For National Principals Month, guest blogger Ballenger Creek Middle School Principal Jay Schill shares reflections about his work. This is the third in a series about National Principals Month.
Before sharing my reflections about being a middle school principal, I feel compelled to offer a disclaimer: principals at every level--elementary and high school as well--are faced with unique challenges and do amazing work for our children every day. However, in my 23rd year working with Frederick County’s 6th, 7th, and 8th graders (and my fourth year as principal), I reflect on what I know best: the middle!
Do you remember middle school? Most likely when you were in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, it was called junior high. Regardless of its name at the time, it’s a safe bet that most of us would not voluntarily go through the experience again. While there may have been some good moments, it was a turbulent ride for many of us. How could it not be? Middle school is the time in young learners’ lives when they change more physically and emotionally than just about any time other than from birth to age three! Many of our middle schoolers come in to 6th grade still looking, acting, and thinking like elementary students--and just a short three years later, they look like (and are ready to be) high school students! In between their first and last middle school days are growth spurts, complexion issues, braces, impulsive decisions, boundary testing, roller coaster emotions, and ever-increasing hormones. It’s a time when many students tend to feel awkward and don’t know where or how they fit into the world, let alone with their peers.
That’s where we come in--or at least it’s one of the big reasons many of us do what we do as middle school principals. We strive to be who the children (and their parents) need us to be. Besides keeping students safe, our main function as instructional leaders of the school is to put the best possible teachers in front of our students each day. We also wear many other hats: peacemaker, psychologist, disciplinarian, detective, coach, guardian angel--in other words, we are an extension of their parents, our students’ biggest fans. We want parents to know--and we strive to ensure that middle school students know--that they’re more than okay being their authentic selves--in fact, they’re actually pretty amazing.
To many outsiders, middle schoolers might be considered too challenging, or an acquired taste at best. However, because most middle school principals have been working with students this age for a long time, we know them for who they really are: smart, caring, clever, creative, witty, hilarious young people who still have at least one foot firmly planted in childhood while simultaneously yearning to navigate the world independently. In our daily interactions with children, we look three, five, and even ten years into the future to provide what we know they need so that they can achieve their full potential. While we know that kids are capable of truly amazing accomplishments, they still need help from their parents and from us, their principals (as well as other caring adults at school). It’s our calling to provide that support.
We encourage families to partner with us as parents and children negotiate the middle school journey. Parents are the experts on their individual children, and we are the experts on middle school-aged students. Together, we create a formidable team to ensure that students have the best possible middle school experience and that they’re set up for future success. Thank you to parents for entrusting us with your middle schoolers!