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The Principalship

My graduate school program is designed to be done while working at a school, especially in an entry-level leadership capacity. What that looks like may vary from one school to another, but roles like grade level team lead, interdisciplinary team lead, instructional lead teacher, campus instructional coach, all of these job descriptions are example roles that have provided more than enough material for my grad school assignments. At some point or another in my career, I have been in all of these roles. My original intention was to finish my program at the end of last school year, but I needed to press pause on grad school when Maggie received her Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS) diagnosis. The Principalship is the course I am taking now and since I am not working at a school, I need to be creative with how I approach my assignments.

In addition to loads of reading and discussion boards, I have two major assignments: a five-part “Ideal Principal” paper and the PLC Pillar Project. The Ideal Principal paper is easier for me. I have ten years of education experience and have worked with multiple principals. I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t, and I certainly have plenty in my memory bank to back up these assertions in my paper as I describe my perspective of an “ideal principal.”

The PLC Pillar Project is more of a challenge. PLCs are Professional Learning Communities, and these are regularly scheduled meetings (frequency varies per district) in which student data is analyzed, lessons are created, exemplar-ed, sparred, scripted, role-played, and interventions are determined for students who aren’t understanding the material. Because I am not working, I’m not currently involved in PLCs, at least not in the conventional sense. What I am involved in is the many Zoom and Google Meets meetings with interventionists concerning my daughter, Maggie, that I will use as the subject of my paper.

I am in the process right now of establishing Maggie’s IEP through our local school district. This is a several-month process involving a large team of educational professionals including a school psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, special education coordinator, and administrator. My role in this process is parent and compiler of documentation from medical history and other providers, like Maggie’s ABA Therapy which is not affiliated with the school district.

Maggie’s LGS diagnosis is not limited to seizures and as she approaches school-age, we need to confront the educational challenges that she will face once she enters a traditional school setting. LGS is not just about seizures. It is linked to intellectual disabilities. The seizures impact parts of the brain necessary for learning. It’s a challenge that frankly, I’ve never had to confront professionally before, but now I do as a parent. Seizure control is critical because an increase in seizures (or even her regular seizures) can act as a factory reset button, wiping recent gains from her memory. To ignore the medical impact of her seizures is to ignore her most critical variable. Maggie will be four in February and she’s nonverbal, struggles with functional play (like stacking blocks or solving chunky puzzles), and is developmentally an 18-month-old in most categories.

Given the extensive team approach, I plan on using the creation of Maggie’s IEP as the subject of the PLC Pillar Project. Considering the rubric, I need to include a variety of student data including assessment scores (check), meeting log minutes (check), student goals based on data (check), and the final part focuses on growth and improvement for teachers. For this part, I will reflect on myself as a teacher. I’m sure the role is meant for me to coach and improve teachers involved, but with most things Maggie, I feel often out of my element and comfort zone. I frankly don’t know how to teach my daughter. Instead, I will explain my receptivity to parent coaching.

Anything that Maggie learns at “school,” whether this is ABA Therapy, Behavioral Therapy, or when she begins receiving additional services for speech and occupational (we’re currently on several waiting lists), needs to be reinforced at home. I am the reinforcer and I need more tools in my toolkit to successfully reach my daughter. Even something as seemingly un-academic as potty training requires rigorous consistency in all environments. Life skills, like building her attention span, is also a real challenge. Maggie’s attention is like a pollinating bee, buzzing from one activity to the next in a blur without fully engaging in anything. Teaching her how to sit still outside of meals for spans greater than a couple of minutes is also necessary for her to develop skills. As much as I’m learning to teach and support her, the more I’m realizing how deficient I am in addressing the complexity of her learning needs.

Despite the modifications that I’m making to my assignment and the challenges my daughter and I face in reconsidering learning strategies that work for her, I think these experiences do help me professionally. As a teacher, I did not recognize the numerous challenges my special education parents faced for years before I ever met their children in my secondary classrooms. I see now from a reflective lens how I could’ve done better with my sped students if I knew then what I know now. I can’t go back in time, but I certainly can take all of my experience and everything I’m learning now to help teach my daughter.


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