During a past Open House/Curriculum Night, I noticed a boy riding his bike near the entry way to the school. Later as the Magic Show was going on in the gym, I noticed him again riding his bike in front of the building, trying to catch a glimpse of the show. This event was for school families only and I didn’t recognize this boy. I went outside and in my stern principal voice (yes, I do have one:), I told him that this was a school event and that bikes needed to be walked, not ridden when near the school entrance. I got a blank stare from the child and he walked his bike away from the school. I then walked back into the night’s event feeling pleased with myself for doing my principal duty on this potential ruffian.
Two weeks later, there was a report of one of our students hanging out unsupervised at the school with the boy on the bike again. Trouble, I thought! However, through the course of the investigation on who this boy was, it was suggested that this might be the boy whose father had passed away recently and didn’t have anywhere to go after school. I stopped in my tracks…had I prejudged this boy and had I come into the situation with a predetermined idea that he was a trouble maker? I’m embarrassed to say “yes” to both of those questions. I started to think of all the times I had gotten on my bike for a long ride when things were troubling me as a middle school student. Was that this child? After a lot more investigating and calls to several schools by myself and others, it was found out that this was not the boy whose father had recently passed away, but was at a private school and had no friends his own age in the neighborhood. Part of me breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t been the boy who had suffered that terrible loss and even justified to myself that I had done the right thing in the first place.
However, the more I thought about the situation, the more upset I was with myself. I had prejudged this child, regardless of the situation. Yes, I need to keep my school and students safe, but how did I approach the situation? Maybe this child had a set of circumstances that caused him to be riding his bike each evening by the school. And how about the next child that I chase off the playground? Am I comfortable coming in with a preconceived notion about them (and their family for allowing them to be unsupervised)? Or worse yet, not really caring either way about their situation as long as they stay clear of “my school”. That’s not the kind of principal I want to be and that’s not the kind of person I want to be. Yes, I can still keep the school safe and yes, I can make sure students aren’t running around unsupervised, but I could approach them with the idea that everyone has a story (because they do). I guess I needed to be reminded of that and my reminder came in the form of a boy and his bike.
Photo Credit: ET Movie (The extra terrestrial)
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
“Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” – Jean Paul Sartre
“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves’.” – Lao Tzu