This interview occurred in Roanoke, Virginia, in the home of Ms. Mary Lee Hunt, on November 3, 1996.
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Q: Miss Hunt, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests, and your development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer
A: It's hard for me to remember back to my childhood, because I've lived so long. I'm sixty-two years old, and I was born and raised in Roanoke, Virginia, and went to elementary and high school in Roanoke. I went to a number of high schools because my father was a builder, so we moved around a lot. But, um I attended Hollins College, and then the University of Richmond, and then did a lot of graduate work at U.V.A. and Virginia Tech, and back at Hollins again for their Masters. Did some graduate work at Radford and at George Washington University, wherever they had something going on that was interesting. When I was little I guess um my basic interest was in reading and just being entertained through the wonderful stories, you know from reading. We never had any children living nearby, so I didn't have a lot of playmates, so I guess I had to entertain myself a lot then. I have two children, Allison and Kirk. They're thirty-five and thirty six. Allison is in med school, and is single. And Kirk is the thirty five year old, and he lives here in Roanoke. And he is married and has two children, a two month old daughter and a two and a half year old son. And I'm married to Bob Hunt who has four girls. His oldest girl, who is the same age as my Allison, lives in Nashville with three children. And then his next one is Terri who lives in Augusta with six children, ranging from two to ten. And then we have Sandy who lives here and teaches school. And then the youngest is Becky who lives in Florida. She's married, and she and her husband are both attorneys.So we have six children and eleven grandchildren. And that keeps us pretty busy. And I am retired, and getting to grandmother. (laughter)
Q: Could you talk some about your college education and your preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher?
A: I taught in Roanoke City in 1956, started there for $2400 per year, which was hardly peanuts you know, but um anyway, I taught there for four years, and then I stopped and had my two children, and stayed at home until they were in school. Then I taught six years and um at Cave Spring Elementary, took a year off to finish up some graduate work. And um I was working on a degree at Hollins, and also working on graduate work at Tech to get some certification in different areas. And, um, then I became Assistant Principal, and then a Principal.
Q: How many years were you a principal?
A: Um, I was an administrator for twenty-two years. I think I was a principal for twelve, twelve or thirteen.
Q: Could you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: Yeah, um, I'll even go back and make just a comment about entering the whole field of education. You know, back in the fifties, the early fifties or late forties, when you finished high school, if you went to college, you didn't have a lot of choices as to what you wanted to be. You could be a social worker, you could teach, you could be a secretary, you could be a nurse, and that was about it. You didn't have a lot of choices. So, I just kind of decided well maybe teaching would be more interesting than the other areas. It wasn't something at the time that I felt extremely motivated to do. I did not have a real good teacher preparation program at the University of Richmond, though I loved the college and the University, and thought that I had a wonderful liberal arts education, specifically, for the educational classes, they were not real strong. My student teaching experience was very weak, but, you know, I managed okay when I started teaching. I look back now and think yee gads, you know, would you put somebody into the field now with no more preparation than I had? It would really be a tragedy. But, uh, when I finished the graduate work, finished that phase of my graduate work at ugh Hollins and at Tech, uh I had focused basically on uh guidance and counselling classes and had aspired to be a counselor. And, uh, I was assigned a counselling position at a Junior High school, and about a week before the teachers came back that fall, um, the superintendent called me and asked me about my interest in this assistant principalship job at at a large open space school that had only been opened for two years. And I really didn't have a whole lot of interest in it, though I had gotten my certification for administrative work. I didn't have a great interest in it, but I thought, well, that might be fun to do so I just kind of, it just kind of happened. It wasn't something that I had planned and worked toward very hard. Uh, But you know went into it and, as I reflect back on it now, I'm certainly glad I did. Being a single parent for twelve years, it was nice to have a twelve month job. So I was happy for that.
Q: Could you describe your personal philosophy of education and how it evolved over the years?
A: Well, I know looking back at, at where I have come from in terms of my even choosing to go into education, I don't know that I even had a philosophy or thought about it too much. And as I have reflected over my years as an administrator, I think my whole approach to education, my feelings about it, my thoughts about it, have just really changed many many times. Um, I think early on, when you when you are taking on new roles, and you're taking classes, and you're reading all these wonderful things that everyone has written about these different positions or different approaches, you're wondering where you are, and, uh, I'm not sure that, at that time even, that I had any kind of personal philosophy about it. Uh, I liked the sound of some things, and I didn't like the sound of other things. But as I went on, I began to feel very strongly that uh, this-this was certainly a mission, and uh, that-that I had been called to do this, to be an administrator, and to lead people. And I went to it, you know, from that aspect, went into it, and focused on that. And I guess my energies were channeled in that way. But in terms of a philosophy, I don't think I can articulate one that would make any more sense than what I have read in a thousand textbooks.
Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy in your school, and how it developed and how it evolved over time?
A: Okay, I have really strong feelings about instruction, and I may talk about this for a few minutes. (throat clearing) Um, I feel that in the whole area of education, that the one-one area, or the whole domain of education, from, uhm, teacher preparation all the way through to retired principal, that the-the one area that probably has not had enough attention is the area about instruction. And I think it is so important and so vital that, we have some understanding about how children learn. We've had twenty-five or thirty years of good hard, well, more than that, but that much, good hard brain research, cognitive science research that's out there, that's available if you dig for it, and that has not been translated for people to really be able to use what we know about how the brain functions and how children learn, and how adults learn. It just hasn't been translated so that it's in a practical guide for-for teachers. Um, I was really fortunate back in the early eighties to start studying with Dr. Joan Fulton out of Richmond, who had studied everything that had been published about cognitive science research and how people learn. She had taken this knowledge and had designed an instructional plan. And I began studying with her, and just absolutely was on fire, just a passion about what we could do to improve instruction. And that pretty much dominated my field of study for the next eight or ten years, a real concentration of study. And then, of course, teaching it to my faculty and teaching it for Radford University for a couple of years so that I could share with the teachers just what should be going on during that instructional process. Not enough emphasis is put on it, and not enough of the research is being used in any area of education, and its a real frightening thing to think that we continue to do things that we've always done, that work if the child is very very bright has no problem. But if they do have problems, maybe they're just good old average kids, what we're doing is not always working in terms of them gaining as much knowledge as they need to in this complex society. So, I feel real passionate about instruction, and I'll probably say a whole lot more about that as we go through the questions.
Q: Will you discuss an experience or an event in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now?
A: Well, you know as I said, I just kind of happened into things here and there, and uh, I can't recall the specific events that caused me to turn around, you know, and take a look at this or that. Uhm, but, as I reflect on-on my life and on my experience as an educator, I feel that-that God called me to do this. And he made those things happen that needed to happen for me to be in the position to be where I was at the time I you know was there. And to have the people that I worked with. And, I just feel like that-that I had a mission from God, and that every day of my life as an administrator, that I was fulfilling his wishes, and that I did. Too many wonderful things happened while I was an administrator for it just to have come from me.
Q: What experiences or events in your professional life influenced your management style?
A: Um, Probably, just my whole-my whole structure as a person uh could be defined as a caring person, a person who really likes people, and likes to give and to help. Um, I am an introvert, basically. You know, with the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory. I'm an introvert. I have to have my quiet time and all those good things. At the same time, though, I don't enjoy large crowds of people. It takes too much energy. I do enjoy people one on one in small groups. And I enjoy the challenge of helping people. And I think I've always kind of had that as part of my whole being. Uhm, because of some real personal crises, I felt I feel that that was one of the reasons that uh, the guidance and counselling was so interesting to me, and that I pursued those classes, and pursued that certification. Uh, though I wanted to have more skills in helping people, I am sure I was also searching for a lot of answers myself, and, uh, to deal with my own personal crisis, that was going on in my life. Probably those two areas have worked, you know, had the most impact on how then I approached being a leader in my school. Um, I have I've always had a great conflict with uhm any information that I might have gotten or any meetings that I would go to where they were stressing any kind of powerful position, administrative positions. I have someone, it was a male principal one time asked me uh, how I liked all the power I got with being a principal. And I was absolutely stunned because I never felt that I was a powerful person. I felt that I had respect, but I didn't feel I could just have power. Certainly, not the kind which you use to intimidate people. But, uh, I think I had a definite leadership style that uh, that worked. My school was a very large open space school, and there were four or five teachers in each of the different learning areas. And you had to get along with each other. You had to have good interpersonal relations skills to uh to be able to work together as a team and to affect the things you want to happen, you know, by virtue of the fact that we had that kind of set up, that I had to use certain kinds of-of skills to help people to get along. When I came there, the school had only been open two years. And, there was a lot of dissension, a lot of very strong personalities, a lot of people who had it seemed to-they seemed to have an insatiable need for recognition. Uhm, There was lots of bickering and quarrelling. Uhm, and I felt very disturbed by this. Now, remember I'm just coming out of all of this guidance and counselling training. So naturally any kind of quarrel would be uh cause of disequilibrium with me, but I felt really driven to do something about that. So at the end of the first year that I was there, uh organized a retreat that summer for uhm the coordinator of each of my grade levels. Each this, open space school was designed with like five teaching areas in one pod. Each teaching area, uh one of the teachers would function as a coordinator for that pod, which is like a liaison between the teachers and the administration. So, I had the uhm the principal and I was the assistant principal and the seven uh K through 6 uhm coordinators from the pods uh went for a retreat down at Smith Mountain Lake. I was fortunate to have at my access a house that I could use. It belonged to a relative, and uh, we stayed for the weekend. And we focused on interpersonal relations skills and communications skills. And then when I came back, I had each of the coordinators then do little mini workshops for weeks. On Wednesday afternoons instead of faculty meetings, we would do these little workshops, and they would go to another grade level, not their own, but another grade level and work with the teachers on the skills that we covered. Then I had five people from mental health services who came I-I think it was four times uh throughout that year to do sessions with particular groups of teachers, some of them that were having some pretty serious problems, but, uh, that seemed to kind of start us on a real positive track. And then, from there it was we just continued with looking at you know, what works and what doesn't these dynamics that are going to-to make people productive, and happy people doing it.
Q: What technique did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe successful and unsuccessful experiences in climate building in which you were involved.
A: Well, I think this is critical in any school. And as I just answered in the last question, this-this focus and-and my staff knew that I had this focus, that we had to have love and support for each other, and that we had to work together as teams and one big team, that I was part of the team, not, the big boss up here, you know. That had to be a focus, and that was communicated uh, and that continued to be communicated to the very last day that I was there. But, uhm, I think the school climate is-is just vital. You know, you can walk into a school, and you don't have to be there long until you feel the tension or the lack of tension or the love or whatever. It's just there. You can feel it uh, you know, I was always it was validated when people would come to my school and they would tell me it felt good in there, that they could feel the good things going on. Uhm (throat clearing) I have a-I have a philosophy about working as a leader in a school, that may be different from some people, maybe, I don't know. But I feel that, if my teachers are nurtured with the same intensity that I want them to nurture the students in their classrooms, that we are going to get the ultimate school environment. Uh, and this was-this was my approach with my faculty, with everybody on my staff: bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, everyone. Uhm, I wanted them to be ultimately happy with what they were doing and to be highly productive, and to love what they were doing. Uhm, and I felt like that would then would be translated into their interactions with the students, and it was, and it works. This was a constant job-you know-to because I had a huge faculty. You know, we had, at one time, nine hundred and sixty children, and we ended up with five hundred and some. And, of course, in the mean time, we ended up with about six classes of Special Education which, you know,it filled that void that was left by the uh decrease in the population in the building, but, I always had at least seventy-five people that I was supervising. Now, the research shows that you are only effective to supervise about twelve. So, as I supervise that many, uhm, it was an-it was an awesome task. But, I felt-I felt a responsibility to each person to help them to work up to their potential. And, uh, it was-it was not an easy place to work, and I used to tell them when they would come for interviews, that it wasn't an easy place to work. The teaching wasn't easy, and that, uh, if they didn't want to put in the extra time and the work, they wouldn't be happy there, to not even consider teaching in my school because it was-it was demanding. People did not leave the building you know, fifteen minutes after the school buses left. They couldn't. In open space everybody can see what you are doing, so, you have to be prepared and preparation takes time. And so the building was still full at four, five, and six o'clock in the evening. And, uhm, they could then leave. Now, some of them took their work home with them, those that had children they had to pick up at day care or whatever. Most of the people stayed. And I would communicate to them. Its hard to work here, and you don't think you are going to be coming into an eight to three job, and have nothing else to do. Because you are going to be disappointed and not be happy so think about this before (pause) you really make an effort to try to have a job interview. That's kind of the way I did it. But uhm back to the why. I think once you establish what those standards are that you want and the people understand what your mission is, and they trust you, that, you are there for them. Then, they each become such good strong models for each other. And I used to tell them that all the time. You're always a model for somebody else. Somebody's watching you and everything you're doing. And somebody's going to pattern their behavior after you. And, they just kind of rose to that occasion. We had a wonderful wonderful environment. Every once in a while I would get someone who had loose lips, and they didn't stay long. It just didn't work for them to be there. You know you need to be consistent. People need to know uhm what to expect. They don't need to come into an open space situation, and have someone there that, you are thinking I wonder if she is in a good mood today or a bad mood today. They're walking around on egg-shells so they don't make them mad, and, there's no room for that. So, they usually didn't stay. Hu-Hu (laughter) Thank goodness.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe what it takes to be a principal. Describe any personal and professional characteristics of a good principal.
A: Oh, That one could go on forever. Well, teachers basically expect you to do everything. (laughter) And, (pause) to know everything. Um (pause) I don't think their expectations are any higher than mine would be for a teacher. You know, I expect them to do a good job, and they expect me to do a good job. Uhm, (pause) I think they expect you to s- to be there for them and to give them support. And I think that (pause) needs to be (pause) clearly communicated to teachers. Um, (pause) they want to know that if a parent comes in there and jumps all over them, that you're going to be there for them if they need you to be. Um, (pause) I used to communicate to my parents that they absolutely could not come into my building and jump all over a teacher and have her upset. There was no way she could minister to twenty-five children if she was upset. Not to send nasty notes that they are going to read at eight o'clock in the morning, and be upset all day. That if they are angry with the teacher, they need to let me know about it and let me get it resolved. And to work with the parent and with the teacher, but, and, of course, I would have to do some work with the parents on that. You know, and I would tell them-em. If a child comes home and tells you about something that's happened, and you feel yourself getting angry with the teacher, let that be a red flag that you need to stop, and get more information about what's going on. You've only heard the child's side of it. This child is going to tell you what happened in just the way they want you to hear it. They're not going to tell you in a way that you are going to get upset with the child. And, if you react in a negative way, and start ranting and raving about how horrible Mrs. Jones is, the the child is going to learn, pretty quickly, they can get that reaction and they love it. So they'll come home and tell you all kinds of things. So the parents need to understand, that children are going to tell them exactly what they want them to hear. And, so sometimes you have to do a little counselling here, in that area. But I urge my parents to (pause) let me know if they felt angry about something that was going on, and to get the full story on it. And that I would deal with, you know, finding out what was going on and setting up a time that we can meet with the teacher. But, they could not come roaring in there and upset everybody, just because they were angry. That was their problem, if they were mad. They owned the problem if they were angry. Well, they needed to deal with that anger in some way other than blasting out the teachers. So these teachers knew that I was going to protect them in that way. And I think that meant (pause) quite a difference in how, you know, they reacted. Now, we've had to work on lots of different issues. You know, you have issues like, about, grades. This could be discussed forever, (laughter) but, if you want the grades that you give a child to reflect the child's achievement, then, that's what you should be doing. Well, let's say a child doesn't turn his homework in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and he has five zeroes, and you give him a test on Friday and he makes a hundred. He understands the concepts. What grade is he gonna get? An A because he has achieved the concepts you've taught, or an F because he hasn't done his homework. So you have these big issues. These things have to be communicated. So you have to decide, and I wouldn't tell my teachers well, you've got to do it this way or that way. I'd say now, you've got to decide what your philosophy is going to be about this grading. But you've got to justify whatever you decide. Now if you tell the parents, that you are going to give these zeroes and that this child is going to make an F in math, how are you going to justify that if he knows all the concepts and his achievement is an A? So, see not doing the homework is a separate issue. But, whatever you decide and you communicate to these parents, you've got to be able to justify that decision, and, you have to decide, how much time you want to spend on it. You know, if you have been there with the student since seven thirty in the morning, and they leave at two thirty or two fifteen. And you do your lesson plans. At four thirty, you've got everything ready for the next day. Do you really want to go to the phone and be on the phone arguing with the parent for an hour over a grade. And, if you've got the wrong philosophy about this, it's probably going to be more than one parent. It may be ten. So how long are you going to be on the phone that night with this issue? So let's think this through and let's make these decisions so that you have some free time in the evening. (laughter) And peace of mind. (laughter) Those are the kinds of things that you have to get resolved, and teachers need to think about and they need to learn how to make these decisions and communicate these things well to the parents. So that you don't waste time arguing with somebody over these little issues. But you set your standards, but you stick to them. But they knew I was going to do that, and so that was their expectation. They knew what to expect of me, and they knew what I expected of them. And there was a trust element there. And, there was a support element there, that they knew that I was always going to be supportive, and be there for them. Therefore, we, we had lots of high productive time because we weren't wasting a lot of psychic energy wondering where I was going to stand on something, fussing about something they might not do. (laughter) that worked. (throat clearing) (coughing)
Q: Describe the expectations both professional and personal that were placed on principals both by the employers and the community during your period of employment. Do you think they differ any from today's expectations?
A: Naw, I haven't been out that long for things to have changed that much. But, (pause) I think my superiors uh, expected me to do a good job, and they expected me to do what I did. Uhm, and I don't really think things have changed that. Well, probably the expectations are-are too high in terms of the number of hours in a day to do what you need to do. (laughter) And, you know, the community expects you to know everything and have the answers to all problems, and to be there for everybody for any problem that might arise. But, uhm, (pause) you know-I just-I think that uhm, they expect you to-do to do your job, to be dedicated to what you are doing. And whatever you do needs to (pause) describe where you're coming from. And, um, people do that in different ways. You know, some principal may sit on a dunking machine and let somebody dunk them or throw pies in their face, and get a lot of community support, because they are, you know, kind of a good guy. Uh, another principal may not be willing to do that. So that community support, they will get in other ways. I was never, you know, one that would allow that. I feel like that there's is enough disrespect for authority these days (laughter) without throwing a pie in my face. But you deal with (pause) different things to get support (laughter). That would be one of them.
Q: If you were advising a person considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: (Laughter) Don't do it. (laughter) Uhm, oh gosh, I don't know. I don't think there is any distinct answer to giving somebody advice about it. I think trying to describe to them (pause) the reality of the job, which is totally different from what most people think. (pause) I've had a number of interns, and I always ask them why they want to do this? Why in the world do you want to be an administrator, you know. And they will tell me very nice things. Uhm, that they want to, you know, teach teachers how to do things. Well, the reality of it is, you don't have a lot of time to do that. Uh, the positive things that you want to do frequently you don't-frequently you don't get to do. Sometimes you do them. Its (uh) a very difficult job, very demanding, an all-consuming kind of (pause) job. And, they need to know that's what they're getting into, and I would be very forthright in trying to define to them what its all about. So that, if they decide to take that route, they know where they are going, and not have some etherial idea about what its going to be like to be a principal, walking around smiling at the sweet little children. (laughter) Holding their hand or reading to them. (laughter) Well, its amazing the answers you get when you ask them why they want to do this?
Q: Could you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?
A: (Laughter) That's probably one of those that I would have said (more laughter) let's just skip this one. You know, I-I've looked at that and (pause) and thought about it, and I don't know. I don't know how you prepare someone for the complexity and the diversity of the job. I feel like that V.P.I. has as good a program for administrators as you're gonna find anywhere. But, there's no way you can ever have everything you need. If you're constantly studying, and, you know this would be something I would tell somebody who was going into administration, if you're not excited about learning, and don't want to be reading, and studying, and taking classes, and going to conferences, and learning from now until death, don't go into it because there's so much. You think that, you know, you could never be prepared. I think the internships are just critical, that these people get into the building and actually work with administrators and are there. And are there long enough to really see what's going on, what they're having to do. I almost every everyone intern that I have had has decided that they do not have enough preparation to be an-an administrator, that they need more years of teaching, that they need more course work, that they just that they just don't have the stamina to-to do it, because the time it takes. Uhm, I don't know. If I were asked to design a program to get somebody ready, probably, the best thing that you can have is just experience and living. I mean that's hard to give somebody who is thirty years old, or even forty. All those experiences (laughter). I do think that (pause) certainly, as I have mentioned before, more emphasis on know good strong instructional strategies is just, you know, is just vital. Understanding about handicapping conditions, because if you have any special education at your school, you have to deal with that, so that is a huge part of your time-those in special education. And dealing with parents. I think the counselling classes, the guidance and counselling requirements that I had for certification in that area were the most valuable classes that I took to help me understand people's behavior. When a parent comes roaring in and they're screaming and yelling, cussing, and carrying on, where are they coming from? It's usually misdirected anger. They're mad at somebody else, and you catch it. Sometimes they feel like they have a license to come into an elementary school and (nervous laughter) let you have it. But, you know, who's ever prepared to deal with those kinds of things. A child gets hurt, and a parent wants to sue you immediately. You know, how can you be prepared to deal with these things? I think looking at the different kinds of crisis that you can have, and talking about the different approaches to take is certainly valuable but uhm, those people that I know who've gone through the principal preparation program at Tech have-have just had a wonderful opportunity to do that. And those that haven't had that, I think they're-they're probably missing out on a lot of-of the skills they're going to need to do the job comfortably. And that's the key to be comfort-comfortable (laughter) enough to survive. You only start off with so much psychic energy every morning. And, if you get to work at seven fifteen, and there's a mad parent sitting there, by eight o'clock your psychic energy can be gone. But you've got to function the rest of the day and interact with people and be productive, and (pause) be supportive. You may have a meeting that night so you're looking at not getting in the bed until eleven o'clock. (laughter) So, how do you prepare for that? But, you know, when they do have opportunities to discuss these kinds of situations, and strategies for dealing with them, I think that's just valuable.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with, and your participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups have the greatest impact?
A: There is no way that a principal who has a five hundred pupil school with Special Education classes in it has time to do any kind of community organizational things. I don't know how they would possibly do it. Uhm, I had to feel that my contribution to my community was what I was doing the twelve or fifteen hours a day that I worked. That, most of the time, included Saturdays, at least six or eight hours on Saturday, two or three hours of work on Sunday afternoon. That was my contribution to my community. But as far as belonging to other organizations, there were there were no hours in the day to do that. It was just not possible. I don't know how anybody can do that. Sure, sometimes they do. But, you know, to have any kind of balance in your life, I attend church, I go to the symphony. Since I've been retired, we go to the Tech ball games sometimes. And that's such a treat. But I was never able to do that before because there weren't enough hours in the day to do those kinds of things. I didn't go to the symphony for years because most PTA functions are on Monday night and the symphony is on Monday night. But the last, say, five years that I was there, I just decided that I was going to plan the PTA functions around my symphony nights. And that, perhaps, is the only thing that I did in my whole career, that I manipulated school events at all so that I could do something I enjoyed. But my-my basic motivation in that area was because of health problems that were emerging as a result of working at least twelve hours a day. (laughter)
Q: It has been said that there is a home school gap, and that more parental involvement in the school needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and other citizens who were important to the well-being of the school?
A: I think parental involvement is just vital. I can't imagine having good strong programs in the building without parents there to help. You don't have enough personnel, uh, to do all the things you'd like to do. I loved having the parents in the schools. I always that their school should be an extension of the home. And, the more parents I could get over there doing things, the better I liked it. The children loved having their parents there. We had fifty or sixty who came to work in the library. They would come one, two, three days a month. I had, as many as twelve or fifteen at times, to come on Thursdays to make teaching materials instructional materials for my teachers. They were there to sponsor all kinds of activities. Uhm, the computer lab, many times, up until recently, it was just manned almost solely by parents. Uhm, any time we had to put on a play, if we didn't have the parents there to help us you just could not have had the quality uh-of (pause) any kind of project. So I just feel like it's absolutely vital, that they be involved, that they be involved in as many ways as possible. Uhm, one of the reasons that my days were so long is that I had a lot of committee meetings, and I would have any issue that came up, I would have the parents and the teachers, if it was appropriate, have them involved in meeting to discuss the issues and come up with solutions. My parents were vital in helping me to develop school-wide discipline plan at one time, though it took-it took on some modifications through the years. It was just an excellent excellent plan. I could not have done it without the parents. Uhm, any kind of big school plans that needed to be made, a technology plan, uhm anything that we would try to design, I had the parents come in. They brought such expertise to it. So I just think, you just can't have too much parent involvement. And it was just rare to have one that would cause a problem. And if they did, you dealt with that problem. You didn't stop having them involved, you just dealt with that particular problem, but that was rare.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: I think parent involvement is one of the key features in a successful school, but I think, uhm (pause) I think a school that really has a vision, that really has a mission, and that is clearly defined. They--the-the school needs to have a clearly defined mission that has been designed by the-the staff of that school: the secretaries, the teachers, the cafeteria workers: Everybody needs to be a part of looking at what you're all about. Everybody be clear on what you're all about. There is no way you can communicate to your parents and tell your community what you're doing if you haven't gotten together and decided what you're doing. And if, (pause) you know, for instance, if you want to have a real strong technology program, then that needs to be designed so that it can be implemented, and it needs to be communicated so that you can get that parental support and can implement it. If you're going to have a very strong instructional program, like we had our cognitive instruction was very strong and that had to be communicated to parents because they wouldn't understand why fifteen work-sheets weren't coming home. You know, they were-were fearful that the children weren't doing anything if they didn't have fifteen work-sheets. So you have to explain to them what you're doing instead of fifteen work-sheets. And that needs to make sense to them. And they have every right to know what you're doing. But if that is going to be part of your design, that instructional design, then that means that you have to have a plan for designing the instructional program, but also a way to communicate that so that the parents are going to support you enough to do it, and understand what you are doing, and will help you. Uhm, (pause) and we were able to-to effect that, but I think knowing what your mission is, knowing what your vision is. I know years ago during a summer I decided that I would create a visual representation, a big poster that would kind of encapsulate what we were all about. And, I had the one area on curriculum, one area on instruction, and one area on management, classroom management. And out of that, we branched off into lots of more detailed kinds of dimensions to those areas. And, we decided from that what our mission was going to be. And uh, you know I had certain visions about how I wanted my school to be, and I knew where we were, and where I wanted to go, and then I had to decide how I was going to get there. And so we started off by being able to look at it visually, not just talk about it, look at it visually. And, of course, this comes out of cognitive science research. When we are able to see things in a visual format instead of people just talking about it all the time. Uh, that's part of the instructional program in my opinion. So, I think, having a mission, knowing what that mission is going to be, having it planned out so that the structure is clear enough to everybody so that it can be communicated to until you get that schema down and some excitement about what you're doing.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students: LD, gifted and talented, non-english speaking have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard.
A: Well, I remember when I went back to teaching at Cave Spring Elementary in 1967. We had no (pause) learning disabilities classes. At that time, we'd had such a population boom that the smallest class I had was thirty-six students. The largest class was forty-three. And I had three classes through the department. We were departmentalized. So they rotated you know, certain parts of the day I'd have thirty-five, thirty-six, then I'd have forty, then I'd have thirty-three. Now these classrooms were so packed with students that you did not have room to have any tables for any kind of project or materials or anything. It was just bodies. And these horrible desks with the slanted tops, and the bar that hooked that top to the seat, with a hole under your seat to put your books. There was no way to group these desks so that you could create a little more floor space. We had very few teacher's editions, so you created every lesson that you had for all your subjects. Thank goodness we were departmentalized, and I did Math and Social Studies. But within these classes, we had all these Special Ed. students. And there were no labels and no terms or anything. And you just had them and you worked with them and (pause) many times what you were doing was not successful. I can remember having absolute non-readers, and, I would come home at night and read information into a tape recorder. And I did have a couple of headphones. And I would hook these kids up to that and let them sit back there and rea-look at it as they would, you know, focus on the book and the content of the book. There was-maybe they could get something out of it other than just listening to what we were doing. And, of course, you know, I would do lots of different projects so that they could be actively involved and creating things. And I used to just feel-(emphasis) that it would be so wonderful if we had some help, somebody to help with these students who were in fifth grade and couldn't read. And what I was doing wasn't working. But I didn't know what to do. I didn't have any training in Orton Gillingham and all of these different approaches. I had heard of them, but I had no training. So it was just a wonderful god-send when they began to test and identify LD children, and create classrooms so that they can go and get specialized training. It was just wonderful. And of course, Special Education has just grown now to the point that its just a-its just a huge part of your total education program. And I think its wonderful that we have these trained people who come in and work with students, and you know there are huge arguments about labelling this or labelling them that, but that's the way that we get the money so that we can get the people to come in and help and get the training. I think its just absolutely wonderful, um, I never had too many too many people to to be around to help me to deal with the special problems. And of course, I think today you've got more and more children with emotional problems, and, uh, you know your attention deficit hyperactivity population seems to be so much bigger than it ever was. Now, we had them. We didn't know what to call them. We had them. But the numbers were certainly less than what we have now. And whether that is (pause) genuinely ADHD or some of it is emotional, that, I don't know. We've got so many things going on in our society its just hard to tell. They still have to be dealt with whatever we call it, (pause) whatever we label them. They still have to be dealt with, and, we just are always searching for more ways to deal with these people with a greater and deeper understanding, I think is positive all around. I think it's wonderful we can give them the services.
Q: Describe your work day. That is, how did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours per week you put in? You touched on this some.
A: And this was-this was probably the (pause) this was probably the most difficult part of the job, probably the length of the days. Uh, but I was usually there about seven-fifteen. The first buses came about twenty till eight or a quarter till eight. They were all in by eight o'clock. Uhm, if I didn't have a parent or someone who needed my individual attention at that time, then I, joyfully made a walk about through the building, and I would get to walk around and greet everyone and see what was going on. That was probably (laughter) the highlight of the day some days. But the day, you know, was just so busy that, most of the time you didn't eat. Or if you ate, you ate while you were working. And uh then the children would leave about two fifteen, and then you would begin meeting with teachers and meeting with groups, and, of course, the Special Ed. takes up a lot of time. And, getting ready for your child studies and-and meeting those individual groups for support teams. And then, (pause) at least once a week, and most of the time twice or three times a week, we had night meetings, and you'd have to be prepared for those. Many times there was-there was time to-a lot of time, you know, meet in that preparation. Now, I did not have very many faculty meetings. They were scheduled if we had one we had them on Wednesday. But I did not have many faculty meetings. I tried to put everything in memos, and we would put memos in the boxes. Give it a few days. It was giving the teachers the information they needed. They could read. They didn't make them have to read to them. But, many Wednesday afternoons, we met with either small group, or we did different kinds of training. Now, when I first started doing the cognitive instruction training, then we met at least two Wednesdays a month, and we would meet for an hour to two hours. And, uh, to help the teachers to develop these instructional strategies that they needed. But, uh, we always had lots of activities going on where teachers met together. That would (pause) usually take us to, you know, four o'clock. And then, we would come back and you'd have telephone messages and memos and those kinds of things. So, maybe five or five thirty, you would look at your clock and say, I hope I can get out of here soon. When I was single, I didn't look at the clock, I just kept working, and it was usually between six and seven. After I got married, I set a goal to leave at five or five thirty, so I could be home by six. Uh, then I'd have to bring it home. Uhm, the mail is absolutely horrendous. You know what it's like at your house. And, you can imagine, at a school, how much you get. And the secretary can only sort so much of it. So you, and you have to go through it. This always takes time. Throwing out what you don't need, and making a pile of that stuff you want to look through later. Uhm, you always have some kind of report on your desk that you're doing. And then you have, you always have parents who are needing some attention about some problem, and you schedule those throughout the day. Uhm, you ju, you're meeting with people all day long. Uhm, I would get on people overload. Being an introvert, (laughter) you can imagine I did. And I would come home at night, and I'd just really need a quiet time. And I would have to get, you know, have to get my little quiet time. So I could refill my tank. But you were just constantly meeting with people about problems that children are having. And with a school with between five hundred and nine hundred kids, you can imagine, you've got between twenty-five and fifty critical situations going on all the time (laughter) that need some kind of attention. Your day is very hectic. You never get to finish anything you start without so many interruptions. So you have to kind of gear yourself to tolerating that, but some people's tolerance level is of that is greater than others. I feel like I tolerated it fairly well. Uh, occasionally, when I had a report which needed great concentration, that was usually something that I had to write, I would just close the door and tell the secretary not to bother me, or let anybody else bother me unless the superintendent or God called me. (Laughter) And that way, I'd come out. But it would be, I didn't do that often, but once in a while, I would have to just to get something finished, have a deadline, you just have to do it. Uhm, probably the worst thing that happens to a principal, an elementary principal in our division, is the census. And that happens in the spring, and so from about March 15 to July 1, you're responsible for getting the census in your attendance area, and that is the time is just unreal. Uhm, they have a certain process. After four or five different steps, you end up with a number of residences that haven't been accounted for. And in my attendance area, we would usually have around fifteen hundred addresses. And we would have to get in the car after school and go to these places, and see if there are any children that live there. So the assistant principal and I would take our clipboard and our list and we'd go and work till dark. And you do that for three or four nights, and you're just absolutely exhausted, and then everything at school is piled up, so then you're working Saturdays and Sundays to try and get caught up. The time that you have to put into it is absolutely staggering. It is an all-consuming job. And that's what I tell people who say they aspire to be an admin- administrator. You've got to decide Do you want a job that's all consuming? Because, it is. And you never finish, and you never get to do all the things that you would like to do. There are always lose ends. You've got to be able to tolerate lose ends. There's just not enough hours in the day to do all you need to do.
Q: Could you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis, and explain how you coped with them? Describe your biggest headaches and concerns on the job. Describe the toughest decision or decisions you had to make.
A: Well, being a being a Christian, and feeling that God had led me to do this job, I approached every day wanting to do his will, whatever that I did. So I felt that whatever was going on at my school, was something that God needed me to be doing. If it were a mad parent sitting there, if it were an injured child, if it were uh a teacher that was upset, if it was (laughter) an unfinished report. Those things had to be dealt with. And, I just asked the Lord to always give me the patience, and the wisdom to be able to do whatever I needed to do. And, I feel like that, because of that, I did not let most of the problems bother me on a personal level. Uh, in understanding a lot about people's behavior, if a parent came in angry, I didn't take it personally. I tried to look at the situation to see how I could help that person be more comfortable, to resolve the issue so that they left there feeling that they had support, and they had some answers and some solution to the problem that they had. I felt like I was playing a vital role when I did that. Uhm, when a child was injured, you know, just always ask the Lord to help me to make the right decision so that we could get the proper medical attention or do the right thing for them. And, because of this, I never felt like I was doing it by myself. I had a wonderful assistant principal that had a wonderful sense of humor. He was such a good support. We could just have the worst things happen, and then, when it was all over, find some humor, you know, in some situation and get a little chuckle out of it, and have some release. Uhm, he was a blessing-he was a blessing to me. Uh, and-and was so supportive. But, probably, when I look back on my career, I had one family that really caused me huge problems. And this went on for a year. And it was all over their child not being placed in a top group. And they felt the child should have been, and they attacked the teacher just unmercifully. And, it all ended when they went to the superintendent's office and the assistant superintendent, four of five adults, the top echelon of the school division were there, and the mother screamed and yelled at them so loudly that the secretaries,(they were on the second floor), the secretaries on the first floor could hear them. And it ended then, because they moved the child somewhere else, and the same things continued there. This family was so dysfunctional. That was probably the most difficult thing in that it lasted so long. There was no solution. We couldn't resolve the issue because it was always something. And then I had a mother to murder her five-year-old child. And we went through that which took nearly two months of investigation, and there was just heartache over it. I couldn't sleep at night. But other than that, all the other crises were just kind of dealt with. We got through them (laughter)
Q: What do you feel was the key to your success?
A: Well, knowing the Lord was on my side was a key. I think, though, I was-I was able-I had the opportunity and was able to study. I was single. I didn't have any home demands. My children were off in college or off in the marines. I wasn't-I didn't have to come home to a family. So my whole life could be dedicated to this. And I was able to take classes to read and study and to know (pause) what I needed to know or enough that I needed to know. I never knew enough. But, you know-I I knew enough that I could deal with the issues comfortably, and I think that made a big difference. If you have a parent coming in, they've got a severely ADHD child, and you don't know anything about it, you can't be any help to them or the child. But if you do have a good working knowledge of that problem, and you have resources that you can help these parents and-and make them feel that you are there as a help and support, then the job is just gonna be easier (pause) for you. You just don't have the frustration when you've got that knowledge. And I had lots of opportunities to-to uh, attend classes, to do exciting things. I spent one summer at National Geographic. That led to a lot of nice things that happened the next year, and I got to go back to D.C. of the Department of Education and do things. We-my school board was very supportive when I would go to national conferences, ASCB and AER and those kinds of things. I enjoyed that. They would pay part of it which helped. I just had the opportunity to do a lot of things so that I could be knowledgeable. That's the key, having the knowledge. It's a horrible feeling to be confronted with a situation when you don't know what to do because you don't know anything about the situation, you don't have the knowledge base. And that takes time. Even if you read fast-(laughter) it takes time to keep up with all the different issues that you're confronted with in education.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship? Would you describe your feelings knowing what you know now about entering the principalship yourself given the opportunity to start anew?
A: Probably so, I probably would do the same thing. And I-I feel like I was pretty well prepared. I had had ten years of classroom experience. I had been a mother. Uhm, I had had lots of training because even when I wasn't working, when my children were at home, when they were little, I took classes. Uhm, I had had a lot of training. Uhm, I think I was as prepared for my age as I could have been. Of course, it would have been easier if I could have had the knowledge at age sixty when I was thirty. (laughter) But you only get that by living. I feel like I was pretty well prepared for, (now if I would do it again) uhm, I would probably make some changes in terms of the amount of time that I spent. I would-I would have more time for me. During this time, I feel like I have ended up with some health problems because I pushed myself, physically to try to do everything I needed to do. And then never did do it the way I'd like to do it. Because there just weren't enough hours.
Q: What kinds of things did you use to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: Try to have a sense of humor, (laughter) There was usually something kind of humorous in each situation. But I think, as I said before, not taking anything personally, even if a parent comes in and attacks me like they're personally attacking me. To try to look at what they're saying, what's the message they're giving? And try to be a supportive helpful person to that-to that family. Uh, if a child is out of control, you know, not to approach this with I'm going to be powerful, and I'm going to win, and I'm going to control this child. But looking at it and say What, you know what is this problem? How can I help him so that he will have better strategies for venting his frustration or whatever? But, having an attitude about whatever crisis there is, that's going to help it turn out well, or to help-to help it to have a little positive outcome. Having some humor about it. You see all kinds of situations. And if you take them personally, and you let your ego get involved in how you handle it, you can really make a mess of things.
Q: Since you've had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?
A: Well, I feel like (pause) that my administrative style in terms of focusing first of all primarily on my teachers so that I could help them grow into very professional highly trained educators was the key to my success in terms of being a leader in the school. The other thing is the instructional strategies that I was able to share with my teachers and to instill in them an understanding of how children learn and how vital it is to do things a certain way. And then from that, they became just eager to know uh more and more, more than I could ever tell them about learning styles and doing things in, in ways that would help the children learn. You know, probably eighty percent of the children in a classroom are going to be visual learners. And in most traditional classrooms, teachers teach to the child that is not. You know you might have out of a class of twenty-five children, you may have two auditory learners sitting there. And if the teacher's running their mouth for thirty minutes and expecting those children, and I'll hear them say things like I just taught you that. But, no, you didn't. You verbalized something. But, you know, the brain connections did not click on that. (laughter) You've got to do something else. And, you know, I think we over use certain things, but the one that always comes to my mind that children need active involvement in the learning process, and they're very few educators who really know what that means. They think if they're sitting there passively listening or filing out a work-sheet, they're actively involved in the learning process, and that's the farthest thing from what is happening. You know, the-the manner in which they organize information. I think we have certain information we want children to learn. We want them to memorize certain things. You want them to have certain understandings. You want to read certain material. You got the curriculum. That's not the most important thing that is going on in a school. But it gets the most attention. Covering the material in a book, getting through this textbook, and that should not be your focus. Teaching strategic knowledge so that children learn how to organize information, learn definite strategies for learning. And if you can teach them definite strategies for learning, they will learn so much more. There is no way we can have children memorizing everything that's out there to know. And, you know, people can write these books about what every fourth grader should know, that's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard of, having a child memorize all that garbage in one of those books. Now its interesting for them to know this information. But to spend time memorizing some of this stuff is the biggest waste of learning time that we can-can do. Having a child copy definitions out of a dictionary is the biggest waste of time that goes on in many classrooms today. But if a teacher doesn't understand that that's a waste of time, they think that's a learning strategy, then they're doing what they know how to do. So it's our responsibility as instructional leaders to teach them what they need to know so they can use that in their classrooms. And, unfortunately, our people are not getting this. I've supervised student teachers since I've retired, and they're not getting it. They don't have classroom management skills. They do not have instructional skills. I don't know what they're doing with their liberal arts program, but they're not getting that. And I'm not advocating going back to methods classes, cause I'm not sure that's the answer either. But I know that there's information out there, there are instructional strategies out there, and people are just not taking them seriously. And we're wasting our children's learning time.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching your conclusion to retire?
A: Health reasons, I was absolutely physically burned out. And I was beginning to have some heart problems and feeling so fatigued. And I just-I just felt that-that if I didn't retire, I wasn't going to be able to enjoy very many years. Uhm, my cardiologist kept telling me Your job's killing you. Why don't you retire? So, I finally took him seriously, (laughter) and decided I would. Uhm, I just didn't feel like that I could do the job as well as I needed, as I personally needed to do it, and spend less time at school. It's a big school. There is just no way. I was totally involved in instruction. I was totally involved with my faculty. And I could not withdraw that support. I could not withdraw that time. It was either do it right or not do it at all. And there's so much more to being a principal than just being a manager. If you want to just manage a school, then you can go in there and make sure that the custodian is dumping the trash, cleaning the bathroom, and the building's locked at night, and that the light bulbs are all in place, and the commodes all function, you can do that, and leave at four o'clock. But if you're truly involved with your staff, with your parents and your children, and the instruction going on, there's no way you can do it in less time, ten hour a day (laughter). So I knew I couldn't do that. I just had to-I had to make that-that break. And it was a hard decision to make. And it took me over a year for my body to slow down, for me not to feel like I was rushing through this thing so that I could rush to get to the next thing, to the next thing, to the next thing. My whole system was so programmed. And it really bothered me because after six or eight months, uh, it was-it was real obvious that my whole system was still on rush. I've got to go, (laughter). And that's not good, that's not healthy. And so finally, you know, its been a year and a half, and finally, I can say that I am relaxed. But it took well over a year for me to be able to relax.
Q: Please discuss the way that you learned to lead? That is, what procedures or experiences were you involved in that contributed to your effectiveness and the contribution that professional graduate education made to your progress?
A: I think as you read, you when you want to do a good job you're constantly searching for how to do that better. And I felt just-just driven practically to-to know how to do this, so that-that I that I you know could do a good job, not just to say that Mary Lee did a good job. But to do the job so that we were getting results with these children. That children who were having problems reading were gong to learn how to read or, at least, move toward that. For us to have a better understanding of why they didn't do this, or or you know, couldn't do certain things. Uhm, I just felt that I needed to do everything I could. I read all the time. And when you're reading, if you hit things that feel comfortable and feel good, then you think, well, that makes sense. It's like when I took my first class with Dr. Fulton on the Cognitive Instruction. I came away from that very first session with her thinking this is it, for thirty years I have been listening to speakers, and I have been reading about teaching and how to instruct and all this stuff, and none of it has ever made sense, so it hasn't been working. But this is going to work. And I just felt intuitively that-that this is what it was going to be. This was the key. And, as we began to use it, we began to see it does work. It works beautifully. And, you know, if it, I began to see that (pause) these children needed enrichment-all the time, not just your gifted kids need enrichment. All your kids need enrichment. These lower functioning children need it worse than anybody. I used to test all the kindergartners in the summer with the Gessell Readiness Test. And you you need to have kids who would come in with a vocabulary of a thousand and you had kids with a vocabulary of ten thousand. Well, naturally those kids with the ten thousand vocabulary were going to do better. And, it was like, you know, can we ever close that gap? This was a challenge, and I needed to know how to do that. I needed to have answers to these questions. So I was just compelled to find out what they were, this curiosity about what makes this difference. What can we do to make a difference? I've got to know. This was just kind of built in to me. And, uhm, you know I think reading and going to good conferences is just vital to find out what's going on, even if you know it's not going to work, or you don't approve of it, or you don't believe it or whatever. At least, you've been exposed to it, and you know that that's not what you want to do, or yes, this is what I want to do and this is the way I need to go. I think that-that's the vital thing. Its that learning, that knowledge.
Q: Its been said that good leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by having celebrations of their successes, no matter how small or insignificant. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal, and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?
A: I think the teachers need strokes, need their stickers just like the children do. Uhm, I-I think in the end, the internal motivation is what makes a difference in what a teacher does. I think I externally can do things that would make them very pleased that they have responded to their internal desire to do it. Uhm, but, I just adored my teachers. I thought they were wonderful, and I told them all the time how wonderful they were. If they weren't wonderful, I didn't tell them. And, those that didn't get those messages didn't stay. And that was fine. But, uhm, not everyone wants to teach in open space. Most people who choose to come to open space know its going to be a challenge, and know it's going to be tough, so they already, you know, are ready to come in there and work, but it was an exciting place to be, and the teachers who worked for me for years found it exciting and they never got bored with what they were doing, and we had a wonderful time. And I expressed to them how great I thought they were. And I did things like stickers. Uh, I used to have a big pad of pink paper, and, uh, I would write notes on it. If I observed for five minutes, I'd write little notes and stick it on their desk, and they liked that, I always did a lot of notes. Wednesday afternoons before we'd have any kind of in service, if I was going to keep them more than forty-five minutes or an hour, we always had some kind of refreshments. And we would just do awful things like cheese-cake, (laughter) ice cream sundaes, something just sinful, you know, but we would always have some kind of treat. And that was easy to do. You know, you can go to Sam's. You can go to the bakery or you know, you could ask the ladies in the cafeteria just to make cookies for you, or go down and get a couple boxes of ice cream out of the freezer and bring them up and let them chose if they want a dixie-cup or a popsicle. Whatever, but just little things like that. And, uhm, involving them in the planning, and though they had to stay and have meetings, I communicated to them that their knowledge was so vital to what we were doing, and I needed their input, and they were so willing and it was so satisfying. Then, when we would design a plan, they had been involved in the process so they, you know, made sure it was going to work, and things just worked beautifully. But, I think, you know, giving them the strokes they needed, was just vital, just like it is with children. You tell children you think they're great. You've got to tell your teachers you think they're great too. They need to hear that too. Because it is such a demanding tiring job, they drag out of there. I tell people all the time, summer vacation and Christmas, they got to have it, it's recovery time. It's not just a break, it's recovery time, because they're worn out. And they know-they knew that I knew, they were worn out. I expressed that to them.
Q: We've talked about this some, but I hope you will go more in depth, the way in which you obtained your first administrative role as well as any subsequent assignments.
A: Well, there weren't many subsequent assignments, but I had you know, had a position as a counselor, and I was pretty content with that, and then, I was approached uh, well, by a friend to, that this job was opened, this assistant principalship was open, and I knew it was a twelve month job, and that was very appealing at the time. So, you know, things just kind of fell in place, but, I didn't uhm, you know it wasn't one of these dramatic happenings. And then I stayed there at the same school for twenty-two years.
Q: Some writers recommend that principals adjust their leadership style to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about this idea. And, to what extent, did you practice individualized leadership?
A: Oh, I don't know that you do that much adjusting of leadership style. That's kind of a built in thing that you have. You know, you decide how you are going to approach things. But, you know, your whole personality and everything is so such a big part of that. Now, you have you have, you can get four or five new teachers in at one time, and your, the status of your faculty changes. So you adjust that. You adjust some things you are doing to accommodate that. But I think you still have your style that you use. And I never found, except for a couple of people who had such severe mood swings, I never found that my leadership style didn't work. It didn't work with them, but I don't think anything would have worked with them. They were either in a good mood or a bad mood no matter what I was doing (laughter). It didn't matter.
Q: Some principals hold the view that teachers and other staff members are, in general, well motivated and reliable self-starters. Other principals feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees to insure that they are performing to standard. What supervisory approach did you customarily use during your career as a principal?
A: Uhm, well, you know, I think all of that is true. Some people are more motivated and more driven, more task oriented than others. Some people just have a higher energy level. And, so they're more productive. Some people have these egos that need a lot of attention and recognition so they frequently are doing very showy things. You just, have, you know, different styles. Uhm, I feel that-I feel personally, that I kept a close eye on everything that was going on. My motive was not to ever catch somebody doing something wrong, but I needed to know what was going on. I could not be a good leader if I didn't. Now open space is very conducive to this because you can walk through an open space pod, go through five classrooms in less than five minutes, and you know what's going on. It's not like having to go down the hall, open the door, walk in, and stand there, with them wondering Why is she in here? See, so this was very conducive to my knowing what was going on. I could go through and sense whether somebody, a teacher was sad, not feeling well or whatever. I could stand at the bus door, which I did every morning, and look at the little faces that came that got off those buses and know those children that needed attention. You could see the pain. You could see the sadness. You could see they've been crying. You could see they didn't feel well. And you responded and reacted to that. So that I knew which ones in the building that day needed ministering to, and I usually had my guidance counselor down there with me, and I had my P.E. teacher there, so there were always adults, and my assistant. And so there were three or four adults at the bus door every morning so that we knew what children were sad. And you could usually stop them and say You're looking sad. What's wrong? And they would tell you, they'd had a fight with their mother or something, you know. Their father hit them or whatever. And then you react to that. So you know what's going on. You can go through and you can look at the expressions on teachers' faces, and you know whether we've got an anxiety level there. You know, if they've gotten a note from a parent, they could just wave it right then. You can go over to the desk and read it while they go on with what they're doing. And you get a sense of what's going on in that situation and make a decision about how you are going to react to it. So I think its vital that the principal is in and about the building and keeps an eye on what's happening. You can prevent problems if you can be proactive. And uh and know. But I didn't do it so that I could try to get somebody for doing something. I could see somebody doing something I didn't like, but my general response was Well, this may be an isolated situation, and I'm not reacting to this. Now, if I saw it several times, and I didn't think it was appropriate, I would react to it. And I might mention this at this point. That was also part of my administrative leadership style was to deal with problems when they occurred. If somebody was doing something I didn't approve of, I confronted them. I did not just ignore it, hope it would go away. I would just confront them, and it-it always worked. It never ended up bad. You know I've had some teachers that did a lot of griping and complaining, and I would finally just go to them and say, I am sick and tired of your griping and complaining. Let's talk about it. Do you realize you're doing this? And we have to have a plan, because it's got to stop. You are a role model for other people, and-and we got to have a plan. What's happening? And they'd cry and carry on, you know, but they would always end up saying well, I realize I've been doing this, and, you know, I'm gonna do better, whatever. And-and it worked. Now I had a couple that didn't work, but they left. But anyway, you know, with every other situation, except the people that would never change, they will be, you know, in their seventies and still be doing this. It always was effective just to say, There seems to be a problem. Deal with it.
Q: One model of leadership describes people as either assertive, supportive, or contemplative. Would you please categorize yourself giving reasons for this classification?
A: I think, all three. There are times you have to be assertive. You have to always be supportive. And I don't mean by supportive by condoning inappropriate behavior. Because teachers can engage in inappropriate behavior just as much as children can. But, when they are doing what they should be doing, and they are attacked for it, then, you know, you need to be supportive. Contemplative, I think you always need. As I said, if you see something going on and you don't react to it then because it may just be an isolated situation. Uh, you can have a teacher uh raise her voice to a child. He may need that. You know, nothing else may have worked (laughter). She may need to raise her voice at him, so you don't go over and say Don't raise your voice to Sammy. Sammy may need for her to raise his voice right then. But, uhm, I think you have to be all three. And you have to know when to be what.
Q: I'm sure that there are some things that I haven't touched on that you might like to share. If there are, this would be a good time for you to share those things that we did not address.
A: One of the questions had uhm, had involved the relationship with the school board and with the central administrative office, and I would like to comment about that. I felt always felt so fortunate that my my superiors were supportive of me. I never got any grandiose ideas like changing the instructional strategy we were using (laughter). This was pretty dramatic a change. I never had an idea to do something like that that I did not get support. They always were just right there and would say Sure, go for it, try it. How can I help you? Uhm, never did I have anybody ever come and and tell me I had to stop doing anything or to do anything differently. I always had-I got my support and my strokes and praise from the people at the central office, just as much as I gave it to my teachers. And I felt very fortunate in that. Uhm, the school board members were always just delightful. You know, they would come visit the school. They were always full of praise, and I really enjoyed the relationship that I had with them. There was a very personal kind of relationship, a very personal relationship with the supervisors and the superintendent, assistant superintendent. I feel that, uh, they're all still good friends of mine, so they were always totally supportive. That was a real plus. I never had to-when I would cook up these wonderful ideas that I wanted to do, I never had anybody say, Oh, I don't think you ought to do that. Uhm, I did some things that were just wonderful. One time uhm, I wrote a grant, this was way back because-when we were first getting computers, and I got a grant from GE for twenty thousand dollars, and I bought, we bought computers and started a computer lab. And we ended up with this lovely elementary school having this beautiful networked computer lab. And, you know, just all this enthusiasm about technology. And, the gal that helped me with that, who was the Supervisor of Gifted Education, also did her project at my school when she was still in her doctoral program. And so we were able to add another dimension to our technology program and we introduced the hyper-studio to fourth through sixth graders. It was fun. And this was just wonderful. The school board was totally supportive, taking the time and spending the money to do these kinds of things. Of course, my PTA supported me, adding so many things to the computers, computer lab. Now we have, uhm, a whole lab of the uhm Apple II GS computers, which were the thing at the time we did it. And then we had another lab of the Macintosh computers. All these things are networked together so that, uhm, its just wonderful, just the latest in everything, and that's great. We have a scanner and a movie camera and the whole bit so that the children are doing interactive kinds of things. And they're, nobody ever said I don't think you ought to do that. (laughter) That was great, and I appreciated it. I think it gave me, you know, opportunities to do things, and I never had to think, Oh, I wonder if they'll like this, because I knew that they would let me do it, to be creative, it was very satisfying. A-men (laughter) Did you have any other things.
Q: I didn't. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
A: No, I-I hope that my comments have not been-I haven't meant for my comments to be negative about the-the long hours, the frustrations, and so forth. Because there were so many rewards. When I spent the time to prepare graduate level classes through Radford for my teachers to take and for other teachers to take on how to instruct, that was all very rewarding to me because the outcome was fascinating. When I spent the time working on grants, when I spent the time studying about attention deficit disorders, all these things paid off in far-reaching rewards. I had an outstanding school, outstanding, and I am very proud of it, but it was all done with the Lord guiding me to do it. I'm proud of what we built, and the relationship I had with my staff was wonderful. Not every principal can say that. But I was there twenty-two years so I got to work on it a long time. (laughter) That makes a difference. Some people like to be, you know, move around, but I didn't. I wanted to remain there so I could grow things, I wanted to grow there. Okay?
Q: Thank you.
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