Head Lice, Onesies and Basketball: My Introduction to Elementary World

Approximately a year ago I sat in a boardroom interviewing for a principal position. The interviewing panel of school trustees and district leadership team members asked a series of questions on emotional intelligence, my views on education and what others would say about my leadership style.  I felt comfortable answering the questions with lots of examples to back up my skill set.  And then came the next question “What about elementary school…. would you be open to an elementary placement?”  I answered yes.  “Can you tell us about your elementary experience?”  I knew long before the interview this question would come up and considered reading elementary IRP’s and doing some research ahead of time but I decided that wasn’t exactly authentic.  You can’t learn about a school by researching it – you have to live it.  So I decided the honest answer would be best….. “the last time I was in elementary school I was twelve – but I feel I have a number of qualities that are transferable to any school… I will probably make mistakes but that’s how we all learn.”   They either liked my answer or they were shocked with my blunt honestly – so they gave me the job.

And so, four months in as 2014 comes to a close, I reflect on some of the highlights, observations, funny mistakes and  unforgettable moments  that have helped me transition from high school to elementary:

  1. Kindergarten is a lot like grade 12.  When students run away in kindergarten we say they are bolting.  When they run away in grade 12 we say they skipping.  When they kick, hit, push or kiss each other in kindergarten we find simple ways to explain that they need to keep their body parts to themselves.  In grade twelve we do the same thing, sometimes giving them a couple days to think about it instead of a couple minutes.
  2. Halloween and Christmas are AWESOME in elementary.  There is beauty that exists in the raw excitement and joy that children share in holiday seasons.  High school has this to an extent – but not with the same magic and innocence.
  3. Elementary teachers are really really really organized.  Like to the minute organized.  And they know how to make their own lunch.  I think I almost starved the first month without a cafeteria.
  4. Little kids take things literally.  In September I had a chat with a five year old boy about pushing.  Together we talked about why his friend was sad and he drew a picture of what he could do next time.  I helped him write the words “no more pushing.”  Life was good until recess the next day when the same little boy was sent to the office for kicking.  I asked him if he remembered what we had talked about.  “Yes Ms. Blakeway. I promised no more pushing so today I had to kick him.”    The literal interpretation was also clear at our October assembly when I drew ten names from our “Sharp Knights” recognition box and asked ten students to come forward and pick a prize off the table.  The table had a variety of dollar store items to choose from.  When I arrived at the table a little boy was beaming that he had won an I-Phone.  I had to explain to him that my phone was not a prize.  He looked up in devastation and said “but you said anything on the table!”   I meant almost anything 🙂
  5. WTG! We have a great staff who are open to ideas and together we have laughed a lot this year.   We start each staff meeting reading entries in our ‘Celebration of Learning box’ where staff members take time to recognize other staff who are learning something new, taking risks or doing something exciting as part of their teaching practice.  As I read a  particular card, the compliment ended with  WTG.  As I read it out my confusion was evident.  As I looked out confused the staff shouted back WAY TO GO (WTG).  So funny – in high school I was more familiar with WTF!
  6. Bartender Sam:  My entire life my mother and I find some strange pleasure in denying the obvious: we are the same person. When my mother was an elementary principal, she had a TTOC arrive at the school.  My mom greeted her and asked who she was in for… the TTOC responded “Miscellaneous” as she had been called in to help a variety of teachers.  My mom walked her down the hall to the staff room and introduced her to the staff as “Miss. Ellaneous”  We have laughed at her for years.  Well this month, our school secretary answered the phone and told me there was a call for me from a man with some information about a new student.  I asked her for his name.  She replied “hard to understand” – to which i clearly heard “bartender Sam” and took the call.  Yup, I am my mother’s daughter.
  7. Basketball.  This may be the biggest stretch yet.  Those who know me well know that I am TERRIFIED of the ball.  I love working out, going for a run, kayaking, hiking or any other sport without a ball.  I have often joked that I would need a helmet to teach PE.  Well, here’s the think… we are short 1 basketball coach.   I would love to run a practice without the ball for my own safety, but somehow I don’t think our twelve year old athletes will be too interested in my version of yoga-basketball.  So, I will take the plunge, pray some extra help arrives soon, and get our team up and going with our teachers and some volunteers.
  8. Head Lice.  Yup – now that it has passed, I will admit it.  I got lice.  DISGUSTING.  No other way to describe it.  I can still hear my mother when i phoned her “Dear – I worked in an elementary school for 35 years and managed to avoid lice – and you get it in your first three months?”  And yet, this too was a learning experience… I know way more than I ever thought I would know about lice and have helped detect it in a few other heads since my lovely diagnosis.  Who knew lice are nocturnal… the things you learn….  (I bet your head is itchy just reading this)
  9. Spirit.  Elementary students and staff have spirit.  Enthusiasm in contagious and everyone is eager to participate.  From door decorating contests, assemblies, onesie day, gingerbread building, rock concerts and fun nights, we know how to have a good time.  And yes – I  now own a onesie.
  10. Connections. We have amazing students and staff at elementary and secondary. Although we are in different buildings, there are so many ways we can learn together.  One of the things I am enjoying most is finding ways we can connect.  So far I have had students visit the high school science lab, senior Writing 12 students and grade 1 students have shared their writing together, high school students have shared Christmas Carols in our classrooms and next month our grade 4 students will visit Thomas Haney for a field trip pairing up with the Family Studies and Foods students for a cooking and craft lesson.   In K-12, we have amazing students and staff.  We are stronger when we learn together.

I am so grateful to the Harry Hooge community for welcoming me and letting me stumble forward as I learn my way in elementary world.   I have learned so much in four months and look forward to 2015 with excitement and enthusiasm as we continue to learn and laugh together.

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8 thoughts on “Head Lice, Onesies and Basketball: My Introduction to Elementary World

  1. Hi Kristi,

    I love reading your blogs. I’m not sure if it’s because I work in an elementary school or because I knew you as a teenager, this one entry was especially good. You have real talent for writing.

    YourHarry Hoggee community is lucky to have you. Happy New year.

  2. This is great. I went from a position as a secondary vice-principal to an elementary principal – and this post rings very true. In high school you better not screw up the timetable or the graduation ceremony and in elementary school you better deliver on the Christmas Concert and Sports Day.

    I was fortunate the learn which teachers kept extra food in their filing cabinets for emergencies, because, like you, I found life without a cafeteria a HUGE adjustment.

  3. Wow! I would love to work with a principal like you! You find humour and honesty and laughter in everyday happenings. I need to move on- change is good!

  4. Thank you for your post Kristi! I may not be a principal but changing schools after returning from maternity leave had me filled with a lot of nervous energy this fall. I lucked out getting to work with you. Thank you for your support and humour. I’m looking forward to what the rest of the year brings. WTG! 🙂

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