April 8, 2000
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Q: Okay Mr. Watson I would like to thank you first of all for allowing me to come and meet with you and answer some of my questions that I have for you. Um, first of all I would like for if you could to just discuss your college education and some of your preparation for going into education. Um, how many years did you serve as a teacher before you became a principal and how many years you served as a principal?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Okay. Um, started off with no intentions of being a teacher. I was a math major and my senior year Tech was on quarter system then and I took two-quarter courses in education. So, I graduated with from Tech with a grand total of six-quarter hours of four semester hours in education. Thats all I had. I had a Bachelors degree in math. Was hired in Martinsville to be a teacher and had every intention of being a teacher for a year or two until I could "find something else that I wanted to do." Um, seems like I found out what I wanted to do and it was teach. So, during my first three years of teaching, I actually went back to Tech and finished up my certification so that I could my endorsement so I could be a teacher. So, I started with a, one of the people with a provisional license and did that, and in three years had my professional (collegiate professional) license. I taught for ten years in a middle school. Interesting point of that, my second year of teaching before I was had a continuing contract even a collegiate professional certificate I became the department head. An interesting sideline on that was that the previous department head was still there. Which made for an interesting year but we got through that and things went well. After I had taught for ten years, I became an assistant principal in the same building. So, I became an assistant principal with the teachers with whom I had been teaching. So, I did that for four years. One of those years I was the acting principal because the principal had a heart attack in October and was out for the rest of that year. So, basically I did both jobs from October to June. The principal returned the following year served one year and he retired. And I was appointed principal to follow him. The other interesting piece about the assistant principal is that I was the first Caucasian to ever be an assistant principal in that school. And there was one gentleman who was going around town trying to get a petition signed that the position had to be a quote black position. Fortunately that got nowhere. But from that point I served as principal until I was recruited to move to South Carolina and I went to South Carolina and spent five years there. The first four years I was principal of a middle school. Had four superintendents in four years. That was an interesting time. The fourth superintendent, the last one of the bunch, and I had some basic philosophical differences about education and long story short I taught my last year in South Carolina because we had those basic philosophical differences. Taught high school math and coached soccer actually coached that year. Decided that that part of South Carolina was not a good place for me to be so I returned to Virginia. I came back to Virginia as an assistant principal at the high school in Dinwiddie and was there for several years. The former finance director in Dinwiddie left I was asked to come to the central office to fill in in that position from April to June. I did that, the county interviewed for people to fill the position came back and asked me if I would keep it and I kept it and I at that point was an assistant to the superintendent. When that superintendent left a couple of years later and the current superintendent went into place one of her conditions was that I be an assistant superintendent. So, currently I am an assistant superintendent for technology and finance and July one that title will change to assistant superintendent for administration.
Q: Um, you were discussing a little about your philosophy of education how you had a disagreement with the superintendent um in a previous school system. Could you describe what your philosophy of education is?
A: Well my philosophy is that you, you have to challenge young people. I truly do believe that all students can learn. They will learn at different rates and they will learn different amounts and learn things to different degrees but all students can learn. But you must continue to challenge youngsters. And his philosophy was what you wanted to do was give a perception that everyone was doing real well. One of the pieces that we had a slight falling out over is he insisted that we give a basic math skills test. And by basic math skills I mean addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts to our eighth grade students who were taking algebra. It just to me was you knew they were going to do well. I mean it was just a question of putting up some kind of façade. It wasnt really truly education. But I believe in the standards. I am one of those people who may be guilty for the standards of learning in Virginia. I have always been a standards person. Dont necessarily agree with the cut off scores that the state board has put into place but have always believed that we had to have standards and that we had to maintain those standards. So, we have to be challenging but we have to fair. We have to encourage and congoul our students to learn but we have to be reasonable that we dont expect a student who is tmr to become a nuclear physicist either.
Q: Um thank you. You were talking about creating a climate in your philosophy of education that will challenge the students. How exactly did you go about that? You spoke about being a math teacher. What were some of the things you did and how did you relate that to when you became a principal for helping other teachers?
A: Well I thing as a math teacher in the classroom, part of it had to do with making sure that you knew where you were going. So often I have seen teachers who werent sure what they were teaching. It you asked them whats the objective they were trying to achieve they didnt know and if you dont know what the objective is then you dont when you have arrived or whether you have arrived. An example is sometimes teachers will give an objective and the objective will be to do the problems on page 214. Well that makes no sense that is not an objective thats an activity. So I think my my focus on objectives, my focus on trying to decide whats really the important and not important. For example in an algebra class I could really never see spending an inordinate amount of time on factoring. It was something that I taught students either grasped it or they didnt. If they didnt I taught them ways to get around it, algorithms of ways to do the things because it just wasnt something of critical importance to every student to be in the class. I thing you have to decide whats important, what you are going to teach, have multiple ways to reach that objective, and thats both with whether I am an administrator working with teachers or a teacher directly working with students. You cannot assume that every child or teacher or every adult is going to master content or master a task in the same way and so I always as a teacher had several ways to approach a given objective and approach a given topic. Same thing in dealing with teachers I try never ever to say that a teacher had to teach the way I thought was right. I always wanted to look at what was the teacher doing and was he or she achieving the objective. Could the students do what they were supposed to do when they got through? Being in South Carolina I was by law had to be thoroughly trained in Madeline Hunters techniques. And one of the things there, the student will be able to was the way they started all of the objectives which was a little bit redundant but it is not a bad way to think about it. What is it the student is supposed to be able to do when you finish the lesson, when you finish the unit, when you finish the year? And if the student is supposed to be able to do certain things then the teacher is able to get the students there. I am not willing to say that their way of teaching is bad because its different than mine. The other piece of that, I think one of the important things that has gotten me through 30 years of education is a sense of humor. Try to find the humor in things um try to help teachers see the humor in things. Sometimes when a youngster does something thats just absolutely, totally against the rules and you are going to take action you are going to do what you have to do. You still have to step back and look at the humor behind it and enjoy it for what it is not the you are enjoying suspending the child or sending the child to in school suspension or calling the parents and doing those things, but enjoy being with the teachers and enjoy being with the children. So, if you are not having fun doing it, dont do it.
Q: Okay thank you um also going back to what you were talking about earlier your first principalship. Could you describe what the school was like? Describe its appearance, class size. Um you spoke already a little bit about the climate what it was like outside the school but what was it like inside the school?
A: Okay, the school was a very old building it was a 1937 building built WPA. It was had been a high school and we were using it as a middle school. Our class size was fairly small. The unique thing about the classes in the neat thing about the school and the school is while it was a public school, one out of ten youngsters in that school was a tuition student. The lived in surrounding counties and they came to our school and paid tuition to be there. So, kind of had the flavor of a private school with inside a public school. The faculty was as close as any faculty Ive ever been among. The people really did work hard. They were objective people. I was talking with someone the other day and we were talking about desegregating data, which is a big thing, which is coming back now. We have to desegregate all of the SOL data. We were doing that thirty years ago. We also had the short test of educational ability. That was one of the SRA tests. It was a little ability test that was given when you were given the achievement test. And we kind of had an unwritten standing rule in the middle school that while our mean ability level would be 35 to 38 never more than 40th percentile. We expected our students to achieve at the 50th percentile or better on each of the sub-tests and anytime they didnt we started desegregating the data to find out why we werent at the 50th percentile and what we could do get back to it. Um, another interesting factor about the school was I started teaching the second year that the school was integrated, I wasnt there the first year, I was there the second year. And the youngsters, the African-American youngsters, then they were considered black youngsters um were extremely helpful to me in learning to deal with different cultures and learning to deal with people who didnt always see things they way that I just assumed things were supposed to be. I had been to a supposedly integrated high school. There were eight black youngsters who came to my high school my senior year. We were not an integrated high school by any stretch of the imagination. Graduated from high school and went to Tech and Tech at that time was not the cosmopolitan makeup that they have now. They just didnt have that flavor. So, I really was at a disadvantage but the students that I had kind of took me under their wing and helped me learn. So, probably the first couple of years I learned a whole lot more from my students than the little bit of math they learned from me. And I will always be grateful to them. I think they made me a much better person.
Q: If you would. If you could tell me what kinds of things teachers expect principals to be able to do? What kinds of things teachers expected you to do when you took your position and some of the things that you see now that you are not a principal anymore that you see teachers asking principals to be accountable for.
A: I am going to start the answer to that one some what on a negative note because it seems to me that there are some teachers, I wont say the majority, but some teachers who perceive that administration, whether it is principal or assistant principal is in the building, is assigned to the school, simply to handle that teachers discipline problems. They perceive the job to be as that of a disciplinarian. And I say I am starting negative with that because when teachers need administrative assistance with discipline problems and there are many times when they do. The teacher needs to feel that they failed with that student. They couldnt solve that problem not that it wasnt their problem to start with. So, I think a lot of teachers perceive administration to be there to serve their discipline problems and that is a bad thing to do because if a teacher had to use the administration for nearly all their quote discipline problems, then that teacher is not really and truly in charge of their classroom. And I am not saying that teachers should never be able to send a child out of the class. There are times when you have to. If the child is disrupting the class and preventing you from teaching, your primary job is to teach but there are some teachers who dont put much emphasis in that. Now, what should an administrator do? Well then again I go back to Ive always believed its an old school but something that is starting to resurface again and that is the principal is the instructional leader. I think the teachers have a right to expect the principal to to know the curriculum and that doesnt mean that the principal is as good a Spanish teacher as is the person who is certified in Spanish and been teaching Spanish for twenty-five years. But, the principal needs to know something about teaching foreign language, something about teaching industrial arts, something about teaching English, and math, and science, and social studies so they can serve as a resource. The other thing is that principals dont have a classroom that they have to be in all day long. They are in and out of classrooms so they should be a facilitator to take good practices, good ideas from teacher A and get them over to teacher B and I think that is something that teachers expect and I think it is something students and parents have a right to expect. The principal is in charge of the curriculum in the school and is trying to make sure that the best practices are shared among the faculty. The other thing a principal has to do is to serve as the visionary for a school. The principals that I see, that Ive dealt with, who were less than successful have one of two problems. The first problem that Ive seen principals not be able to do a good job is a lack of vision. If they dont have a vision of where they want that school to be in six months, in a year, in five years, then it goes back to what I was saying about an objective for a teacher teaching the students. If you dont have a vision of where you want to be you cannot possibly know how you are getting there or if make it or you dont make it. The other problem that principals creates a deal of trouble for principals, and again I believe it is something teachers have a right to expect, is that principals need to be good communicators. If they cant communicate with various factions in the faculty. And sorry about that but I didnt see a faculty yet that didnt have some divisiveness didnt have some factions in it. Doesnt mean they are at each others throat. They just they are different groups within any faculty whether it is an elementary school, middle school, or high school and the principal needs to be able to interact with all of those people. The principal needs to be able to answer a question or at least find the answer if they dont know. They need to be honest. They need to be sometimes forceful. If you are in the middle of a fire in the building, you really dont want the principal to be the kind of person who is going to call a committee together to figure out whether we evacuate the building. But you also dont want the principal to be a dictator and decide that we are going to move the starting time of second period by ten minutes simply because I want to with no discussion. Or decide in an elementary school this is the reading program we are going to do and everyone will fall into place and do this reading program. Those things dont work. So, teachers need a principal who is a manager. Someone who can keep the building organized, keep the schedules, keep the students in the right places at the right time, but they also need a principal who is an instructional leader who knows about instruction. Who knows what should be going on in a library media center. Who has some knowledge of technology who can come in and assist. So, the job of a principal today is the job of being almost all things to all people. The other piece that is extremely important is that teachers have to know that if they are close to being right that a principal is going to support them with parents because in todays world we are seeing more and more parents who attack everything that goes on in a school. No matter what the school does, it is wrong. Teachers need to feel that the principal is going to be behind them as I said unless they are absolutely, totally wrong. If a teacher slaps a child I dont think the teacher has a right to expect the principal to back them but they do have the right to expect the principals to back them as long as long as they are in good faith effort, making good faith effort and doing what they feel is best for the instructional program.
Q: Okay, thank you. When you spoke about how you dealt with personnel management and your effectiveness as a manager, could you give me a little bit of information about. Um, it has been said that good personnel managers encourage subordinates and peers by staging celebrations on their successes. Could you give me a little bit of information about how you do those things as a principal?
A: I will tell you that if you list one of my weaknesses I think that is clearly my major weakness. Um, part of the problem there is a started with a superintendent who truly felt that everyone was expected to do an excellent job so why did you make such a big deal about them doing such an excellent job. And I know that is wrong but that was kind of my beginning, that was my foundation so. Usually what I do is I try to find because it is a weakness of mine. I try to find someone else on the staff or on the faculty who can assist with that. My best example of that would have been the first assistant principal that I had. I actually called her my cheerful cherub because she was so good with that and we did celebrate. We made sure that we were aware of when people were successful and we made sure we got newsletters out. We did all those things to publicize the pieces. As I said I think it is one of my weaknesses so what I usually do is find a person that it comes natural to them and get them to assist with that. But you have to do some of that yourself. For example, in a faculty meeting there is nothing wrong with pointing out two or three exciting things that you saw happening in classes over the last week or two weeks or how ever long the time is between your normal faculty meetings and just say I was in someone class the other day and tell the faculty what you saw that was exciting going on. Particularly, if that is a teacher who may be, shall we say not teacher of the year material because then they are receiving the recognition not so much from the principal but from their peers and it can be highly motivating. You must be very careful with this recognition and with this celebrating, this part of the culture, but it has to appear that it is real. It cant be something thats made up. If you decide to have an employee of the month, as some schools do, it has to be a real reason why you are choosing the person as an employee not that its just their turn to be employee of the month. So it has to be true. It has to heart felt but it is very important. It doesnt necessarily have to be a big celebration with a party and a banquet it can be as simple as I said as recognizing whats happening in the faculty meeting. Or if you are the principal of a school and you have some great things happening. If your teachers are being published in periodicals. If you have a teacher who has come up with a great solution. Teacher who has developed a whole new way of approaching something, if the systems is not to big make sure your superintendent knows about it to. That sometimes doesnt work if you have 135 schools in your school system, but there is someone above the principal who needs to know about those instructional things that are happening or the good things that are happening in peoples lives. My current school system is not really that large. It 4,250 students but there are still some things going on and principals dont let us know and there are some exciting things going on and we find out about it sometimes through a parent or we read the article in the periodical or we hear about it from some other organization and so principals really do need to let the super ordinates know these things. Because it can be kind of exciting to a young teacher in particular for a superintendent to stop in the classroom and say hey I heard you were doing such and such the other day and that is really a neat idea. A few of those things happening could help some young people get through those first three, four, five years. We know that about 25 percent of the people who enter the profession dont make it through the first five years. So, as I intended not to but some of those things that were happening to me probably motivated me to stay in education.
Q: Thank you. The next question follows up with that. Some principals believe that teachers or their staff in general are well-motivated and reliable self-starters, others believe they must closely monitor the activities of their employees. What approaches did you customarily use during your administrative career?
A: That is one of those questions that the answer is yes. Um, both groups are right. Both groups are right. It depends upon the faculty. It depends upon the organization. How long the people have been teaching. How successful theyve been. There are lots of teachers that have one year of experience twenty times, they are pretty immature. So if the faculty or any group that you are leading is immature and by that I dont necessarily mean young in age. I mean they are immature in their skills. They are immature in their attitudes. They are immature in their approach to what they are doing then the principal is going to have to provide lots of hands on. As the group matures and sometimes it is already mature the principal can go into the school that is already very mature. And I am using the term immature and mature again not to mean age but their approach to problem solving, their approach to working together, their approach to knowing how to teach, knowing how to deal with students. But, as the group matures or the level of maturity increases than the principal must back off, not try to control, not try to manipulate and allow the group to function. Constantly monitoring, constantly making sure that the faculty stays on track, remains with in the law. The principal is required to see that the school is complying with the law. If you have a faculty thats thats thinks it very much knows how to teach and is doing a great job but all of the sudden decides that all special education students will be excluded from the regular classrooms well the principal has to step back in because the group is not having that maturity on that piece. They dont understand students. They dont understand the law and so the principal would have to step back in and make sure that he or she enforce least restrictive environment. But, it is a progression. It is a fine line that you have to walk. While it sounds simple to say the group has maturity or doesnt have maturity that really is a great over simplification. What you have in a school are some faculty members who need supervision and closer division and monitoring and you need to be in their classroom very often and you need to pick up their lesson plans and study their lesson plans. I have even seen the situation where you need to check their grades books and make sure they were recording things in the grade book and not waiting to the end of the six weeks and say okay well this is the childs grade. Where is the documentation? Whats the evaluation? So, it isnt one way or the other in any school. If you have a school that totally have a faculty who was dedicated to the children, well trained, truly knew how to write objectives, and meet those objectives then the principal would have a pretty easy time. But you are constantly turning over people. You are constantly people retiring, people move, and you have new people coming into that culture and so you have to monitor. You also have to be careful that teachers dont become complacent or that you dont become complacent. You cant assume that just because Mrs. Smith was a good teacher five years ago that Mrs. Smith is still a good teacher. Things may have changed so you have to, you have to be involved but how directive you become depends upon again are the teachers and students reaching those goals that have been set. I started to say that they have set for themselves but I am afraid in Virginia right now that most of the goals are being set for us by the state department of education and the state board of education. So, that is just the way the world is and so if you have a teacher who was a great teacher under the former system of where we had standards of learning but we didnt assess them and that teacher was doing a great job but all of the sudden that teacher is not covering the standards and their students are doing poorly on the SOL assessment then the principal has to get back involved, more involved, and help that teacher refocus on the new style, the new requirements that we have in the commonwealth.
Q: Okay, if you could try to describe what your typical workday was as a principal. How did you spend your time? What was the normal amount of hours, daily hours and weekly hours?
A: First problem with that question is that principals dont have a typical day. There is no such thing as a typical day. But well try to do one. Usually the first thing that I did each morning when I went into the building was to check with the custodians to make sure everything was working. We had a very old heating system. We didnt have a cooling system so I didnt have to worry about that. The cooling system was to open the windows. But to make sure that the heating system was on that they were able to get everything ready for the morning. Tried to spend early morning, I think the term now is management by wandering around. I think business actually has that term. Making sure that you are conversing with people. Greeting students. Greeting parents. Greetings teachers. Just having a feel for what was going on in the morning. Then try to do some observations in the class rather they were formal observations or evaluations. That was always a difficult thing was to keep all of those scheduled and to meet those schedules. Try to be available for teachers. I will tell you that something I did as an assistant principal, when I went back to being an assistant principal, was at least once a month I would take a day and I would call it my planning period day. It might not be a whole day one day of the week. It might stretch out three or four days, but I would actually go to a classroom for those secondary teachers who had their planning periods and Id be in a classroom and any teacher who had a planning period at that time could come in and sit down and either individually or in a group depending on who showed up could discuss questions, concerns, complaints. Sometimes they got to be gripe sessions but must of the time they didnt. The teacher would start off with well why cant we do such and such or we doesnt such and such change? And sometimes it was well Im not sure why we cant lets find out. And sometimes it was is that whats really happening? Didnt realize that. More often it was well here are the reasons that the state has put in the standards of learning. Here is the reason that the central office has done these things. And while the teacher may not be happy they at least have some feel for it. So communication with staff is an important piece. And I always liked that informal communication of being able to just sit and listen. I would walk in with a blank legal pad and the teachers would basically control the meeting. So um, I recommend that to anyone that somebody of the administrative team do that. After um the morning starts, you usually had some incident on the bus that you had to deal with. And if you are principal or assistant principal, someone has to deal with that. Something is going to come in the bus. Some parent is going to come in with a complaint or special request. We sometimes think they are asking for preferential treatment but the are going to make that request and you would deal with that. You would deal with the discipline referrals that you had. I really never liked to let discipline referrals pile up because if you wait very long than what ever action you take, not that you have a whole lot of things to choose from, that action has very little meaning for the child. And so I like to keep those cleared off and deal with them. Seldom, seldom try to do any paperwork while children were in the school, other than the discipline forms. I just did not try to do paperwork while the students were there. Most of the paperwork was done in the afternoon or in the evening when they left. As a principal, I normally found it necessary to spend no less than ten hours a day in the building and that never bothered me because teachers were taking a lot of things home, working on them at home and I did that when I was a teacher. I just kind of changed my place of working. So would probably average a ten-hour day. Now it is closer to twelve but that is what it takes to get all the things done. I felt it important to try and have an open door to try and let teachers come to see me whenever they needed to. That gets to be very difficult. You have a meeting with a parent. You have a meeting with a group of children. The teacher wants to see you well thats just impossible. You cant throw the parent out. So spent my days doing those things. The paperwork would include studying test scores, studying new ways of trying to approach the instruction. I always felt it was important to me to keep up with new instructional techniques across the curriculum. It was pretty easy for me to do with math. I mean that was my thing. I could keep up with those, but in trying to keep abreast of English or foreign language or some of those. I had to work at that.
Q: Thank you. Um if you would describe some of the pressures that you faced daily. On a daily basis and explain how you coped with them. Talk about some of the biggest headaches and concerns that you had on the job. Some of the toughest decisions that you had make as a principal.
A: To start with the end of that, the toughest decision I think that any principal has to make is a toss up between expulsion of a student and dismissal of a faculty member. Both of those are very difficult to do and if you take any pleasure in those please get the heck out of the profession. You dont belong in the profession. The pressures are never ending because it seems like everyone in the building, outside the building, whether it is central office, parents, or community leaders. All of them have a set of expectations for the principal and to them they are very valid expectations. People expect the principal to be a great public speaker and to be available to come and speak at various public events. People expect the principal to be in the classroom observing the teachers and working with the teachers, but also to be in his or her office at the same and be available so that they can answer a question or deal with a situation. So there are about four or five jobs in all of them can be full time and the person or persons who are quote evaluating the principal. I dont mean doing a formal evaluation but they do evaluate the principal from the students to the teachers, to the business leaders to the board members, to the superintendent, etc. Each of these people really has a different set of expectations. So trying to deal with all of those and making sure that you have decided what is important and you focus on those things. As I said one of the things for me was trying not to let discipline referrals pile up on my desk. I do something with them some how and that was important to me. It was important enough to do other kinds of paper work in the afternoon or evening, so that that wouldnt happen. It was also important to me to try keep appointments. The evaluation system that was in use when I was a principal was you had walk through evaluations but there was at least two or three that were I always called the dog and pony show. That you had scheduled those with a teacher. Well that is important to keep those and so you had to keep the priorities straight. You could really upset a parent. If the parent comes in and they really want to see someone and youre not available because you are in a classroom. Probably the most difficult, the most stressful piece of the principalship was not in Virginia but in South Carolina when I was there. It was the situation where I felt anyway that I had no support from the central office. Case in point had a young lady who had been placed in our school by social services and she was placed there without information being shared. The child had a long history of violence, we later found out, but one day she came to school and brought a butcher knife. She took this butcher knife out and chased another student around the classroom. We finally isolated her and got the butcher knife away from her and I called the sheriffs department and turned her over to the sheriffs department. A few hours later I was notified by the superintendent that I had made a bad decision. That I should have taken this child home to her grandmother. I should have transported her in my personal vehicle and taken her home to her grandmother that I should not have involved the sheriffs department for this. That was one of those situations where I still say I made the right decision, but I was getting pressure on the other side. We had another situation in that building where someone leaked information, planted information, that there was a riot going on in the school and we had parents showing up to get their students. Even parents who work in the central office were coming to get the children. We had several of the folks from the central office in the building assisting us with this. It was probably the quietest day we had in the whole building. This was a middle school with 1200 children. Probably one of the quietest days we had ever had except for the parents coming in. And when the whole thing settled, I held a meeting with the parents the next week in the gym. Had about 800 people there and the people would ask questions about well how many guns were found. I would answer the question, there were no guns found. We searched the entire building. The sheriffs department was here they searched the entire building. There were no weapons found in any shape or form. And then somebody else would come back and say well I know there were weapons because so and so told so and so who told so and so that they had seen them. And the response to that was we searched everything that we could. We could get no where and all during this the 800 parents asked me, 800 citizens asking the questions and many of the inflammatory. The superintendent sat in the bleachers. I could see him peripherally. Sat in the bleachers and never once said anything to support the school. So you get those situations. Um, I will tell you that anyone who aspires to be a principal needs to decide before they take that first job how they are going to deal with being fired. It used to be we said that to the superintendent. We now, I now say that for high school principals but it is coming down to middle school and elementary principals also. You just have to be ready to be fired if you are convinced that you are right and the wrong political group decides that you are not right. You must stand up for what is best for your children and it could cost you your job.
A: Depressing answer wasnt it?
Q: No it was a very good question. It was the question I was getting ready to ask you actually. If someone were considering an administrative job, what would you tell them? What advice would you give them?
A: Figure out where you want to go. What is your vision? Are you willing to pay the price? Including if necessary being fired for what you are convinced is right. Now I am not saying you get fired because you want to spank children. Thats illegal! Thats dumb! But, if you are convinced that you must have standards and you must help every youngster reach those standards and that you must treat youngsters fairly and that you are not going to give preferential treatment to the child of the mayor of the town or the chairman of the board of supervisors. Then you have to be willing to go the route on that. Um, the other piece is find someway, we were talking earlier about stress, find someway to deal with stress. Whether it is running. Whether it is a support group. I dont mean a psychologist, psychiatrist and that group. But a group of administrators that can help you or teachers or community people, church what ever. But find ways to deal with the stress because if you dont the stress will eat you alive. The jobs are very difficult today. They are. We are finding fewer and fewer people wanting to move into them simply because the stress level we used to have on the superintendent is now the stress level we have on the principals, particularly high school principals. And of course the stress levels on the superintendents has gotten so severe that the average stay for the superintendents position now is about two years eight months. They are not staying in positions very long. The average length of the career of superintendents is less than seven years. Its like 6.2 or something like that. We are seeing it there but we are also seeing it in principals. Be ready to deal with people who disagree with you. Be ready to deal with people who insist on being disagreeable. There are some people who I am not sure what they want other than to be disagreeable. I have actually gotten to the point that I have on occasion over the past few months asked some people well what is it that you want? And it is a pretty disarming question. The other piece for future administrators is be committed to diversify. If youre an elementary principal and you have taught elementary school, you have a pretty could feel for the various curricular areas. You have to spend some time finding out how music teachers and art teachers in elementary schools think and behave but if you move into a middle school you have to spend a whole lot more time in a lot of different areas and in the high school it is just imperative that you develop a feel for all the various curricular areas and the people who teach them. Be prepared for pre-Madonnas. The only thing I can say about pre-Madonnas is that if they are getting the job done is encourage them, keep them going and put up with some of their idiosyncrasies cause they are very valuable because but most pre-Madonnas will try the patience of most principals.
Q: Thank you. Just going back to some of the things you were saying about someone considering an administrative position. If you would describe some of the aspects of your professional training that best help you for your administrative position. And also on the other side some of the experiences that were least helpful.
A: Well, I realize you are doing this for a class but some of the ones that have been the least helpful have been some of the classes and there have been some classes that have been very very helpful. But I believe the best experience to train to be an administrator was the assistant principalship and I had a very great fortune to work with a very, very knowledgeable principal. He wasnt perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I think a lot of my dedication to knowing the various curricular areas, my dedication to the standards, my dedication to all students can learn, a lot of that came form my first principal, whos name truly was Bill Smith. I am not making, not giving a ficticous name. His name was Bill Smith and Mr. Smith took that school through the time of the integration and never let us lose sight of it was important for children to learn. It was important for children to feel good about being there but the reason we were there was for children to learn. So those experiences were very helpful. Um, I think some of my experiences in South Carolina in dealing with the adversity, in dealing with the community that was very split, while very painful at times were good training. There is an old adage "That anything that doesnt kill you will make you stronger" and I think that is very true for administrators. So people need to understand that there are going to be some tough times. You have to work through them. You have to be willing to ask for help and hopefully you will receive it. Sometimes you dont. But those are the pieces that really train. I go back to teaching. Most people who stay in the profession very long say they learned to teach in somewhere in their second, third, or fourth year of teaching. They took the experience. I am not sure it is anything you can be trained for. I think it is something you have to have a lot of background knowledge. You have to have things you can fall back on but you learn by doing and each time you take a new administrative position at a different level you learn by doing. The same thing in my particular job, I knew a little bit about school finance before I took my current position but I learned a whole lot real fast and maybe that is the most important piece is be willing to learn. Be willing to ask questions. Be willing to find out. Be a problem solver.
Q: Okay. Thank you. Um, going back to that you were saying some of your best experience as far as the things that taught you the most for being an assistant principal. In your view what should be the role of the assistant principal?
A: The role of the assistant principal should be to be the assistant principal. And that means and I have had this as an assistant principal and I did this as a principal with assistant principals. The assistant principal is not to be a disciplinarian who does nothing but discipline. They must be involved in all aspects of the school. They need to be involved and learn how to do the scheduling. They need to learn how to do the organization. They need to be involved in the hiring and firing. They need to be involved in discipline of course but I dont think the principal should be excluded from dealing with student discipline and have a hammer of an assistant principal who does nothing but that. Fortunately my principal involved me in everything, as does my superintendent now. There is almost nothing that she and I dont do as a team and I think for that reason I feel that I have a far better feel for the superintendency than I could of ever had if I had done only the finance or the technology pieces that are in my title. So it isnt just principal, assistant principal, I think it is any super ordinate dealing with a subordinate. You must involve the people. You must have them learn all aspects of the job. I liken it to the military situation, if you have a naval vessel and you have a captain and in most cases if it is of any size you have an executive officer. It is the captains duty to train the executive officer, so if the captain is taken out in combat the executive officer can continue the operation and can continue to run the ship. I think the assistant principal is the executive in the school and as quickly as possible needs to be trained to be a principal. I have a real reservation and there are a lot of these people around about people who are permanent assistant principals. Thats their goal, thats what they aspire to. Thats okay I guess we need them, but they are not fulfilling the obligation. The assistant principal needs to be ready as soon as possible to move into a principalship and principals should relish the fact that their assistant principals are hired as principals as somewhere else. Thats just saying they are doing good training. Parallel situation, I have an assistant. Parallel situation to that assistant principal, I have an assistant now who started in our office really in a clerical position and Ive been training to take over and be a fiscal officer and she interviewed last week in a neighboring school system and I talked to that superintendent on Friday and she did very well in the interview. She doesnt know it yet but the position is going to go to someone else but the person who is going to get the job is a fiscal officer currently and is a CPA. But this young lady was competitive with CPAs who have experiences as fiscal officer. I feel good about that. I certainly dont want to lose her but it is my job. I am. You must never give up the fact that we are teachers and if we are an administrator we are trying to help our teachers teach children but we are also trying to teach our teachers and to help them to move into positions and help them improve their own future. So when you have an assistant principal it is imperative I think that they be trained to move up if they can. Some situations where they just dont have the skills and you have to be willing to let them know that and that can be a very tough decision.
Q: Um, to follow up with that which we were just discussing if you would just describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy about evaluation.
A: My approach to teacher evaluation is as a teacher lets back up to that as a teacher I finally worked out an agreement with my principal and assistant principal that the dog and pony show that I mentioned earlier would be done away with and whenever they had time, had the opportunity they could come to my classroom and do a formal observation. And I felt strongly that was the way to do it because I did not want to prepare for them. I wanted to prepare for my children. So what they finally agreed to do was they would just come to my class cause I didnt want to prepare for them I wanted to prepare for my students. Another interesting piece on that I mentioned earlier about I believe in being flexible with people was when I started teaching being somewhat of a smart aleck. I always planned. I planned in great detail but I didnt write the plans down in any particular format or anything else. And the principal and I had an agreement. That if ever at such time he could ask me anywhere what I was doing the next three or four or five days in my class and I couldnt tell him then I would start writing down plans and turning them into him. And I really never started writing plans until probably my third of fourth year of teaching when I started spending all of my planning period time as an administrative intern. And so I was so I had all of my periods during the day encumbered and I finally got to the point where I was teaching out of six different text books, six different levels of math and at that point I decided I had to write them down because I was getting myself confused. But again thats the flexibility. Now back to teacher evaluation. I am very very concerned with teacher evaluation that its perceived as a one-time event both by teachers and by supervisors who are doing the evaluation. Evaluation must must be an ongoing process. Its also perceived by a lot of people as to be its primary function to be employment decisions, i.e. do we keep Mrs. Smith for another year or do we not keep Mrs. Smith for another year. An evaluation has to be used for that but that should be a very secondary piece of a secondary function. Evaluation should be ongoing. It should be interactive. I believe firmly in self-evaluation. I think every employee should do a self-evaluation. It can be a part of the evaluation process. And I think that it needs to be continuous. Which means that if the evaluation program says I am going to visit your classroom x number of times and they all have to be announced. While I will do all of those and they will be announced, but then I want to in and out of your classroom. A lot of evaluation, some of the best help you can give teachers is when you are walking through and you give them a quick note back. The problem personally that I find with evaluation is that I cannot take an evaluation form, if its a check list, and go through and just check things off. It it just bothers me. What I did when I was evaluating teachers was I actually first started scripting them using a legal pad ala Madeline Hunter. Id script everything they did, then I actually went to scripting the class using a laptop computer. So I sat in class and I actually tried to write down or type everything the teacher said and the students said and all the interactions and those pieces and then before I would do any kind of evaluation form I would take that and sit down with the teacher and wed go back through it. And it is amazing how many times a teacher would say, "Oh you know I should have done such and such here that would have been so much better" that was a successful evaluation observation evaluation process right there. The teacher figured out something he or she needed to do without me saying anything. So I do like the idea of scripting and being able to share it with the teacher. The obvious problem with that is time. If I go sit down in the classroom, observe the teacher for forty-five minutes to ninety minutes if it is a block type program, and then I go do some kind of checklist, thats pretty quick but it is also pretty useless. I think the teacher needs a narrative. They need a chance to interact with the evaluator and to look for ways for improvement. If all you are looking for is a way to quote get somebody you really dont need a checklist for that. You just document what is going on. So evaluation needs to be continuous. It needs to be have self-evaluation. It needs to be interactive. And it needs to truly provide positive feedback to the teacher on the things they are doing well and suggestions for those things that I might perceive they arent doing well. And again the ultimate task is, the ultimate evaluation is are the students doing well? And if they are just because I dont think you should read from a textbook is a valid concern if the students are learning. I dont know how they are learning in that situation. One of my pet peeves teachers having students going around the room reading from a textbook. Just really bothers me. I just dont think it is a really good instructional practice. Maybe a better one is. Maybe you are that rare teacher, who can teach seated. I have a personal hang up on that. I think teachers need to be walking around the room not be seated behind the desk when they are teaching but if you can pull it off and your students are learning then I would have to put my prejudices aside and accept what you are doing.
Q: Okay, thank you. Earlier you mentioned one of your toughest decisions was a teacher dismissal having to dismiss a teacher. Um, can you just talk just a little about teacher dismissal and your involvement in one of those?
A: Okay. Um, probably expand it a little bit because I have done both a teacher dismissal and an assistant principal dismissal. And the assistant principal dismissal, you can surmise, was very difficult for me because what I said before, my job is to train the assistant principal to be ready to be a principal. Well if I cant even train them to be an assistant principal then that really does come across that I failed as well as the other person failed. Dismissal is difficult emotionally. Its difficult legally. And its difficult work. You have to document why you are doing it and what you are doing. If its insubordination that one gets to be a little easier. Thats kind of heat of the moment when its insubordination. Now obviously you dont do it when you are angry but. If its insubordination thats pretty clean and you dont have to worry too much with that. If its immorality thats ones pretty easy and I have dealt with that one to. That ones pretty easy. Its the incompetence area thats tough. The insubordination one can be interesting. I had one that the teacher was very competent. They were just insubordinate. They were the first incident was they left the building on a workday and went to play golf and didnt see that that was a problem. Which may not have been a problem except that the work he was supposed to do wasnt done and they were holding up the whole process. It was a grade reporting day and their grades werent recorded correctly so that they could be entered into the computer so that we could get the report cards out. We called for the person went looking for the person. They werent there they were playing golf. Subsequent to that the same individual was making a yardage marker, yardage booklet for a golf course that was going to have a tournament and this individual was doing that on school time, using school children to assemble it. And so that one got to be pretty clear cut to me but to the school board in that particular system it wasnt clear-cut. And ah that was the case that my recommendation to the superintendent for dismissal was backed by the superintendent and the school board reinstated the person and transferred him to another school. So I have had some successful ones and I have had some unsuccessful ones. It is always difficult um usually before we get to the point of dismissal I would rather meet with the teacher, point out why that I dont think they are going to be able to do this job and they will ah seek employment elsewhere. We call that counseling to seek employment elsewhere. On occasion though you will have someone whos been around a long time and thinks they are doing a good job and you have to work with them. You give them plans ,action plans, and corrective plans and if they dont do it then you have to bite the bullet and take the recommendation. You do have to, as I have learned the hard way, you do have to realize it is a recommendation as a principal that you are making to the superintendent, the superintendent is going to make to the school board, and they may or may not support your recommendation. One of the ah one of the toughest ones was I had a teacher who was not very good and I had worked with him all year and I told him that he was not going to be coming back and he ah that one didnt get supported either so I had him back the second year. The second year I evaluated him again. I went through all the action plans. I did all the things and this time the decision was supported but the school board actually take action before the cut off date so I had the gentlemen back the third time. Now I tried to fire him twice and he is still back in my building. Um, I will say that he left mid-year. Of course it was going to stick the third time. They were not going to let him get a continuing contract. So it has been real interesting. Documentation, how you deal with things. The first year, the real reason was insubordination. He was told to do something and he refused to do it and he had been he was a mediocre teacher and he went down from there. The second year it was clearly on performance. He wasnt doing what he was supposed to do and as I said that one was supported and backed but the board didnt do it in time. And I actually met with the superintendent on that one and he asked me what did we do with the gentleman for the third year. Well I said if you put him into another school he is going to back into continuing contract status because someone is not going to move against him the first year and so he was put back in my school and left mid-year. And the amazing thing was he left and we were still friends. There have been some that we werent friends. Um, sometimes we let people resign that we probably should terminate. One particular case had a teacher who had been counseled to abstain from quote being to friendly with a particular student and she didnt do that. As a matter of fact she was caught in some compromising positions with the young man. She was actually have sex, sexual relations with the young man and the principal in the building. At that time, I was the assistant principal, the principal of the building decided it was better to let her resign on the spot then it was to terminate her. It turned out his decision was okay because she never went back into teaching at all. But I think she should have been terminated and the school board should have gone after her teaching license and had it revoked. They didnt and it turned out okay because she didnt go back in the classroom. But we do have an obligation to make sure that people who dont belong in schools arent there. With the current laws we have to terminate some people because of criminal background checks. We hire them they are in place and were running the criminal background check and it comes back and that one really gets to be pretty clean because you havent become quote bonded with that teacher or with that custodian or with that cafeteria worker or anybody else. They have only been there a couple of months. It usually takes about two months to get them back. So I have dismissed teachers for insubordination. I have dismissed teachers for immorality. And I have dismissed teachers for incompetence. I will tell you the incompetence one is the most difficult. It is the most difficult to make stick and you can document document document. My suggestion to any administrator beginning or been in the position along time as soon as you make the decision, soon as you decide that the person probably isnt going to make it as a teacher you need to be in touch with your super ordinate who will probably put you in direct contact with either the school attorney or the attorney thats on retainer and have them involved from that point. Because you can write a letter of reprimand or write a letter of telling someone how to fix something and you can get yourself in trouble in the way that you write that particular letter. So thats where the attorneys earn their money.
Q: Despite all of my best efforts to comprehensive in all these questions, there is probably something I accidentally left out. What havent I asked you that I should have?
A: What are the joys? What are the rewards of an administrative career in education? Obviously you make a little more money than a teacher does but you still arent going to get rich. I think being a principal of a school is rewarding in that you see the youngsters progress, celebrate their joys. You also share in their tragedies. I think one of the toughest things I ever had to do was to attend a seventh graders funeral who had committed suicide. He was a student of mine. So thats maybe not a reward but you become a part of the peoples lives. You become a part of the peoples lives with the teachers when you become a principal. Theres also uh I guess I will get philosophical. I liken it to being called to the ministry and you need to feel that you are called and that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. The rewards are great. The trials and tribulations may be greater. But the people who successfully administer a school or a school district I think there is a sense of Ive done something to make the world a little bit better place. And most of us start our teaching careers thinking we are going to save the world and we soon realize thats not going to happen but I think as an administrator you truly can save a few children. And sometimes you can save a few adults. There are some people who get into the profession who dont need to be there. You can help them discover that and do some other things. There are also some people that are great great teachers and dont realize that and they are. One of my earlier experiences was with a young lady who was with a math teacher and for the first six weeks of school she cried everyday. We finally met with her and we said this has got to stop. Either decide that you are going to do this and that you are going to be a good teacher cause you have all the skills, you have all the knowledge and you are going to handle the situation or go do something else. Well she decided she was going to be a teacher and she became a very very good teacher. And so you have those rewards. Your rewards will be personal. Um, the respect as a school principal that even I had twenty years ago, I dont think is there anymore. I think you have more people who will call you names and do those things, than I had twenty years ago but there is a lot of respect for the principal. And for a principal whose trying to do a good job. The rewards as I said arent monetary but the rewards are great. And the other piece is it is a very important job. Someone needs to do it and we are finding a shortage today of competent people who know education, know instruction, but can also deal with all the other management issues in a school. And so if you have those skills, then you owe to the next generation to use them and help the children be the best they can be.
Q: Well, Mr. Watson I would like to thank you for taking this time speak with me and answer these questions. I know I have gone through a lot of different things but I would just like to tell you that I appreciate your time and I have learned a lot.
A: I hope it is useful and I enjoyed doing it.
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