(Excerpt from a Farewell Speech We Heard)
Years ago, in my first assignment as an administrator, I had the opportunity to work for one year as principal of a small k-9 school with just over a hundred students. I was there on a one-year stint replacing an administrator on leave. When I sat in my new office for the first time behind the closed door, I said to myself in wonder… I’m the principal here! What am I supposed to do? I had never taken an admin course in my life. I was a teacher. And beyond that I had been a curriculum consultant in a central office role. I had had good principals and terrible principals in my years as a teacher. I knew what not to do, but not a lot about what to do.
I felt like an imposter. I know now that this situation, of not knowing what to do… was my greatest asset. It gave me in Zen terms, shoshin, the mind of a beginner.
It made me humble. And that’s the first prerequisite in working with people and being open to learn. It made me dependent. And that’s the fundamental realization about being human. We need one another. It forced me to be honest. And that’s the beginning of creating trust. And knowing nothing allowed me to be bold…because I didn’t know enough to be fearful of the consequences of my actions.
In the year I spent there, I found out that being a school principal was what I wanted to do. I found out that it was the most privileged and powerful and exciting position that anyone could have. A position that allowed you to participate in changing people’s lives. To be an architect of possibilities!
When I left the school the community organized this amazing farewell for me which ended with every student giving me a rose. Beginning with the kindergarten kids, they came marching across the stage ….one little shining or sober face after another… ninety-seven… ninety eight…In the background was the song, The Wind Beneath My Wings. Everyone was crying. Not just me. Not just the staff and the kids, but community members, grandparents who had never met me…
The tears were not because I was leaving. This wasn’t about me. This was about us. This was a celebration of who we were and what we had accomplished. In just one year we had become something new. My leaving somehow triggered a realization of what we had become in the past year. We knew that we were experiencing something remarkable. Something called Community… and communion. We were moved to tears by the recognition of that.
When the last grade-nine student crossed the stage I had over a hundred red roses in my arms. My white suit was stained from the crushed petals and my heart was indelibly marked with the wonder of that expression of love and gratitude. I never recovered.