The Principal's Principles

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

But We Will Know

Tonight, I hope to share a story with you about a lesson I have learned from my career in public education. Prior to serving as your principal, I was an assistant principal. Before that, I was a teacher. My first job in public education, before I was a teacher, was as a second shift custodian. My work in our profession began emptying trash barrels, sweeping floors, and mopping hallways. It was when I had this job that I learned the lesson I share with you tonight.

I was working with another custodian and we were cleaning a rarely used work room one evening. As I gathered up our materials because I thought our job was finished, I saw him drop to one knee and begin using a small brush to scrub a small part of the floor. The spot he was working on wasn’t really noticeable, and in a room that wasn’t used all that much, it was unlikely that anyone would ever know the efforts he was making. When I asked him about why he was working so hard, he replied “we will know it is clean.” He went on to say “anyone notices a freshly waxed floor or newly cleaned windows. Jobs like this one, where only we know how hard we worked, is what separates the average from the great. We work to our standard, no matter how big or small the job, and we always know whether or not we meet our standard.”

This lesson has stuck with me, and governs how I operate today in my work. I’d challenge each of you here tonight to do the same. There will always be a big project, a major test, or a key homework assignment. Your parents and your teachers will always know and pay attention to how you do on those. The real key in what separates the good students from the great students is how you react when it is a practice task, or the work isn’t graded.

Set high standards for yourself and always strive to meet them, no matter how visible the job.

Note: Each year, secondary principals get the opportunity to make short speeches at spring events. I try to organize mine around a theme and selected “Lessons I’ve Learned” for the past school year. This is the second of three posts with my remarks for students, today, taken from our 6th and 7th grade Honors Ceremony.


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