“But aren’t you the principal?”

It’s my first 6th grade orientation as a brand new principal, and it feels like it’s about 9000 degrees on this late August evening in the gym as I sweat through my suit. I’m approached by a mother of an incoming student who has a question. She wants to know how to find out what team her daughter is on since the new schedules we just switched to this summer don’t list team names. For a moment I freeze. I definitely do not know the answer to this question. I should know, right? I’m the principal! As I smile outwardly, inside I’m trying to come up with an answer to what is seemingly a very simple question. Except I’m brand new, and I have absolutely no idea. I decide to be honest and tell this mother that, in fact, we’re going to have to find someone together that can answer her question. She is stunned. “But aren’t you the principal?” she asks me. “Yes. I’m Tim Dawkins. Nice to meet you.” I say. “And…you don’t know the answer to this?” she responds to my introduction, a bit startled. “No, I’m new like the students,” I tell her “but I’m really good at finding out who does!” WIth that we locate, together, one of the school counselors who did know the answer, and all was right again. Everything but that nagging feeling that I SHOULD have known the answer…..

Throughout my life I have struggled to maintain a growth mindset. There. I said it. Anyone who knows me well would likely agree. I was always that kid who wanted to be able to understand something new immediately, and when I wasn’t able to, it was easier for me to throw my hands up in the air and walk away rather than practice until I got it right. Throughout childhood and well into my teen years I often heard from my parents “Stop saying ‘I can’t! You can, you just don’t want to try!” I am convinced that this is the reason why I’m so dismissive of my math skills to this day

As I’ve grown into adulthood I’ve become more rational when I’m faced with something I don’t quite understand, although not without varied amounts of pep talks from mentors and very understanding PLN members. Reminding myself that everybody has their own learning curve has been very important. Reading Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, was a huge eye opener for me, too. Of course I still get frustrated, and people have to remind me that I will get it eventually, but I have been much more willing to be open to the idea that not everything is meant to come easy. This has never been more true than during the summer of 2014.

I’ve written ad nauseum about all of the self-induced, very positive but also challenging changes in my life this summer. What I’ve discovered as I wrap up the “Summer of Upheaval” is that connecting with other professionals is a must. Of course I knew this prior to this summer, but my transition into a middle school principalship has really pushed me to find multiple ways to connect with thought-leaders, practitioners, and mentors in the field of middle level leadership. Luckily for me, there’s Voxer.

Voxer has allowed me to connect with multiple individuals within the field of middle level education, and as I’ve connected with them I’ve been able to connect them with each other. Now, I have this burgeoning group of middle level leaders from across the country that are constantly sharing new and innovative ideas, asking questions, and showing me that it’s OK for the principal to not have all the answers, all in an active and ongoing Voxer chat! Plus, actually being able to talk to one another and then listen when it’s convenient is the best of both worlds! Voxer is the technological embodiment of the Growth Mindset. It allows me to embrace the “Power of Yet”, turn to my middle level colleagues, ask how they approach something, and move forward with their help. With Voxer, I never have to feel like I am going it alone. If I can’t find the answer, I have collective knowledge than can help me over any hurdle. Plus, they make me laugh. What could be better?! Voxer has truly changed my professional life for the better, and I encourage you to explore the possibilities for yourself ASAP!


8 thoughts on ““But aren’t you the principal?”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Tim! Your experience is one that we can all relate to. I was recently asked the difference between the time when I was a principal and my leadership now as an assistant principal, and I shared that the difference was that THEN I wasn’t connected digitally like I am NOW. It has made the biggest difference for me, knowing that I can reach out to others who can guide me, answer questions, affirm me, and share advice and feedback. Voxer has been a super easy tool to connect with others. Just left you a Vox, in fact!
    Stay open to that growth mindset! 🙂

    1. Yes, Jennifer! Digital connections are essential and have made all the difference for me as I continue this journey. I still have many friends and colleagues that are afraid to explore the possibilities of building a PLN no matter how much they hear me shout about it from the symbolic mountaintop. I refuse to give up on them!

  2. And the rest of my comment begins. My finger accidentally hit submit. Oops. First a pocket voxer, now this. Anyway. I have learned that as long as I know who knows I don’t always need to know the answer. It does seem to take the pressure off a little, but sometimes it can be a little unnerving. I, like you, have begun to use Voxer and find it is wonderful. I never thought a simple walkie talkie app could do that. Okay , I’m going to push submit now.

  3. This is a terrific post Tim. I have been principal for nine years in my present school; not a day goes by when I don’t say, “I don’t know the answer to that, I know maybe I should, but I don’t.” I have to admit, it took me a long time to come to the point where I have the confidence to say this. I give you so much credit for the recognition and insight to say this within your first days in the position. Thank you so much for all the contributions you make to my learning. It’s a privilege to be a member of your PLN.

    1. Thanks Don. The feeling is mutual. I actually had one of my teachers mention an aside to me that she had read my post as she was telling a group of students that she didn’t know the answer to a particular question today. It’s a great feeling to know that my words are ringing true for people!

  4. Tim, Great Post! I am not familiar with Voxer but will be checking out the possibilities in the near future. Thanks for the post and your positive outlook on education.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Keith. Voxer really is a great tool for making immediate and quick connections with multiple people on your smartphone. There is nothing like a group chat on Voxer that really picks up steam. It’s a great way to share information.

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