By Mike Pinto, IPLI Mentor and Principal at James Cole Elementary
At the end of most days as an elementary principal, my shoes are dirty. Sometimes they are scuffed by contact with furniture. Other times they are splattered with
milk from the milk bucket or contain the residue of mandarin oranges that cling to the soles from lunch duty. Still other times the little stitching around the outside contains blades of grass. Lately, my shoes have contained dirt from playing all-time quarterback with the fourth grade at recess.
Your shoes can tell a lot about who you are as a principal and where your priorities lie. I have a close friend who is an ex-Marine. He is conditioned from his previous life to scan a person from head-to-toe when he encounters them. He has commented at times on how clean my shoes look. He has also commented when there is dirt on my shoes. Obviously, there are times when your shoes need to be spotless. They need to be shiny and they need to accompany the shirt, tie, and jacket you wear for the occasion. That’s part of being a professional. However, I’m hard on my shoes and treat them in essence as if they are all-terrain vehicles. I have no problem walking out with my first graders to our outdoor education center when they are on an in-house field trip. I don’t worry as I trudge across the playground when I spot a swing that has been tossed over the set causing it to hang distastefully and making it not useable. I also have no problem scuffling across a patch of grass with a vagabond group of fourth graders during a football game at recess.
What I find is that my role as a principal sets the stage for all other pieces that occur in the building. If I am present and visible, there is more of a sense of calm that resonates over the building. I also espouse to the philosophy that I am no better than anyone else in my building. I have no problem serving lunch if it helps speed students through, lugging a ladder to the gym, fixing a tall hallway clock that has been missed during the daylight-saving-time-clock switch, or assisting a recess teacher with a kindergarten student who is being noncompliant and refuses to come when beckoned. I’m not alone in this belief system, most of the principals I know espouse to it as well. It’s what makes a school run and our mission of instruction possible.
My shoes are pretty boring. I most always wear black. I do that in part because of personal taste but also because it’s just easier. At the end of the day, a little Kiwi Shoe Shine lathered all over the shoes make them look as good as new and wipes away all the battle scars of the day. You begin your day fresh, professional looking, and prepared for what the future day will hold when you put them on again the next morning. It is my belief, however, that if you are too afraid to dirty your shoes, you may be missing a big part of why you are there each day as a principal. That’s simply my belief, but it is also sometimes refreshing to give yourself permission when needed to get your shoes dirty and jump in and do exactly what needs to be done when it needs to be done.
At the end of most days, you’ll find my shoes dirty. For some it may be something of an embarrassment or annoyance. For me it is one of many indicators I use about my impact on the students and staff of my school when the day is done.