Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Message to Superintendents About Your First Year Principals

As I type, I am on 5-hour flight from Los Angeles to New York City. As we are at the start of a new school year,  I've got those first year principals on my mind. There are a lot of them out there all over the country. Trust me, I know because many of them have shared the news of their appointment with me throughout the summer. But now that they are in these important positions, the question now is, "Now what?" Literally, what is the plan for them from the day of their appointment all the way to the end of quarter number one - and then from the end of quarter number one to the end of quarter number two all the way to the end of the school year?

There are new principals in schools across the U.S. with various different prior work experiences including but not limited to:

  • highly successful in the classroom and as assistant principal.
  • worked in various administrative capacities successfully such as an assistant principal, supervisor and director.
  • bad experiences as assistant principals and therefore never had exposure to the fullness of school leadership.
  • went from the classroom right into the principalship and never served as an assistant principal or other administrative positions and therefore do not know school leadership.
  • great assistant principal and served well in a #2 capacity but the jury is still out as to whether or not they can be a successful #1.
  • didn't go the traditional route and instead of starting as a teacher, started as a counselor, social worker, school psychologist etc. or came out an entirely different industry but had leadership experience.
  • appointed because the applicant pool was slim.
  • and of course, there are those who were appointed because they knew someone of influence

    Whatever their background coming into their first principalship, they are going to need mentorship and ongoing support. Within the field of education, one of the worst things we can do to students, teachers, a school and a community is to literally throw a non-experienced, first year principal into "the fire" with no ongoing, consistent support and mentorship and expect this individual to be successful in Year One. Of course, there are many who do in fact have solid years in Year One. I would like to think that I was one of them. But there are also many who do not. There are many whose first years are so challenging and overwhelming that their tenure as principals are short-lived. They either become frustrated and resign or the district relieves them of their duties. Ongoing support and mentorship could have been the game-changer for so many first year principals.

    As my mentor said to me during my admin internship and my first years of principal leadership, "The purpose of your supervision of teachers is their continued improvement in instruction." It is my contention that every first year principal appointed understands this. In fact, I am sure that they stated it in their interview. But because they understand it doesn't necessarily translate into them knowing HOW to be effective instructional leaders. That has to be trained. That has to be taught. There are a plethora of occurrences that can and will arise on any given school day that can prevent a principal from setting foot into a classroom, not to mention engaging in pre and post observation conferences. There is so much to learn and to know as a principal that have absolutely no relationship to previously being an effective classroom teacher and an effective assistant principal. This means that first year principals must once again have ongoing support and mentorship. It can't be circumvented.

    To the superintendents out there, I know you know this. This is just me "thinking out loud" on an airplane. No one within the school community can afford for a first year principal to be assigned to a school and that person is subsequently left to "figure it out" on his / her own. That would be leadership malpractice. That first year principal must be nurtured, cultivated, developed, trained, taught, "schooled," led, guided, pushed and challenged by a seasoned leader....and that seasoned leader just might be you or someone on your team.

    I have never been a superintendent and they jury is still out as to whether or not I will ever be one but be that as it may, I will say this - if I ever decide to take on the role of superintendent, with everything on my plate as a superintendent, my number one priority will be the first year principals in the district. They matter and it will be on me to make them great. When the principals are great, everyone wins.

    For further information, read my books, The Principal 50, The Aspiring Principal 50, The Assistant Principal 50 and Is My School a Better School BECAUSE I Lead It? Also, join me LIVE every Saturday morning at 10:55 EDT for the Virtual AP Leadership Academy on YouTube at my Virtual AP Leadership Academy channel.

    Friday, August 27, 2021

    "Principal Kafele, Please Refrain From Referencing CRT in Your Presentation"

    About a month ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, Critical Race Theory, Sleight (Slight) of Hand, Smoke & Mirrors ("slight" in parentheses because I had no idea until I wrote it that the correct spelling is "sleight"). Although the blog post was widely read, a month later, I feel a need to write a follow up and hence, this essay.

    The banning and the push to ban what is called Critical Race Theory has really picked up steam over the past few months. Politicians in many of the states have made the banning of CRT a legislative priority, and some of my clients in the affected states are literally requesting / saying to me prior to my presentations, "Principal Kafele, please refrain from referencing CRT in your presentation." Talk about the misguided paranoia that has been created! The premise is that CRT is inherently racist and has no place in a K-12 classroom. The purpose of this essay is not to discuss what CRT is or is not. I discussed that in the aforementioned essay...please refer to it. The purpose of this essay is to argue that for those of us who are strong advocates of "curriculums of inclusion" for students of color, coupled with culturally-relevant pedagogy and teaching the truth and fullness of American history with fidelity, the CRT battle is NOT a K-12 battle. It is not a component of the K-12 fight for "classroom curricular and instructional justice" for children of color in general and Black children in particular. This CRT banning is nothing more than a distraction from the decades long fight to ensure that Black children are afforded the right to curriculum and instruction that are inclusive of their reality as Black people in America.

    I want to share a personal story that I have never gone public with until this essay. Back in the fall of 1997, my last calendar year as a 5th grade Social Studies teacher before transitioning to administration, I made the decision that my 5th graders needed exposure to and could handle the classic, The Miseducation of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. My school was located in East Orange, NJ, one of the "Blackest" cities in America and it was my intent to ensure that learning was always culturally-relevant for the population of students I served.  In using this book, I started with a paragraph from the introduction that was a game-changer for me personally when I was evolving from a "misinformed boy" into a "socially-conscious man" in the 80's. As I tell anyone, this paragraph was the impetus for me becoming a classroom teacher. In the introduction, Dr. Woodson said,

    “When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

    As the teacher of my students, I wanted to take a deep dive into the meaning of this quote in a historical, cultural, socioeconomic context. This meant that in teaching American history, I had to ensure that each and every era of American history was inclusive of the Black experience in America as well. I wanted my students to see the relatability of America's past to themselves in everything that I taught. In doing so, the aforementioned Carter G. Woodson quote made that much more sense to them.

    Since The Miseducation of the Negro is in public domain, it is published by a plethora of different publishers which is unfortunate. There are no copyright violations when one publishes or photo copies this book. I therefore created small booklets of the introduction and the first two chapters for each of my students. I used to observe them walk with those booklets with pride. It was an amazing thing to see. I knew I was doing the right thing by my students.

    Since we were departmentalized, my students had several different teachers. One of the teachers was a young white woman who took issue with me using The Miseducation of the Negro in my classroom and subsequently providing the students with copies of the chapters I referenced above. She confronted me one day and told me I gave them a racist document. I was stunned and appalled and proceeded to educate her about the book and the author, who happens to be the founder of Black History Month. I thought she was "hearing" me until a week later, my homeroom students returned to my classroom one afternoon for dismissal with a gift from this teacher - each of them had a book in their hands entitled, Robert E. Lee, My Hero. I will never in life forget this day and I'm surprised it took me this long to write about it. How dare this teacher give my class of Black children a book that calls the leader of the confederate army a hero. A hero to whom? Certainly not the ancestors of my students. We subsequently had an "interesting" discussion and consequently, the books were returned to the teacher and my class and I discussed Lee the next morning. 

    This CRT hysteria that we are seeing play out is not new. It is decades old. There has been a battle to keep the Black experience in America marginalized, distorted, trivialized, caricatured, hidden and omitted for over 100 years. Why? Because there is power in that narrative and there are forces out there that never want that power to be shared. The Black experience is NOT Critical Race Theory. I REPEAT - the Black experience is NOT Critical Race Theory.  The Black experience is the experience of Black people in America. There is nothing "theoretical" about it. It is documented, although hidden history. So with my new reality of some of my clients in the affected states asking / requesting that I refrain from mentioning CRT, I will continue to enlighten them to the fact that "Critical Race Theory" will never be mentioned by me in a presentation because it isn't my fight....never has been. My fight is to ensure that the truth and fullness of the American story is told with fidelity....no matter how painful it may be.

    For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.

    Reflecting on 4 Years of the AP & New Principals Academy

      It’s practically surreal that a project I started on May 2, 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic is still going strong 4 years later and...