The Help Desk

Every Principal should have a sign on their desk that reads, “Help Desk”. I know, some of you are probably thinking, “What? Principals can’t be their school’s "Help Desk". They’re too busy. They hire people to do those kinds of things so that they can be freed up to do the real things of leadership—the vision casting, the data crunching, and all the other duties and responsibilities that are worthy of their advanced degrees and titles.” It is true…Principals are busy, and they do indeed need to delegate duties and responsibilities if they are to survive as commander in chief of their school, but the real job of the Principal, and the ultimate assessment of their success, should always come back to how effective they are at helping those under their care find success. Allow me to explain why I feel this way.

I went into the education field because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people--to help them navigate those all-important years of their lives when they are making decisions that will literally affect their entire future. After ten years of teaching Social Studies...and loving it, I might add...I had the opportunity to transition into a Computer Applications/TV Production instructional position. The transition took place during the technology revolution of the early 2000's, so I found myself on the cutting edge of change, and I saw a great need to help other teachers get up to speed---actually, the need and the multitude of teachers kind of found me--if you help one teacher and you are nice, many more will show up the next day. One of the hidden joys of my new job that I discovered in the act of doing, was that I really enjoyed helping other teachers find success with technology--attaching files to emails, working with PowerPoint, formatting Word documents, editing videos and pictures, using Excel, using Google and YouTube for everything, and many other entry level technology skills. About this time, I received an email about an informational meeting to explore becoming a school administrator. I never thought of becoming an administrator—it wasn’t even on my radar. For whatever reason, a connection was made between the joy I found in helping teachers find success with technology, and this new idea of becoming an administrator—maybe, just maybe, I could help teachers find success in other things beyond technology. After 11 years of working as administrator, I still find my greatest joy when I look at my job, regardless of what I may be doing, as helping others find success.

The Principal of a school is the most powerful person on campus—they hold the purse and personnel strings that can make things happen on campus. It must be understood, though, that the power of the Principal isn’t to simply order others around, issue mandates and expectations, hire and fire, and to hold others accountable. There’s certainly a place for each of these tasks, but the real power of the Principal is to do whatever it takes to help those under their leadership find success. As famed Scottish freedom fighter Sir William Wallace of Braveheart told the rightful heir to the Scottish throne, Robert the Bruce, “There’s a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure they have it.” If you replace “freedom” with “success”, the full scope and power of the Principal’s purpose comes into view. Now, it is also certainly true that the Principal’s job is to help some teachers out by literally “helping them out” the door—not everyone has the necessary personality, passion and persistence that are required for becoming an effective instructor. That being said, I believe the vast majorities do indeed have the personality, passion and persistence to be great teachers if they are planted in a healthy school environment where administrators are committed to helping them find success. The help that an administrator may provide a teacher could be finding the funds for new textbooks or helpful resources. It could also involve connecting a new teacher with an experienced teacher to mentor and share resources and effective strategies. It may involve watching their classroom while they take a much-needed bio-break. It certainly would include picking up a struggling student from a classroom and counseling them through their troubles before they become bigger. Without a doubt, helping a teacher may even involve loading up their dead car battery into your car and taking it to Discount Auto to be tested, charged/replaced, and installing the battery into their car so that the teacher can drive home…doing all of this even though it means arriving home 2 hours later than you were hoping. Helping teachers is powerful, and it’s worth it, because not only is someone getting much needed help, but it will also make you feel better, and in the end, it will literally change the culture of your school.

It doesn’t stop with the Principal. This notion of the “Principal’s Desk” as the school’s “Help Desk” must be taken a step further. If the Principal and all other administrators view their jobs as helping those under their care to find success, those under their care must also see their individual desks as the “Help Desk” for those entrusted to their care in their classrooms. Every teacher ought also to have a sign on their desk indicating that they are there to help students find success. Not every student is ready for the success their teacher may have in mind, so helping them may look different from student to student. One may need help with a difficult formula in Calculus, while another may need help with some nutritional sustenance because they didn’t have breakfast. Some may need help with their negative view toward authority. Others may need help with believing education can really make a difference in their lives, or even hoping that they can learn and succeed. I don’t know what kind of help or deficiency a child may walk into a teacher’s classroom with, but I can assure you of this, the student’s greatest need is a teacher that cares about them. When a child knows that you care, and that you are there to help them, it will truly change everything. Some students may not respond right away, but give it some time—their attitudes and philosophies of life weren’t formed overnight, and they won’t be transformed in one day. This is when the necessary “persistence” of a great teacher is called into action. The help that the teacher is able to provide to a despondent, disconnected student can literally be the trump card that transforms the hand the child has been dealt by life, and in the process, can transform that child’s entire future.

In conclusion, a healthy school environment would consist of people, from top to bottom, that are committed to helping others find success. Not only does this helpful mentality make for a successful school when it comes to achievement and students moving in the direction of their dreams, but this mentality also promises to foster a happy school of high morale—one that is filled with administrators, teachers and students who look forward to coming to school each day just because they can’t wait to see what the day may hold as they work together.

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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Matthew J. Fitzpatrick, Non-Partisan, for Orange County School Board Chair


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