I am at Cam Witherspoon's house. He is a retired principal from the North Allegheny School District and many other places. We are in Allison Park, PA, and we are sitting in his dining room.
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Q: Cam, let's begin with your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher and as a principal, and you can start wherever you're comfortable.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: While in Japan, I decided on going to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for Art, but entered Secondary in History and Biology instead. In 1950, I was called back into the Army during the Korean dispute and returned to Muskeegan in New Concord, Ohio in Social Studies and Art education. I graduated from Muskeegan in 1953 and went to work as a YMCA director in Batavia, New York. Still seeking teaching, I left there in 1954 and came to Pittsburgh, seeking teaching employment. Shadyside Academy offered a job in reading, but I was not comfortable with that subject per se and took a job with S.S. Kresge in Warren, Ohio. Shadyside then offered a sixth grade position for 1955 and I accepted. So teaching began in 1955 and continued through 1965, when I became a private school principal. However, private school administrators taught and coached, so I continued teaching/coaching through 1971, which means I taught 16 years. In 1971, I joined the Aurora, Colorado Public Schools as an elementary principal and administrator and was responsible singularly for two schools - one 660 students and the other 715. They were K-6 grades. I later was asked to be an elementary consultant for at that time 20 elementary schools in 1973. That same year, my mother died back in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and 1974, I accepted a Headmastership at Shadyside Academy Junior School which would be K-5. Because Shadyside did not show the growth educationally I had experienced in the West, I returned to the University of Pittsburgh to acquire a Superintendent's letter. To be eligible for public education in Pennsylvania, this was necessary. I was certified as a superintendent in 49 states, but Pennsylvania required the letter from Pitt or Temple. North Allegheny provided a position in 1978 until my retirement in January, 1992. All would be considered administration, so that the total time of teaching exclusively would be 10+, and the total time for administration would be 27 years. I have always functioned as a teaching administrator because of my love for learning.
Q: Let's move on to the next question. Maybe discuss those experiences and events in your life that constituted the important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now that you are retired.
A: Okay, I will enjoy doing that. In 1964, I was teaching/coaching at Shadyside Academy Middle School, and sought more involvement in curriculum writing and decisions. I was offered a position at Colorado Academy in Denver, and accepted it because it offered curriculum work, administration, and teaching/coaching. Because of the dynamics of the area, people, and times, it became the ten most exciting years of my professional and personal life. I interned the first year teaching sixth grade and coaching soccer, basketball and softball to elementary and middle school aged students. Thomas J. Lee, Assistant Headmaster, trained me in administration and gave me one vastly important word to carry me through administrative planning and decision making: anticipate. He utilized that to guide and to enhance communication to and between parents, students and colleagues, and it always worked. Through Tom and others, I became involved in writing and piloting nationally funded social studies curriculum, new math, and science programs, that worked as primary languages experiences that gave new insight as to how children learned. During this time, I personally worked as a colleague with John Holdt, David and Francis Hopkins, who did ESS Science, Jerome Bruner, and other prominent innovators in education from England, France and the United States. Our elementary school became the model of the integrated day similar to the Leschester, England program of non-graded schools. We then were funded by the National Association of Independent Schools for the summer to run an international workshop for four weeks. We did this for two summers. Through, all of the aforementioned contacts and involvement, when I went into administration at Aurora Public Schools, I wrote a proposal to integrate the arts into the curriculum for the elementary schools, which was the first elementary proposal every accepted by the National Humanities Faculty. For 18 months, my decision to leave Shadyside Academy, Western Pennsylvania and security was the best decision I ever made.
Q: Let's talk a little bit about entering the principalship. How did your motives in working in working as a principal change over the years, and I know some of that may depend upon the settings that you were in. Maybe we could focus a little on that: going from the classroom and entering into the principalship and how did you see the changes evolve?
A: I think probably that the best part of that would be described in what I just said and would be that my great desire was to get involved in curriculum writing and the learning experience per se as opposed to being a teacher of one subject. As a result of that experience in Colorado, I was involved in the writing of a number of different curriculum projects which then had to be taken into the classroom and taught so that I was able to pilot my own work and also share that experience and dialogue that with the other people who were involved in the writing process and then take it from the private school into the larger public school and then into the Colorado Educational Association and to workshops with them so that we were able to float through the whole State of Colorado and see this program in fact taking place. That's probably the excitement of going from a teacher of a subject to administration. Now, going into administration exclusively did not prove as exciting to me as I had hoped because unfortunately, the working teacher looks upon administrators as somebody seeking to give them additional work or change them from doing what they do successfully.
Q: Let's reflect a little bit on your personal philosophy of education and how you saw it evolving over the years because of the many years you have had in education.
A: The personal philosophy is that you never stop learning and you train to teach others in a collaborative, facilitating mode. To put people in the position of teaching themselves, owning it and passing it on. Just to get excited about people, about ideas, about the willingness to take risks and fail because so many people are too tense about 'is this going to work", and they are unwilling to take a chance on it. If it is a calculated risk, it should be taCam, and evaluated and if it is wrong, throw it out, but it still needs to take place. My philosophy continued to evolve, but it changed with the new learning of my own - people I worked with or heard, reading, observing, coaching. Once comfortable with how I learned, I became more secure with helping and facilitating others to learn in a way they were comfortable with. I think that is an important part of my philosophy - let people learn the way they learn best.
Q: Are you talking about learning styles?
A: Styles, exactly.
Q: And then try to teach to that style.
A: Teach to that style as opposed to say 'this is what I want you to do".
Q: How about in your professional life, the events or experiences that influenced your management philosophy as opposed to educational philosophy?
A: I think I would refer back to the two previous comments before. If we look at No. 3, I think the important decision points were that I have answered would be Tom Lee's Curriculum Writing, National Humanities Faculty, Educational Development Center, writing national curriculum, working on the Humanities Faculty and working with faculties of schools in Boise, Idaho, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts, and it was simply learning an eduction and good exciting experiences taking place throughout the world. You can't just focus it in a district that does everything right. I think that is probably what directs me - I look for things to happen and I look for exciting things.
Q: What kinds of things do you think teachers expect principals to be able to do, and describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal or what are some of the characteristics of a good principal?
A: I hope I have made this concise enough. I think the effective principal is knowledgeable, thoughtful, has a good sense of humor, it anticipatory, communicative, a facilitator, democratic, firm but fair, a decision maker when and where needed, and supportive as appropriate, and above all, has integrity. Be honest with everyone in everything you do, or it will eat you alive
Q: It is interesting that you mention honesty and I am just going to comment on that because of what we have been studying in class. Some of the characteristics of leadership. They said the one that seems to shake out the at the top all the time out of all the characteristics and many of them that you have mentioned, is the honesty and integrity. That is what people who follow leaders look for. So it is interesting that you mention it.
A: I think that just as an aside - when I was hired in Aurora, Colorado, the superintendent sat in with other teachers and other administrators and community. And he said - I have one final question to ask you - What is your most important character issue (as he put it), if I were to say what is the most important thing to you, and what would you say?" I said, 'my honesty", and he said 'your hired". That was in 1971, so it is still important.
Q: Let's move on. A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques that worked for you, and perhaps maybe an incident when your approach failed with someone.
A: We will have to be brief on this too because I probably talked too much about it earlier on which follows the facilitation aspect of it and also what I said an effective principal would be, but leadership that works I have noted. That which doesn't work is to tell people what they should do, or need to do, but to provide support or recognize that they do not know what it is that you want. So many people give directions and they assume that people know what they are asking for and they refuse to clarify it. So people are going to be failures in their own mind because they can't understand what it is and they are fearful of asking what it is that you want. It is like a student - that student not raising their hand for fear they will get called on because they are not sure they know what the answer is, and teachers are looking in many cases for what the answer is, and what is it you want me to do. So you have to spell it out for them and not be angry in doing so.
Q: And people have to be willing to take the risk to ask the question or say they are not sure of what you want.
A: So your openess has to posture so that they know that is OK to ask you then.
Q: Let's see if we can focus a little bit on questions that deal with the instructional leader versus a good manager. There are many who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest realistically speaking that this person above all should be a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe maybe your own style.
A: As a headmaster and principal in the private school and in Aurora, I would just first of all, the instructional leader. The managerial part was designated in the job description dealing with budget, building, curriculum, schedules, special support services, meetings, etc. All the managerial responsibilities dealt with the instructional components and were for the most part, site oriented. I have always enjoyed site management and decision making and find it to be much more effective, efficient and lasting. Ownership.
Q: Getting people to buy into the process.
Q: It is said that there has been a home/school gap and that more parental involvement with schools needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and the citizens who were important to the wellbeing of the schools that you administered?
A: I agree that it is a most important part of leadership would be communicating what you are doing, where you are going and how you are doing it, so that they know that their children are in safe hands and they are going to learn. That is what they want to know. Continuing communication with parents is a premium part of a principal's responsibilities and can be extremely pleasing if you anticipate, make early year telephone calls, involve parents as aids for production work, assemblies, etc. Send the monthly newsletter and schedule of events. I used a thing called Campbell's Kettle which was a monthly schedule of what was going on and a few philosophic comments on my part, and something about the children. Keep your door open when not in conference or doing heavy work. Try to return calls the same day, but check before to see if you know why they called. Parents generally are not against the school, but seek information to help them do a better job with their child. I have found K-2 parents call more and criticize more than 3-5 parents.
Q: That is an interesting observation. Being a practicioner now, I think I see some of the same things. I think the 3-5 parents have in those grades - have sort of figured out how the system works. And I also find that parents of first time children having entered the school have many more questions than those who have already had a son or daughter go through the system.
A: Even the teachers up to that point - they want to make sure it is going to continue.
Q: OK - let's move on. As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools and what features characterize maybe the least successful ones and you can be general.
A: OK - I have written some thoughts down here. Effective schools are dynamic, filled with students, work (both academic and art) on the walls and bulletin boards, have smiling teachers, students, secretaries, parents out and about. There is evidence of laughter, freedom of controlled movement and conversation. Established firm but fair rules that are appropriate to all levels and that are equitably administered. People talking and enjoying other people (children and adults). An ineffective school is quiet, dull, student work is all alike and must be colored inside the lines to go up. Art work is not individual or creative, not much movement through the building with a lot of "shhh", no laughter or music evident on a spontaneous basis. Those are things that I have observed through the years, private or public,as if original art work, kinds of things that children do no matter how ugly it may look to you at the time if you are worried about design is most important to that child. If they know it is going up, they will continue to do better because they know it is going up for public display.
Q: What I hear you saying is that the displaying of students' work is critical and effective school you would see much of that.
A: Every morning, when I went into the school at 7:00 in the morning, I would walk the school to look at student work, read their poem, read their story and later in the day, poke my head in and comment to them about to both the children and the teacher and they responded by doing even better work.
Q: Lets talk a little bit about the phenomena of larger schools, and I am sure that you have seen it occur in your career that it seems that during the last decade it seems the schools have gotten much larger. May be talk a little bit about this phenomena and suggest what you think might be an ideal size for schools in terms of optimally operating administratively and instructionally. I will be interested in your answer because I have worked in a couple different type schools myself.
A: I've had a school of 150 and one of 715, with others ranging in between. Given appropriate staff with a class size of 23 or less, good teachers, specials and sighted administrators can effectively manage a dynamic environment. The ideal size used in the Rockies was 550 when they were building new schools. I like that size - that is a pretty reasonable number to work with and a lot of things can occur with that size of a student body and staff.
Q: That would cluster maybe three - four of each grade level.
A: The schools that were built there - I was in the process of designing a new school was a K-1,2,3 wing, then the 4,5,6 wing and then the media center, library, and the gymnasium were in the middle as were the offices as you came in the door so that one principal, which is what I was, could move from one place to the other - it was all on the one floor so that you could move back and forth through there and they had carpeted pit areas in the middle of each of those wings so that teachers could feed out with program or activities or send children out with aids to work separately from the classroom because it was an ideal building.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students, the LD, the emotional support, gifted, the talented and the non-english speaking have been developed. Please discuss your experience with these special students' services and your views on today's trends.
A: Well, as you know I worked for 19 years in private schools which was a select clientele of essentially gifted students, 127 median IQ on ability of 200. That would be one part of that which is the present day choice type of school which would not be possible for most children. But coming into North Allegheny, I was responsible for the K-12 gifted program in the district which amounted to over 15% of the total school population so that there was a defined need for certain kinds of special activities or programs for the students as opposed to the general public in the schools. That doesn't mean that they were any more special than some of the other children, but simply that they could move faster and they could do other kinds of things at the neat kind of pace that some of the others could. So rather than have them get bored or in trouble, and we know that highly gifted people make up 20% of the prison population - 145 IQ and above are your top criminals in the USA today so that we did not want to have that experience with them. The other part of that would be working both in Aurora and N. Allegheny would be working with children who had other exceptionalities and learning disabilities, more being identified most recently than in the past. Both of those experiences followed pretty much the same pattern. There are worthwhile opportunities for teacher, administrators and children to acquire a good education and get the best possible experience out of school. Most recently before I retired, I was involved with GATEWAY program which dealt with autistic children, down syndrome children integrated into a regular classroom, going through a regular school day. The part of that as a pilot - we needed to know how well they would perform - how much of an interruption that would be to the regular classroom or the classroom teacher and what the cost would be. And probably the worst part of it was the cost factor because it was necessary to have a special trained teacher and/or aid with each child, not with a group of children, with each child, because the regular classroom teacher has to teach 22 other children and the two children that are special needed special attention and most schools cannot possibly afford that.
Q: This is digressing a little bit on this question, but there is a trend right now to talk about exactly what you were describing in the inclusionary practices where they no longer take those children and place them in separate classrooms or in separate buildings, but include them right in the mainstream, and that becomes a challenge and I think it hits upon what you said with the special needs - depending on the need of the child.
A: I just talked to one yesterday when I was visiting Franklin School - taking some material to one of the teachers and little Joey came down the hall and said "HI" to me and he's in his second year of first grade - he's a down syndrome child and having a delightful time in the school, but has an aid that goes with him all the time and he has buddies when he goes to the lunchroom so that there has to be somebody with that child all the time realistically because that is the nature of what he has a disability. The down syndrome does not permit him to function in a totally normal way compared to the other children. What happens when he gets to third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade and you have other children behind him following that same inclusionary kind of activity - how can schools afford that?
Q: I don't know - that is a question that needs to be answered I guess.
A: I don't disagree with it - or I wouldn't have accepted it as a part of my building if I didn't agree with it, but I also have to be very pragmatic about where it could go and what the cost might be.
Q: Since we are talking about money, lets move onto salaries and compensation. They have changed a great deal since you entered the profession for sure. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of the school systems that you were involved during your early years as a principal and then maybe give some views on developments in this area since that time or since your retirement.
A: In 1965 when I was in Colorado Academy, I had housing, individual hospitalization, my lunches, my meals and $6800.00/year. When I retired from North Allegheny I had the full hospitalization with prescriptions and a yearly physical and I was making $58,500. That is pretty dramatic in terms of change - I was certainly accepting of that last figure, but I don't know if I was worth that much in that I don't know where public schools are going to continue to get the income to pay those kind of salaries which are appropriate, but where does the money come from? There has to be some new way to generate income to pay for these things. Because the teachers - I was making $32/day less than a teacher of 18 years with a masters - how can they afford that. I don't say that they don't deserve it - how do you continue to pay this?
Q: I guess what I hear you saying is that the cost factor in funding schools - I think people are worth the money and working hard - I think the local tax base and the cutbacks at the federal and state level- it seems that more and more the local tax base is being asked to do that and they can't -- in some areas.
A: I think that in some areas they may have to seriously look at some of these successful year-round schools that try and design ways to accommodate - they are just going to have to change they way they approach the educational process for children and to pay some people who would work only three quarters out of four and then bring in another to overlap that so they don't necessarily change their income outlay, but they still get the schools operating year around and get the children through it in a much more appropriate manner.
Q: Interesting that you mention that - the school that I used to work at in Seneca Valley chose to do that and met with a lot of public resistance and that might be a topic for after. Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paperwork and the bureaucratic complexities they are forced to deal with. Would you comment on this situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time and let me just preface that by saying that it's still that way in a lot of districts I think with the people . . . .
A: I think that administrators are given numerous meaningless objectives to justify their greater salaries and responsibilities to the board and the public. The superintendent used to be responsible for the instructional program in their district, but now behaving as chief executive officers and swapping their jobs off to subordinates who then pass it down to the next level, etc., the quotation of 'something flows downhill" is correct. New descriptors need to be designed by institutions of higher learning and recommended to states for implementation. If site based management really could return, I sincerely believe the educational climate and accountability locally and nationally would be improved. Now, site managers don't have time to monitor or be an integral part of their site now and that is a shame, but I think also beyond that, you need to take five to seven years to see that work. You can't say 'lets change to site management today and change everything" - it's not going to occur. You have to have people who understand it and who can see what's good about it and what's bad about it and what their personal style is going to be and then design it for them and it will work. That doesn't mean that everybody will do exactly the same thing. It simply means that central administration will reduce their size and deal with the very high priority things that a central administration should and let the people on site deal with the schools.
Q: Let me ask you a little about that because the district I'm working in now - that's where we are heading. What do you think are the three key ingredients or areas that the sites or the people making up the sites need to know to be successful. You mentioned that you see it evolving as a five to seven year process, but maybe focus on the ingredients.
A: I believe that you have to be administratively trained to deal with site based management. You can't be a clone of some system that has never taught you to make decisions so that it deals with decision-making, it deals with decisions upon instruction, it deals with budget decisions so that you know how much to allot to a certain program or certain activities. It deals with community relationships because you are the one that they talk to and you're the one that they respond to and you need to have a very strong school legal background so that you know what to do within the bounds of the law so that you don't end up being sued because people tend to want to go the legal route frequently if something happens to their child - it's a normal kind of thing if something happens to their child, but there is also somebody there that's willing to say 'we could probably make some money on this too" so you need to know where you are going legally and I think those would probably be the most important parts that I found in site management, is just having some grip on all of those things and being able to make decisions appropriate for them. If you have that, what else do you need really? You have good children, you have good teachers and make sure that the teachers follow those same procedures - that they be responsible in those areas of instruction, budget and legal aspect of it which would be the discipline part.
Q: Let's shift our focus a little bit from the site based management and talk about ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration. If you just had to name a couple ways that you could do that, what would they be?
A: Well I would put the superintendent where they are now at the top, but I would make them more knowledgeable in instructional delivery systems. I would have teacher/administrator competencies for a superintendent. I would have a person having trust in giving that to those people that he or she hires. I would reduce the number of central positions so that the people were more clearly associated with what's going on at the building level, because that's where the parents are concerned and if you want to get the funding for projects within your district you better know your public because that's where you're going to get the money from. So that I think that is one area I would concentrate on - to make the superintendent more knowledgeable on delivery systems and more compatible with the teacher/administrators that he or she hires. I would add elementary/secondary consultants to research, write and pilot potentially strong programs in schools in through working collegially with teachers and principals right on site. Forget all these crazy in-services all the time that everybody goes to and they don't accomplish a lot except for one or two people that want to be there for that particular topic. But have the principal say to the consultant 'I need some help with a new math program - can you come in and do a workshop with my fourth grade teachers to help them identify what it is they should be doing in this process" and then phase out and then give them feedback evaluation on it. I think that is a much more effective way to use elementary/secondary administrators other than building principals - use them as consultants. And these people should be those who would have knowledge about the classroom operation as well, and then on-site principal supported by the people above and giving an accountability of achieving reasonable success with district identified objectives based on their school's community and their capability. In other words, you're accountable for making sure that your children achieve within your building according to district objectives that are set up, but doesn't always have to be the exact same thing. You don't always have to use the same book - you may use multi-text - you may use different kinds of writing procedures, but the bottom line is that we're all going to get to the same point so that a child can go from this school in North Allegheny to this school and they'll get the same thing - they'll be brought into the same kind of phasing - now that works. It works in large, large school districts around the country and it can work in smaller school districts as well.
Q: Let's turn to the curriculum area - I think that may be something you want to address. Would you comment on the nature of curriculum during the time you were a principal and compare it to the situation in today's school - maybe citing some positive and negative aspects of the situation.
A: I think that part of what I have when I had when I said that the ten years at Colorado was the most exciting - was that the country was - that was the Sputnik era and everybody was saying that we're not learned and we don't have the kids that are bright as they were before - they don't know math - doesn't that sound familiar? What they did though was attack it through the National Science Foundation and others by funding it on a national level and saying 'we'll start some pilot projects throughout the country to see how these things work, rather than just say 'let's give it a title and everybody does it" and 'Let's test for it" - 'Let's do an SAT and see how well they do", so that the use of an inductive /deductive kind of learning, of inquiry learning, of reasoning and the degree of sophistication - just the development of good writing skills - the development of good computational skills - the ability to take chances with mathematics, and also the integration of the arts into the curriculum became a national project - so that people said we don't have time to teach art, we don't have time to teach music, - you don't have to do that separately - you can bring it together and say - together we can do this in one block and it they are going to get all of those experience, so that some of the experiences we had there will have been in grouping the children. So let's say that we group all fourth grade - all fourth grade teachers would meet with the music teacher, the art teacher - meet with the phys ed teacher every month and they would say that this is the unit of study we are going to deal with. We can't cover every thing, but we're going to deal with math, science, social studies, writing, etc., but it's all going to deal with the eskimos, or something like, or the bedouins of Arabia or something, and then everything would be generated toward this so that they would make beads, the songs would be songs of those people, everything would be integrated to it and the kids saw the reality of it then and wasn't like taking it out of a book - it was more into what they saw, what they did, what they made themselves. At that time, we used Hilda Tawba's social studies as the catalyst for all this and we used a number of different programs. We had continuous progress math, we did away with achievement tests per se,except for fourth grade where we just checked them out, and we used the report card as a very specific kind of a communication with the parent and we met with the parent every six weeks and we sat down and talked to them and we said 'this is where your child is going". It wasn't a,b,c,d, but it was pretty clear all along that they had the portfolios that we're talking about today with outcome based. The portfolio was there - 'here's what your child did in math, here's what your child did in writing", and the parents looked at that and understood that, and I think that is what we are really going back to today and it works, . . .but, what made it fail and I will mention this as an observation too, is that the majority of teachers found it to be a hell of a lot of work, and didn't want to take the time to do it and they battled it through the unions and praise the unions - it had nothing to do with unionism - it was the vehicle they used. They said 'we don't want to do that anymore - give me a book, give me a workbook - give me an achievement test and I'll give you what you want."
Q: Let's talk a little bit about principals today and your last experience - I could talk a lot about that - maybe talk a little bit about your normal work day, number of hours you worked a week, a typical week, and maybe some daily pressures that you felt that you faced on the job.
A: My work day started between 7-7:15. I would go into the building, walk the school, read students' work, meet the custodians, ask about problems, concerns, and needs to manage the building. I would always make the contact right off the bat with the custodian to find out it there's any problems going for the day, and in turn the custodian responded by being positive for me when I needed help, the person was always there because he knew we were going to meet every day. 7:45 to 8:30, I would walk the building, meet the teachers, discuss ideas, seek input on student/parents, materials, etc., so that I spent time walking the building, chatting with them. Once a month, from 8-8:45 I had a grade level meeting with reading specialist and the grade level to identify reading problems, concerns and to give specific directions to the teachers as to what they should be doing or what we would be doing in return. That would be a scheduled meeting every month. 8:30-9:00 - greet the buses, move through the building, respond to parents coming in, etc. 9-9:30 - set up a day with secretary - clarify or prepare for observations or district meetings. If building, team or special meeting with psychologist was needed, prepare for that. 9:30-11:30 meetings or observations in building. 11:30-12:50 lunch recess, eat, socialize with teachers, keep lid on, if in building. Frequently there was a district meeting, so I wasn't there at what I consider a critical time of the day. 1:00-3:30 - telephone messages, observations in building if in building. 3:30-4:30-5:00 - answer letters, clarify logistical crap, prepare for tomorrow's meetings, re-write observations, try to crank down. So that essentially, I try to never do any of that logistical work before the school day or during the school day. The school day was to give as much time to the building as I could. That made me feel like a million dollars and I believe that it got the response of the teachers and the students and the same time saying that you're always visible and we know that we can come to you, and I think that's an important thing for a building administrator to have - to have teachers say that 'I know you're there - I know you're going to help". It's an ego thing, but it's still a support kind of a thing that has to occur. Answering the letters and the telephone calls is once again that communication with parents - is a really important thing - if you don't do it, they're going to go to somebody else and they are going to complain. If you talk to them - I haven't talked to anyone either on the phone or in person who hasn't modified their anger immediately - it's like they want to talk to somebody - let them talk - and you've got to listen, and not block them out - even if you want to bite their head off, you have to listen and figure out a logical, sensible way to respond to them - usually they will accept it.
Q: Let's talk about the daily pressures.
A: Okay, the daily pressures were hard to categorize. The central administrators who wanted me to do the job of pacing math, reading, to show some parents that everyone in the grade was at the same level was one my most anxious kind of pressures, that probably led to my asking to take the retirement after 37 years. It was just like - that was enough. It was like it was stupid - it was an absurd thing to say 400 kids were all at the same level in my building with every other kid in the district - it was just absurd. Dealing with overcrowded buildings and schedules because central would respond negatively when parents called and said the building was overcrowded. So you say I can't do anything - the building's right here - I have my music out in the hall in front of the cafeteria and right outside that classroom because that's the only place I can hold it. You don't want me to do away with music and you call central and say 'what do I do about this - I need a portable - I need a place to have music and they will say - that's tough." Then they argue with you about why didn't you handle the community better. Attempting to make special education exceptionalities an integral part of the daily schedule - we talked about this earlier - down syndrome - autistic children who are in regular classrooms all day. To do this successfully, there must be a trained special ed. teacher and their aids monitor and adjust as situations arise. Money and trained people are scarce. The rest of it is fun. It is a tough thing to deal with - somebody else's agenda - really is what it amounts to. If you can control that or manage that, then there is no great problem. The job is fun. But when you can't control it - when you can't make the decision when somebody asks you 'how do you deal with or how do you do this" and you can't answer them, then it becomes very frustrating.
Q: How about maybe we could follow up with your key success, as a principal, and maybe that is part of it - what you just said - maybe tell us a little bit about that.
A: I just have a little part of that - the key to success in anything is to know what your job is supposed to be. Train yourself to meet that specification, then add humor, patience, resilience, love for what you do, and above all, integrity - if you demonstrate integrity in everything, people accept the hard decisions, because they trust you and your decision. That's why honesty is so important. They know whatever you say every time is correct, is true, and is based on what you believe is right, and they'll accept, they may argue with it, but they will accept it. You can't be ambivalent.
Q: Let's talk a little bit more about that and maybe move to the code of ethics. I'm a firm believer that there should be a professional code of ethics for administrators, and I think it talks a little bit about what you just mentioned. But maybe talk a little bit about that and give some examples of how you tried to be honest and ethical in your career.
A: It's great you should mention it and I don't want to beat on it, but my first statement in my professional code of ethics is the same as my personal code - integrity. I expect people in education to operate in the same manner and I will work with them to provide the best possible learning environment for young people. I expect the outstanding scholar and a borderline remedial student to receive the same care and affection utilizing their learning styles as a key. As a coach, all team members played in every game, and with one exception, we won more than we lost. As a teacher/administrator, all people participate in the process of running a quality program, using their best learning styles to meet building/district objectives. As teachers were instructed by district policy to have all children at all levels at the same academic level each month, I told them to move the children at an appropriate pace at math and reading throughout the year, but to assert that they achieve district goals and personally achievable goals by year's end. They did above and beyond, but I caught hell at a minimal rating as a result. I shouldn't have said that last part. But that is the problem - my code of ethics and professional ethics is pretty much the same. Be honest, level with people, treat kids and adults as decent human beings that have different styles of approaching things, but ask that they achieve some goals that are reasonable and acceptable, because if you don't , then they wont do anything won't do anything. The human is not going to do a lot more than what you define for them in many cases, but if you give them their head and let them go with those things, and give them support, they will do much more. I've taught public and private, it doesn't make much difference, in the work place, people do more work as volunteers, than many that I saw as colleagues, because they are doing the thing that they love to do. And nobody set an objective which is absurd, they said that this is what we need to do, we need to teach people coming into the Carnegie Science Center about Michelangelo and some of things he did and why it was so important. So okay, we will tell them to design something that would be appropriate. We will give you the information. We will give you the direction on this, but then you are on your own. You use your abilities to try and communicate that. Young people that were staff members and older people that were volunteers all did magnificent kinds of work, and in between we had great conversation, like we were of the same generation - it didn't make any difference because we working on the same thing - something that excited us. And I think that happens in a school.
Q: How about the colleges and universities today? What suggestions would you give them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: I love this because I had one of the most exciting experiences at the University of Denver in administrative preparation. There, we had more hands-on, action oriented courses vs. book lecture research. For example, school law - they had us go to the law library - write two briefs per week on specific cases and return and discuss them. When we were studying the school bond election, we developed a community questionnaire about voting for or against a bond. As you know, in most of the United States, you have to go out and get a vote on a referendum to get money for your schools for the next year.
Q: That's it in Ohio because of going to Youngstown state, it's passing the levies. But in Pennsylvania it's different.
A: Pennsylvania is unique. A large number of states do this referendum. They asked us to go out and we walked the streets with a questionnaire and a clipboard, and we went to single family dwelling, we went to apartments buildings, we went to trailer courts where they don't pay taxes - they are in and out because they are itinerant and the people in the single family dwellings refuse to vote for the tax issue because they are getting sick and tired of paying of those itinerants, so we got all kinds of positive information. That's probably one of the most exciting experiences I had in going to school - was to take that educational administrative degree at the University of Denver, because every course I took was similar. You were involved in some manner, and the superintendent on down had to take six credits in five years to be certified. So if a superintendent that didn't complete six credits in the State of Colorado within six years, could lose his superintendent's eligibility, so that everybody was a learner or a student.
Q: It sounds like you're saying that the college level needs to be an experiential type of program. I mean it is okay in theory, but it sounds like your experience was when you experienced things, and went out and did them.
A: We negotiated - we had a professional negotiator come in and work with us in a class that we actually had to go out and prepare every stage of grievance, and each one of us participated and took the critique from the rest of the people sitting there when we finished, whether we were successful or not. So that everything I have experienced in practical experiences in the schools, I experienced in the University of Denver in my administrative program - just really exciting. And I think that that helped me become a better, more proficient administrator, because I didn't - once again I use Tom Lee's anticipate - and I had this new information and I could really plan on that like the legal thing we were talking about.
Q: Anything else that colleges and universities could do to improve programs for school administrators?
A: I think that one of the things that I suggested to Pitt one time, that I would suggest to any school and that would be to have experienced administrators dialogue in a seminar fashion with administrative trainees. Not just the on site trainee, but actually to come and just sit and have a cup of coffee and talk about what goes on in a building. So that some of things that go on today, you could talk about with these administrators and say 'are you ready to handle that?, Can you deal with those kind of things?, or How would you deal with those things?" Most schools will have that simulation that they have had at Pitt - the in basket - out basket. That's good - it's super. But then have some working administrators come in from different districts, from inter-city to the suburban schools to talk about these things so that people can make some decisions about where they want to go as an administrators so that they don't take a job just to become an administrator, but they take the job in a school district that might be appropriate to their skills. You know, you have a guy that finishes his doctorate and then gets a job offer in Pittsburgh, he may not be able to function there, as opposed to Fox Chapel or North Allegheny. Or they may say I just decided that I want to go into central administration or be a consultant.
Q: Okay Cam, we're going to move on and discuss the tense environment that principals operate in and what kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under the stressful conditions.
A: My reduction of anxiety was to walk the building, drop in on activities, observe officially at conference, have lunch with teachers, or take my secretary to lunch to maintain her sanity. I loved working in a learning environment. I hated non-sensical district committee meetings, so that largely being in the building, being in the classroom was they way I reduced my anxiety. I simply was not tense when I in the building, and saw good things happening and I think that is really what administrators need to understand.
Q: How about an overall comment on the present concept of your administrative service and the advice you would like to pass along to today's principals.
A: This is wonderful. If you want to be an administrator, have your life and mind in order and live in a pragmatic world. While you can do the dream things at times, being an administrator, means to ward off attacks against teachers, programs, district mandates and yourself. Anticipate things that are going to occur and get there first. Make calls before they call you and have a plan. If it is important, put it in writing, and make sure your secretary keeps a back-up file. If you don't like kids, learning, budgets, people and screwy schedules and interruptions, don't get into the game. Have integrity, humor, resilience, a love of people at all levels and place yourself in a position where you are constantly learning, because then you can empathize with others. That's as simple as I can get - if you continue to learn, you'll understand the people.
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