to understand that every kid needs a high school diploma. Every kid will need some form of post-secondary education to compete in a 21st century economy. Our educational institutions are failing when we allow one student to leave without a high school diploma. Our goal must be a 100% graduation rate and we must do everything within our power to achieve that goal. Still, kids’ home lives are unsupportive and destructive. And you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But we cannot afford to focus on the things we cannot change. We must concentrate on those things we can change and the places where we can make a difference—the classrooms and the halls of our school. We can set high standards and high expectations, and we can find ways to hold our students accountable to those standards and expectations, while supporting students as they learn. The excuses we find for allowing kids to fail do not excuse us of our duty. We must find a way to help every student to reach his highest potential with the compassion and dignity that every human deserves.


Finally, I believe that we, as educators, are models of integrity. We are held to a higher standard by our communities, by our students, and by our colleagues. As actions speak louder than words, we have to ask ourselves, “What are my actions communicating to those around me?” If I take every sick day and personal day to which I am fully entitled, what does that communicate to my students about the importance of attendance? If I refuse to enforce the rules of the school in my classroom and in the hallways outside my classroom, what does that say of my attitude toward the rules of the school? If I close my door to the concerns of my students—or in my case, of my teachers—what does that say regarding how much I value these people and their concerns? If I refuse to contact parents when a student is failing, what am I saying about the importance of the partnership that exists between the parents and the school? I strive to be a model of integrity and ask the same of you. When we falter, we must learn to begin again; for there are truly no failures, only those who give up too soon.

My greatest strength as an administrator for the past seven years has been my skill at conflict resolution. The key to conflict resolution is taking the time to truly listen to the concerns of other people. Therefore, my phone line is open. My door is open. And I promise to find the time to sit with you, with parents, with students, with school board members, and with community leaders to hear the concerns. I cannot always afford you the luxury of having your way, but I hope you will always feel that I value your time and, more importantly, that I value you.

I am more excited today at the prospect of coming to GHS to serve as the next principal than I have ever been in my educational career. My only promise is that I will work hard every day and allow my actions to tell the story of who I am and of my commitment to this school. I will make mistakes and work hard to correct those mistakes. And I will see successes and join in the celebration of those successes. I am looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you and I invite you to come see me this July. I’d appreciate getting to spend an hour or so with each of you before the next school year begins.

Thank you.

5 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Randy. I know you will do well and I can attest to the fact that your door IS always open, and you are a "Teacher First" administrator.

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  2. Thanks, Matt. I appreciate the words of confidence.

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  3. A great question "What are my actions communicating to those around me?” and an inspiring speech. Best of luck!

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  4. Thank you Randy for giving us the permission to benefit from.

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  5. "We cannot afford to focus on the things we cannot change but concentrate on those things we can change and the places where we can make a difference". Indeed an inspiring speech. I am V.Suprabha from New Delhi, India and about to don the mantle of a new first time Principal from tomorrow. I had also prepared a similar speech for my new colleagues. It is heartening to know that I am on the right path. Thank you.

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