Thoughts from a New Principal: What I Don’t Know

Usually when I sit down to write, I feel excitement run through my veins as I channel ideas into text.  This post is a little different. Although I’m excited, I feel a bit of nervous energy running through me with an inside voice chirping the words “are you sure you want to share this with the world?” You see, I’m about to become a principal for the first time. I have a myriad of thoughts: what I think I know, what I know I don’t know and of course that unknown area… wondering what I don’t know but don’t even know I don’t know!  Some may suggest the ‘fake it until you make it’ style of leadership, but that’s not quite my style. I’d prefer to be myself and put it on the table: I’m new. I’m going to make mistakes.

For the last 15 years I have worked in secondary schools but this time I get to work at an elementary school.  Besides one parent, I do not know a single student, family, teacher or support worker at the school.  To add to this, we are also in the middle of job action in BC where teachers are on strike and clerical and support staff are not crossing the picket line.  That means that on my early days at the school, I may be the only one who can enter the building as teachers look on from the perimeter of the school.  It’s a daunting thought… I kind of feel like I have something in common with a burglar… entering a place familiar to others but foreign to me.  Hopefully my smiling face, kind words and some fresh baked muffins will distinguish me from your typical intruder. (And for those of you reading this who know me personally – YES – it will be my mom who offers to bake the muffins as I still can’t cook but do still have the greatest mom in the world).

As I transition from secondary school to elementary school some things are easy to figure out. I will no longer allow kids to drive themselves to school, take Tim Hortons runs or attend dances until 11 PM on school nights. I will no longer be writing numerous reference letters for scholarships and first time jobs.  These are the obvious changes. It’s the new social norms I need to learn…like Band-Aids and icepacks… as I head to the states on vacation i think it may be a perfect opportunity to stock up on kid friendly Band-Aids with the coolest logos like Pokémon or Monster High characters. However I also have visions of every kid lining up pretending to have an injury just to get a cool Band-Aid.  Hmmmm, maybe the plain ones are better….bandaid

And there is so much more I do not yet know…I do not know names, I do not know where the staff room is, I do not know what the typical routines are ,or what makes this school unique and wonderful. I do not know the history of the school, what students and staff have been working towards, or what has already been achieved.   Ok… let’s be honest… I don’t even know where my own office is.

For these reasons, that inside voice chirps “why on earth are these people going to look up to me as a leader?”  But thankfully a louder voice chirps “because it is going to be great!”  I know that I have a lot of learning to do but I feel ready and I trust that listening is the best way to transition. Although I openly admit there is so much I do not yet know, there are some things I do know….

I do know that I’m ready to give 100%.   I’m ready to build relationships, discover strengths, celebrate successes and try new things. I’m ready to give back and find ways to connect with our community.

I do know I’m ready to learn, which means I am ready to fail and ready to succeed. I believe that how we handle failure is just as important as how we model success. When we show students it’s ok to make mistakes, we give them permission to be more creative and take risks.

I know that learning lasts a lifetime and learning is reciprocal. I learn from students and staff and as they to can learn from me. I see parents, students, staff and admin as learners first. If we recognize that we are all here to learn together we can create a collaborative community with a mindset for growth.

I know that nobody likes spending time on what they are not good at. While we all have challenges to face, it’s much more uplifting to focus on the positive, celebrate our strengths, and discover the unique talents that each of us can offer. I believe in praising publicly and discussing problems privately.

I know that all teachers became educators because we love kids, love learning and we love making a positive difference. When we keep this at the centre of decision making, we will not lose sight of what matters.

I know that elementary students have contagious energy and a natural enthusiasm for learning that we should foster and encourage. How wonderful would it be if students entered high school with as much curiosity and wonder as they bring to kindergarten? Just last spring a six year old girl named Katie ran up to me when I was helping with recess supervision and proclaimed “I want to save my money to buy you a peacock bird bath!”   In fifteen years of high school I don’t think I received such a colourful, creative gift idea. While I’m not keeping my fingers crossed this colourful garden accessory arrives any time soon, I do hope to embrace the passion, enthusiasm and creativity that kids so naturally exude.

Finally, I know that we are stronger when we work together. When we create a safe learning environment we set a foundation where we can try new things, support one another and reap the benefits of a connected learning community.

As we near September, I know that I have a lot in common with the incoming kindergarten class.  We are new, we are excited, we are nervous, we want to make new friends and we know our moms are not too far away…  (I’m hoping my mom is at least a phone call away, not at the end of the driveway…but then again, being a retired elementary principal who still loves to give back to schools, she might just be out there… you just never know)

And so, despite that chirping inside voice that says don’t share this, I know I will for a couple reasons.  First, I believe that nervous energy is one of the first signs that learning is about to occur.  I know I’m moving into new territory and that energizes me.  Second, I write this for others because I want to model what I hope our students and staff do on a regular basis:  take risks, make mistakes, be vulnerable, and know it’s ok to not know everything.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’m not going to pretend to. But together I believe we will succeed. And so, Harry Hooge Elementary, I look forward to being a part of your community.  May we take risks, make mistakes, celebrate our successes, and learn and grow together.

I can’t wait to meet you.

Now, about those Band-Aids….?????

Kristi Blakeway


14 thoughts on “Thoughts from a New Principal: What I Don’t Know

  1. Many Congratulations Kristi on your Principalship…….you will be an amazing Principal…when I look back on the short time I knew you as a parent at High School I am honoured to have known you and worked with you…..your enthusiasm, passion & devotion to your job will soon shine through and you will rock HH Elementary….so go light them up with your pokemon band-aids and I wish you every success on your journey!

  2. Good luck on your new position. Reading your post had me thinking how great it would be to have you at my daughters school. No such luck, but at least you are in our district. Definitely a great asset to our local school.

  3. You will be a terrific principal because you care and you are great at relationship building. Your positive nature is a great attribute. Personally, I’m looking forward to learning from you and working with you as an elementary administrator. Good luck, even though you won’t need it 🙂

  4. Congratulations… and welcome! I hope that the political situation is sorted out so that we can get right to the “good stuff” this Fall. Looking forward to meeting and working with you.

  5. Looking forward to meeting you at HH..welcome to a school that has become like a home to me…you will feel at home soon. Lynn Findlay

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