Why are you an educator? There are likely many reasons, but one might be the never-ending adventures (challenges) and the fact that no two days at work are ever the same. Another advantage can be the opportunities to advance. One can start as an elementary teacher and end as a high school teacher or principal. Usually these are planned changes due to a desire for more income or as the result of additional education and degrees. Then there are those times when change is unexpected and not due to our own pursuit of a new opportunity. After 37 years in education (mostly at the same school), I was thrust into the role of Head of School seven months ago. I literally arrived for work on a Tuesday morning, was swept into a meeting with board members, and informed that a change was being made.
When you are on the backside of your working life, change is especially significant. I have discovered there are stages one experiences when catapulted into a new position. First, it was exciting and a bit funny. Me? In charge?! Then, it was awful. Many difficult decisions overwhelmed both my waking and sleeping time. Personnel resigned. Many who remained grieved the loss of their previous leader and struggled with anger. Phone calls and text messages at night were common, as were impromptu meetings with board members after church. The next phase was summertime. This phase surprised me too. For several weeks it was just as demanding as when school was in session until it finally tapered into summer work – catching up and planning for the new year while busily accepting new students. I tried not to mourn the loss of a teacher’s summer break or imagine my staff on beach-filled vacations. (Note: Staying off social media helps with this.)
A new school year has begun. I agreed to move into the “big office.” There are days and even weeks now when my new role seems normal; however, there is still a steady stream of things that I must do which are not remotely like anything I have ever done before: manage a big budget, attend monthly board meetings, schedule a Christian artist for a benefit concert, and sign my name to an endless stream of bills. I frequently find myself longing and praying for the wisdom of Solomon. “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (I Kings 3:9)
I do not recall a school administrator ever talking about what the job is like; I am going to reveal some truisms in the hope that it both inspires and informs. First, the Head of School must make endless decisions every day. Big and small decisions. It is mentally exhausting. You hope that when you go out in public, especially to church, no one will ask about your job, seek detailed prayer requests, or give you advice on how to improve the school. Secondly, there is a heavy weight of responsibility that never goes away. This is much different than going home with papers to grade. Thirdly, you notice and need to fix things that never drew your attention before – everything from replacement of a HVAC unit to the fact that a gate was left unlocked at the end of the day. You worry about money – all the time. Yes, you know God will provide, but for the first time in your career you also know the cost of everything from utilities to major repairs. Every bill seems huge and worrisome. The teacher who wants a new microscope, although a small purchase, is adding one more bill on the pile. You lose your daily relationships with students, because now you are in an office glued to an onslaught of emails. Your colleagues are no longer people who see you as a friend or coworker. You are the boss even though you work desperately hard to not be bossy.
What keeps a new Head of School going is the same thing that should keep every Christian educator going – an unwavering conviction that you are right where God wants you. When your life changes in a moment and you find yourself doing something you never imagined, it is trust in an omnipotent God that is the rock you stand on. This unwavering reality is what gives us a reason to show up the next day. Only God and the board know how long my new assignment will last. Until then, I am leaning hard on the Lord to enable me to lead people, manage curriculum, pay bills, schedule events, answer questions, meet with parents, and make lots of decisions that I pray will guide our school in a way that honors God, is a testimony of biblical truth in the community, ministers to families, and educates students to serve in His kingdom.