We Got This

Posted By: Ashlynn Ramirez Leader 2 Leader Blog, Industry,

By: Ashlynn Ramirez

A Letter to Those Considering Becoming an Administrator

Dear future administrator, current instructional coach or teacher that is looking to expand your experiences and potentially make a bigger impact,

Being an administrator can be summed up as a constant bounce back from the highs and lows of the jobs. (Cue: Bounce Back by Big Sean)

On a slow day, I get to give 30 pep talks a day blending serious conversations, goal planning, alternative actions, and more. Some of those pep talks are in the courtyard and others are in a classroom and the serious ones are in my office- or an empty office, whichever is closest- typically accompanied by tissues. No matter what is on your schedule- these always take precedence. Students can’t learn if they can’t think- sometimes that means giving them a granola bar, other times it’s a quick opportunity to express themselves- those undivided 2 moments saved that kid's whole day. Know your kids.

There is a look in a student/teacher's eyes that you must be aware of, one that is hidden behind frustration, tears, or anger. See those looks, know your people, and know what they need. Believe it or not- you WILL find an inner strength when you handle things in an unconventional way and see success versus the traditional tactics that may not work for this specific student. Some adults may not like this- and that is okay, you will learn to accept that when you are doing the most important work there are bound to be critics. Shake it off. And as a mentor told me- try to stay in your lane, but know when to swerve. Also- toughen up your skin. It’s going to hurt sometimes. But if you are doing what is best for kids- it is worth it. (Insert: Taylor Swift, Shake it Off) I have learned to shake it off with a dance party, research, getting in classrooms, and but not limited to chocolate- a lot of chocolate.

I wipe tears. I happy dance over big things and small things. (This is where my once shameless elementary teacher self comes out in full force.) I high five. Celebrating is key. Sincere celebration- a test score, a win with a tough student in a classroom, an improvement, a college acceptance, an amazing lesson taught, a touchdown, a basket, a solo well sung. I side hug- even when it’s awkward. Also, if not said enough- know the names of students. It’s a true story that some kids don’t hear their name said throughout the day- be that one that does.

I wave– sometimes as I’m creeping past a Math classroom making sure that one kid isn’t trying to pull a fast one in the back of the room. I smile. (Big smiles and small ‘I-see-you-not
doing-what-you’re-supposed-to-smiles’ sometimes for some students that’s all it takes for them to talk themselves into the right choice by the time I come back around the corner.) I yell first names (and nicknames) across the campus when I see a student- normally to tell them good morning and that I will be by their class to see the cool things they are doing (make sure they make it there.) I research best practices and wonder how to implement them- obsessively. Staying current is key. I can’t stress enough how important it is to INSPECT WHAT YOU EXPECT.

I hear teachers and students- their worries, their fears, their needs- and try to do what I can with what I have to meet their needs- yes sometimes that means showing up to school on a Sunday to put furniture together because tables wouldn’t fix everything but it would fix something for a stressed teacher- I also accompany these new tables by scrubbing the goo off the tables and putting a now on them before I leave. Yes, I’m extra- but little things are so so important.) I brag. I brag all the time about teachers and students to anyone that will listen. I laugh with teachers and also sit and cry with teachers when we get to a point where there is more out of control than what we can control. (A student moving, homelessness, lack of support, the storms our kids sometimes live in, a student passing, and more.)

I brainstorm. I obsess about required mandated changes and ensure that they are done correctly and have kept students at the core. I connect. I try to connect with other leaders across the state and country to network and build my professional capacity. I also try to connect with the people I work with and for. This is VITAL. Again, I say… know your people. Know what motivates. What excites. What encourages. What validates.

I push. Sometimes gracefully other times like a bull in a china shop. I challenge. I question practices (not people.) Find a way to separate the two… question practices and policies not people- you’ll get further that way. I constantly check my ego at the door- and get to the root of the why. I ask myself, do I want to do this because it’ll make ME look good because it’s new and innovative or do I want to try this because it is truly going to transform teaching and learning. Checks and balances are important. I try to be consistent and fair- but always remember no two students need the same things. We must know the stories of each student and teacher. I try to see students for what they can be versus what they have always been labeled as. Labels and
stereotypes are the worst and as an administrator you will have to check these biases at your school. This is what I call, not the good stuff- but the very important stuff.

I seek to understand. I try really hard to connect with parents and families- they are the most powerful ally we have in this. When parents and community members see how much we love their kids- it’s hard to argue or deny that. I try to understand people and communities- through getting in the community, talking to people who have been around for years, listening to the music, and mostly just listening and observing. You can learn a ton by listening to current artists in the car when you’re by yourself- and may even earn a few bits of credibility when you can quote (find the lesson of ethics and moral truth) in Kodak Black’s song about Pride. Step out of your comfort zone. We can learn so much from others.

I stand in as a parent when a student is alone- at a game, at a parent night, or anything else- no matter what is on the agenda, or if you had dinner reservations- supporting kids when they need it most is game-changing. Sometimes parents are in a single family situation and already had to commit to another child’s event, or had to work late, or just couldn’t be there- that’s when you step in. We work together. We are a team. Together we can accomplish so much. You are here to support students. Always remember- your students have people. We love those people. We work for and with those people. Take a moment and call home for positives- take it all with a grain of salt. This can be hard at times- but hard is in our wheelhouse.

I cut and glue -extra credit art projects with students because they didn’t have electricity at their house to get it done on their own but really need the points- or maybe they just want or need the help- relish in these moments, high school kids don’t ask for help often. (Insert former shameless elementary teacher moment.) I write. I write notes to kids and teachers who need a pick me up and scurry around the school to put them on computers, doors, or desks so it’ll put a smile on their faces. Sometimes three words mean so much. ‘You. Got. This.’ I document – growth and celebrate it as we cross milestones- no milestone is too small to celebrate.

I think about things from multiple perspectives. I worry about kids. I worry about adults. I worry and wonder all night- which will make it challenging to have adult (Non-educator) friends. I stay up at night wondering if ‘that one call’ was the right call. You can sleep when you’re dead, right? (Let’s be real… even then I’m sure I’ll be worrying.)

I learn to wear certain clothing that a walk-in-talkie can hook on without it being terribly awkward. Also, by the 2nd day of owning one- you learn to embrace the discomfort of talking into a radio and looking like an off brand FBI agent. Sometimes you may even throw a few jokes or hints of sarcasm on the walkie -talkie because people need to smile every once in a while. You also learn not to be scared at 9:00 pm when you’re in your quiet office and hear a custodian yell on the radio (walkie-talkie) that you forgot was on. You must also learn to charge your new companion every single night. (Or you’ll be that one admin that has to awkwardly stand near someone who remembered to charge their companion to hear important calls- for.the.whole.day.) I have found charging it just plain easier.

I small talk. In this job, there are no strangers. You talk with everyone. I have learned to make small talk about the chicken sandwiches served at lunch. Lunch duty is actually fun- I’ve learned. This is where kids tell you about their stresses and successes. Some kids will even try to cut the line to get in your line so you can happy dance or pep talk them before they grab their chicken sandwich. This is what I call the good stuff.

I run normally to my duty spots– and around the school to answer calls and to ensure certain students are in class- but no longer in heels. I call home parents/relatives for good and bad-boy do I love the good. I mama bear for so many many- teachers and students- I check this often… asking myself, is this me being a Mama Bear for my teacher or student or is this a practice that truly needs to be questioned. Truth is, I protect. I guard and shield.

In education, there are so many uncontrollables- it is crucial to take time to try and understand what Is being asked and then somehow (even if that means more work for me) figure out a way for this to be bite sized for teachers before rolling it out. This is a work in progress- a constant balancing act.

I share– my perspective, my experience, and most of the time my lunch. I welcome. One time someone said my office was like Grand Central station- and I contemplated relocating my office- but after reflecting, I realized that I am never in my office and what a blessing it was to have visitors after hours when I am actually in my office. I’m pretty sure we break fire code each and every day with the amount of people that are there at one time. And, to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I eat. I am constantly given food from families- a donut on a Saturday and a home cooked meal sent in from a sweet Grandma, sometimes it's homemade pancakes from a teacher who worries you won’t eat–but sometimes it’s an uncrustable PB &J from the cafeteria as we are picking up trash left behind from students. (Which- did you know a PB& J has more calories than a burger from McDonalds? As I’m wiping peanut butter off my face, I’m celebrating that I actually ate today and forget that little fact. Sometimes I’m given 3 coffees a day- and I’ve learned to accept that cold coffee is just as beneficial as hot coffee (because you will set it down 20 times before sipping it, or forget it in the microwave until the next day.)

I appreciate. I appreciate the people I work for, and the people I work alongside. I show appreciation by conversations, laughter and ultimate cheesy behavior (not limited to: Facebook posts, twitter brag posts, cards/post-it’s, HUGS, sweets, coffee, and high fives, and more.) Take time to do this. Time is valuable and when people take the time to go above and beyond- they deserve to be appreciated.

I have awkward and courageous conversations. Leadership can be awkward because you have to host, facilitate, and initiate some super uncomfortable conversations. The conversations are not as hard as the awkward moment to come the next day when you see that person/party and as a leader you must be cordial, kind, and not allow an ounce of awkwardness to fill up that ‘Good morning!’ (Even if you believe that you were made a little more naturally awkward than everyone else in the world.) I also get the distinct pleasure of hearing choice words by angry parents. And sometimes as I am holding a phone 9 inches from my ear, I have to think about the warm and fuzzy amazing things about education, and reward myself with chocolate- because surviving that conversation deserved a trophy. And when you see that parent at the football game or band concert you must smile your face off and speak to them with poise and class- because that is what leaders do.

I have a ‘fridge’ that is communal to certain students and teachers- it’s amazing what hungry kids can make meals out of, but always have bread and peanut butter on demand. I also have a ‘fridge’ that I post student report cards, tests, and other bits that they’re proud of. This is also on my ‘good stuff’ list.

The truth is, I cry. I sometimes cry over things I cannot control. I cry when I see someone in pain and I can’t do anything about it. I get mad. I get angry over accepted ignorance. I get angry when I see people of any age being cruel to each other, to students, or to me. I have learned- PEOPLE REALLY DON’T ALWAYS WELCOME/LIKE CHANGE. And that is okay, find a way to get the buy in and keep plugging along. I get emotionally frustrated when people don’t give others the benefit of the doubt- we could all do so much more if this happened. (Full transparency: Sometimes this is where my Mama bear comes out.) I combat that cruelty with reflection, prayer, and an educated and poised response- and sometimes I combat that with giving myself a timeout, a sip of coffee, a few eyerolls, a pep talk from a trusted mentor and then go back at it. I also get in classrooms to sit beside kids and remember why we are in this profession. Then I celebrate. I celebrate when two sides are able to gain perspective from each other. Sadly, in education it isn’t the lawmakers, salary, and policies that make great non-conformist, innovative educators leave the profession… it is other educators.) Be aware of this- and fight for your innovative unconventional teachers- that’s where the magic lies.I also cry when I am showered with love, and somehow surprised. (One time, the basketball team surprised me with a Mother’s Day cake and gifts- saying they were thankful for their school Mom.) Brought tears to my eyes. No training prepares you for that. You will have these moments- savor them. I have a ‘Bad Day File’ that I keep moments like this in and pull out every so often when I need my bucket filled.

I LOVE. I love the teachers. The faculty. The students. Their families. No matter what is going on in the worldthese individuals make every single moment worth it. Get in the habit of knowing these individuals as more than just students or educators- know their story, know their why, and know them. KNOW YOUR PEOPLE.

Truth be told– I am normally leaving my office when the sweet custodian asks if he can set the alarm- and I end by saying, ‘just 5 more minutes.’ Sometimes after practices students will come back to my office area and do work because they want a quiet, safe, structured place to complete their work with air condition/heat and WiFi. I try to muster up whatever snacks are available. This may bother others who are trying to get their office tasks complete (emails, documentation, follow ups, etc.), it doesn’t bother me one bit- in fact I work a little more with purpose knowing these kids have a safe place to work and access to the tools to make it happen. These kids have been adopted by the other adults in my office area also and are constantly showered with love and offered leftover snacks. The. Good. Stuff.

In my 2nd Year of administration: I struggle with work-life balance. I don’t eat dinner often-and if I do, it’s leftovers at 9:00 pm. I get behind on my laundry. I fall asleep with a computer on my lap and a list of things that need to be done. The job of an administrator is far from glamorous or easy- but it is one that I believe is a calling- not for the weak but for the persistent. I absolutely love this opportunity. There is truly no better profession.

Full transparency: leadership is SUPER (crazy) hard, but the good (great) things I get to do outweigh the list of things I don’t get to do each day.

*Note- Ms. Ashlynn Ramirez is currently in her fourth year of principalship. This article was written when she was an Assistant Principal.

Twitter: @mrsramireza