Principals that Demonstrated Awesome Leadership
Comparing my young life to that of my 11 year-old son, Ethan’s, I am struck by the parallelisms between the two. After finishing grade 3, my family had moved. Permanently changing schools gave me the fear and the excitement of leaving behind the familiar and journeying into the unknown at such a young age. Likewise, at the end of Ethan’s grade 3 year, we moved. He too, had to adapt to life in a new school.
When I changed schools, I went to a school that was so new, it was only in its 2nd academic year. Therefore, it was not only new to me, it was still new to everyone else attending. Similarly, Ethan’s new school was only its 2nd year of operation. Newness to him was still relative newness to everyone else.
The most striking symmetry to me, was the presence of prominent leadership at that time in both our lives; our principals. Normally, we would have the administration of these principals for a period of 2 to 3 years. As luck would have it for both of us, we got to grow under the influence of these individuals for a total of 5 years. We should have left our leaders behind when we moved but our principals were transferred to the very schools we relocated to. Call it coincidence, luck or synchronicity, watching and learning from these 2 amazing figureheads beyond the ritual time-frame, was poignant.
Principal #1: Harry Lipsit
My principal was Harry Lipsit. It was the ONE time I was sent to the principal’s office that made him stand out for me. As a people-pleaser, I rarely got in trouble. If I did, it was usually for chatting. I did NOT like to get into trouble so I worked hard at being quiet.
On this particular occasion, I was inside for recess. Holding the door shut on a friend, in (what we thought was) a fun game of keep-away, another teacher, from down the hall, thought our game was disruptive. He violently expressed his anger and sent us to the office. I WAS MORTIFIED!!!! In my young mind, the principal’s office meant “THE STRAP”. It meant enduring hours of top-of-the-lungs yelling and belittling until one was reduced to tears. Anxiety set in as I waited on the bench outside Mr. Lipsit’s office for I knew him as a fun, smiling and gentle man. I didn’t want to see the angry side of him that I expected him to have as a principal.
When he came out of his office, it was like slow motion with the door creaking loudly and every step making time last for ever. His footsteps echoed in my head and I choked back tears as I slowly looked up to meet his gaze. He was smiling. “What brings you to my office, Vicki?” Slowly and methodically I explained my shame in playing inside during recess. I expressed how inappropriate I had been with my loud laughter and screams of fun. Then, I hung my head as I waited for the invite into his office to receive my punishment. To my surprise, he began to laugh. “Get out of here”, he said.
It was an “Ah-ha” moment. He wasn’t what I thought a principal should be; he changed my perception. It was the first time I realized that people don’t have to live up to the stereotypes; that people can surprise you.
Principal #2: Lisa Munro
For Ethan, it was Lisa Munro. I can’t speak for what stood out for him but I know what stood out for me as his parent. It was the day after a meeting I had with one of Ethan’s teachers. Ethan had some challenges with impulsivity and personal-space boundaries. His teacher had to discuss these difficulties with me as they certainly affected his ability to make friends and to focus on class material. It was heartbreaking to hear the message even though I had heard it many times previous and was aware of these characteristics. No mother ever wants to hear that her child has trouble fitting in. I took it in stride and gave Ethan extra hugs that night because I knew he needed them.
The next day, however, the phone rang. It was Mrs. Munro. She heard about my difficult meeting with the teacher. Checking in, she wanted to know how she could help. She offered advice from her experience working with children with similar challenges and stayed on the phone until she was sure I was okay. She assured me that I could reach out anytime for support and wanted me to know that Ethan was well taken care of. It was another “Ah-ha” moment for me. She did not need to do that and yet she did. People don’t have to live up to the stereotype; people can surprise you.
As I reflect on these 2 stories, I take note of where Mr. Lipsit’s and Mrs. Munro’s principal leadership mirrored each other and went beyond my scope of reference:
- They knew their students. Mr. Lipsit knew I wasn’t a trouble-maker. I was just a kid being a kid. Mrs. Munro reached out to the mother of the student she knew needed help fitting in.
- They cared. Mr. Lipsit let it go and smiled when I needed that. Mrs. Munro made a phone call to a mother who was hurting.
- They did the unexpected. They challenged the stereotypes. They listened and kept open minds.
- They positively impacted lives.
Mr. Lipsit passed away this year. I made sure to go to the visitation to let his family know the effect his leadership had on me.
Mrs. Munro, is moving to a new role with the Thames Valley District School Board.
My message to these extraordinary role models is this: May your influence live on through me, my son and all those who you have touched. Thank you both.