The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Setting the Tone…

As an undergraduate student, one of my professors introduced me and my peers to a poem by Haim Ginot that opened a book he wrote in the 1970s. It stated:

“I have come to a frightening conclusion.

I am the decisive element in the classroom.

It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.

I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.

In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis

will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

As a teacher, I kept a copy of these words near my desk as a reminder of the responsibility that I had to my students to lead our classroom by setting a tone where students could feel safe, appreciated, and accepted. Heading into the fourth week of the school year, it occurs to me that as the Principal, I have a similar responsibility to our teaching staff. My job is to set a tone where our teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians, secretaries, and support staff can be that decisive element for our students every day.

This view was reinforced last week when I read an opinion piece in Education Week by Walt Gardner. Leaders who take on formal roles have a responsibility to hold staff members accountable, to have difficult conversations when needed, and to set and maintain high expectations. However, formal leaders must also remember that those who make up the organization are people with feelings and emotions. I believe everyone that works at our school wakes up each day with a desire to succeed. I don’t think anyone comes to school to teach a poor lesson or to punish children. There’s never a need to publicly shame or mistreat a staff member.

As a principal, it is my job to create an environment where staff can be creative, collaborate, and feel safe, appreciated, and accepted. I must inspire, support and empower, not create an “us versus them” mentality. If I truly want our students to succeed, the most important work I can do is be that “decisive element” for our teachers.

As my fourth week with students begins, I can say with certainty that this is the best job I have ever had.

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10 thoughts on “Setting the Tone…

  1. Angela Pitts on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. Thank you for your post regarding morale. I agree with you that teachers set the tone for the classrooms, and principals set the tone for their schools. I work in a middle school in Alabama and can definitely tell a difference in the school climate when the principal does something special for the staff. It can be as simple as allowing everyone to wear jeans on Friday, all the way to providing a duty-free lunch. Whatever the gesture, it brings a smile to our faces, and it translates into a better attitude in the classroom. When the teacher is happy, the feeling is contagious with their students. As a result, a child’s learning environment becomes a positive and productive element.

    • Hi Angela,

      Thanks for making time to comment. Not sure what EDM 310 is studying this term, but I am honored that you and your peers have taken the time to read my blog and to post.

      We run a “coffee cart” from time to time, you would not believe the smiles that puts on the faces of our staff.

      We agree, happy teachers create happy environments, where kids can grow.

      I hope you have a very successful semester,
      John

  2. Alyssa Jackson on said:

    Wow! This post was very inspirational to me. It is nice to see that you are working with the teachers and staff members to make a difference in the students life’s. As a student myself I wish I had more teachers who cared enough to help make a difference. Yet I had teacher who did the opposite and didn’t care if I was doing good in their class or not. Also I hear of situations where the principal didn’t want any feedback from the other teachers or staff members, and their program did not succeed. I wish you luck in the future and keep up the great work.

    • Hi Alyssa,

      I’m honored you’d make time to read and respond to my post. I’m sorry you were in a classroom where you did not feel supported, it’s my sincere hope that when you enter our profession and are a teacher, rather than a student, you’ll make sure it does not happen to the kids in your classroom!

      I wish you the best in your studies,
      John

  3. Jenna Reynolds on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    I really enjoyed this post. As I am looking forward to my future career as a teacher, I can imagine that it can be very difficult for you as a principal (and will be for me as a teacher as well) not to get caught up in what you are doing and the whole scheme of things, forgetting the little things, teachers as people, and students as children. The last line in the poem, “a child humanized or de-humanized” stood out to me in particular. My wish is to teach solely special education, so I think this line will have tremendous meaning later to me, my students, and how they are treated by the world (school) around them. Thank you for your inspiring and thought provoking…thoughts? I hope that you keep up your positive outlook and great influence on your school!

    • Hi Jenna,

      Thanks for making time to comment. I trust that you’ll work tirelessly on behalf of your students. While challenging, it’s rewarding, and makes ours the best job in the world.

      All the best,
      John

  4. Hello Mr. Bernia,

    This is a great message you have shared. I live in school district that is failing and I think it is safe to say the former administration, which was replaced over the summer, did not have these views and definitely did not practice. I believe had they practiced this idea progress would have been throughout the district. This is a very thought-provoking poem that should be shared with every beginning educator, teachers, counselors, secretaries, custodians, or what have you. This idea and mentality is key to the foundation of the institution of education.

    Thanks,

    Jason Jackson

  5. I just read Sept. 25th post. I agree with so many points you make especially about teachers getting up each morning intending to make a difference in students lives. Thanks for this post it is always good to reflect on why we teach.

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