I spent the entirety of last week in a seminar room learning about the ins-and-outs of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, including requirements for workplace inspections, considerations about chemical, electrical, and musculoskeletal disorders, and how to make reports about the same. While the week was long, the learning was valuable. I’m not a huge fan of sitting in meeting rooms for seven-and-a-half hours for five days, (especially five of those in a row), but I know the subject is very important. Under the health and safety regulations, I’m considered an employer, and this means there are significant responsibilities and expectations with regard to the safety of the workers in my school. If I don’t meet these expectations, I could risk financial penalties. More importantly, I could be putting the safety of my staff at risk. It’s a bit of weight on my shoulders, but it’s far from the only thing I’m responsible for at the school.
At some point during the training, (likely while fighting the urge to drift off) I started to consider the numerous responsibilities I have as a principal. Within Regulation 298 – Section 11 of Ontario’s Education Act the Duties of Principals is laid out in clear language – well, as clear as any piece of legislation. The section is broken into nineteen clauses, some with numerous subclauses, and each as important as all the rest. Actually, the document is pretty useful to read; it’s like a list of Success Criteria to ensure that one is doing the job one is paid to do! However, the Education Act language doesn’t always capture the job’s responsibilities.
There’s the obvious: I have to drive the instructional program to ensure that students are achieving credits and our measurables, (like graduation rates, provincial test scores, and attendance) are made accountable. There are other responsibilities that carry equal weight: helping students deal with all manners of trauma, investigating instances of fighting and bullying, maintaining communication with parents and the community, or ensuring the Fire and Emergency Plans for the school are updated. Then there are the more obscure duties: ensuring that weekly dairy orders are correct and signed for, regularly updating the guest wifi password, inventorying laptops, or ensuring my weekly schedule is accessible to senior administration. In short, it can all be a bit much, and any unexpected situation can throw a giant wrench into organizing and meeting these expectations.
So how, then, is a principal expected to meet these legal duties? Well, there is a lot of fast walking. (One favourite comment that I overheard an occasional teacher make last year was “he moves really fast for a big guy!”), religious use of online calendars, and the understanding that even at the end of any day, the job is never done, but there’s an acceptance that some duties just need to be put off until the next day.
The other reality is that I also have a family and a life outside of school, so there is forever the challenge of meeting responsibilities and maintaining some semblance of a work/life balance. Totally easy, right? I used to be an Armchair Administrator, in that I found it easy to criticize the job someone else was doing without really understanding the true requirements of the job. Now that I’m here, I am humbled. It’s an awesome job, but the “To Do List” is nuts!