“I’m a Stuck and Disempowered School Leader. What Should I Do?”
Dear Rick & Rebecca: Last year, I left a district-level job as a reading interventionist because I was unhappy and my position didn’t align with my beliefs and ideals. And I felt like I didn’t have the skillset or thick skin thick needed to work at the district office.
I was beyond elated to be hired by a neighboring district as a mentor. This was a perfect next step up from being an interventionist and I would have one foot in a school and one foot still in the district office. It was exactly what I wanted: I received high-quality professional development, support, and training to be successful with my job and was well received by my mentees and colleagues.
By mid-year, the assistant principal at one of my schools stepped down. The job wasn’t filled, but there was still a lot of work to be done. My superintendent approached me and even asked if I would step into the role for the remainder of the school year. I took on some duties that were assigned to the AP and maintained my current role as well. The district gave me a stipend for the extra work. I felt valued and was willing to do whatever it took to support our community. And the new AP was hired at the end of the year.
But then my superintendent retired, the ELA district specialist left, the math district specialist left, and the ELL district specialist left. Major turnover. My district curriculum director called me in and begged me to take the ELA district specialist position. I was forthright and shared that I was planning on moving out of state in a couple of years. I said that really enjoyed the mentor role and wanted to remain in that position. We had such a great working relationship that I was sure he would appreciate me being honest.
I started this year back in my full-time mentor role. After one week of school, I still didn’t have my list of mentees or specific directions from my supervisor. The principal advised me to just get started with the teachers who I knew would be assigned to me at my school. My mentor colleague was out on maternity leave so I decided to be proactive and take the list of mentees and equally distribute them between she and I so that I could get started and focused on the teachers that needed support. So I did.
Boy, did I make the wrong decision. My director got wind of this and pulled me into his office and reamed me for overstepping my boundaries and going above his head.
The following week we had a teacher out sick. My principal asked me to cover a class for the day. The grant funding my position explicitly stated that I am only to work directly with teachers. I shared this information with my principal and he asked me if I was refusing to cover the class. I said “yes.”
In the meantime, I had heard from others that the director was angry because I wouldn’t take the ELA specialist position. Two days after refusing to cover the class, I received a calendar invite from my principal that also included my director. I knew exactly what this was, a formal letter of reprimand for insubordination. When I showed up, sure enough, it was a double attack. My principal no longer saw my side of the story on anything. Next they shared with me that I would be a 6th grade social studies teacher rather than a mentor for the duration of the year.
So here I sit, unhappy again. And I will look like a job hopper on my resume if I leave again. I feel stuck and disempowered. My question is, how can they go from begging me to be an AP and ELA Specialist, to sabotaging me for wanting to stay serving in my current position? I don’t even know what to do next. I obviously won’t make it here long-term, but how do I reclaim my sanity and career? Did I even pick the right career?–Sincerely, The Job-Hopping Mentor
Dear Job-Hopping Mentor:
It’s always too easy to say to someone, “You could have done like this or you should have done that.” But we would like you to take a moment to reflect on a few things. Often times, school leaders are in pinches that need quick solutions. We are often asked to carry out duties that we might not be allowed to do or should not do, but here are a few things to consider. Maybe helping out in that classroom for one day wouldn’t have really mattered too much or violated your grant to the point where you would lose it. And, maybe sliding into the ELA Specialist position until they hired a new one, would again, show your team spirit (just like you gracefully showed it when taking on the AP duties).
We are not saying that you aren’t a team player. Don’t get us wrong. But your supervisors became upset by two things: not being able to count on you and not getting approval for the list of mentees that you coordinated for both you and your mentor colleague. A quick e-mail of approval before taking action would’ve been wise.
But, then there’s the flip side to all of this: Dumping on you and now treating you differently because you made a decision to stay a mentor and fulfill those duties, happily. We’ve all seen leaders who go to the ones we think will say and do anything and take advantage of them. It sounds like there is a little dose of that going on, too. Adversity at its best.
There are three things that we think you should do proactively:
1. Document your story and how you may be treated (and keep documenting anything and everything–just in case)
2. Set up a meeting with your HR Official to receive help with your situation.
3. It appears that you may have union representation and, if you do, consult with them, as well.
Finally, we are not saying that you are in the realm of workplace bullying, but you need to be on the lookout for that if your supervisors decide to ramp things up.
And, remember, even though this sounds unfortunate, many school leaders update their resumes the moment they get a new position. Although leaving is not our #1 recommendation, it is a recommendation that we always tell people to get working on. There is so much more than meets the eye when school district politics grabs hold of someone.
Good luck to you and stay in touch to let us know how things are going