Principals show unwavering leadership for Alaska’s Students

Jennifer Schmitz

Executive Director, Alaska Association of Elementary Principals

What do a Sourdough from 1895, a sailor from Shackleton’s Endurance, a Navy SEAL, and a modern-day principal have in common? They all share a deeply rooted, unshakable belief in their ability to attain a goal. Their goals are varied: riches and a better life; survival; prestige; the ability to improve the lives of children, among others.

What is common amongst them is an unwavering belief that gave them (or gives them) the fortitude to endure significant pain, suffering, and setbacks as they strive to reach their goals.
What do a Sourdough from 1895, a sailor from Shackleton’s Endurance, a Navy SEAL, and a modern-day principal have in common? They all share a deeply rooted, unshakable belief in their ability to attain a goal. Their goals are varied: riches and a better life; survival; prestige; the ability to improve the lives of children, among others.

What is common amongst them is an unwavering belief that gave them (or gives them) the fortitude to endure significant pain, suffering, and setbacks as they strive to reach their goals. In other words, they persevere. They reach deep into their soul to draw out untapped strength to succeed in their endeavors.

There are days when a principal arrives home with a heavy heart after writing yet another OCS referral. A principal can sometimes feel as if they can’t do anything right; they are the first ones blamed and the last to be praised. Principals are in the unenviable position of the “middle manager” from the series The Office. They, like their staff, have more demands placed upon them with fewer resources with which to do it and less input into the decisions that affect them.

Some principals resort to endurance. They grit their teeth and bear it. These are the ones you hear say, “with just a few more years and I can retire.” Luckily this is the minority. Most principals persevere. These are the educators and leaders that haven’t given up on their quest, their deeply-rooted belief that they can better the lives of children, the community, and our world. They work quietly, behind the scenes, with little to no fanfare. Why? Because they believe in something larger than themselves, and they persevere regardless of the detours and roadblocks they encounter. They do this for the students in our schools.

There was nothing in our training to become school administrators that taught us about leading through a pandemic, counseling students through a mental health crisis, dealing with homeless families, or being a leader in the greater community as well. Still, our administrators are persevering, and they are reaching their goals. Our students are learning. They are loved. They are learning life lessons for the future.