Shadowing an Administrator

A day in the life of Bobby Smith was quite the experience. Bobby and I go way back. He was my social studies teacher in 6th grade and my basketball coach in junior high. We have stayed in touch over the years, so when I began working at Fayetteville High School in 2017 – where Bobby was an assistant principal – I was thrilled that our paths crossed again. To this day when I see him in the hallway he calls me “Britt Doggy Dog” and it always makes me laugh.

When Bobby emailed me and asked if I would like to shadow him for a day to see what a day in the life of an administrator was like I jumped at the opportunity. The administration team had a luncheon to attend with the central office, so the assistant principals got to have a shadow for the day. The shadows would also do all of the lunch duties while they were out. Thank goodness nothing happened during that hour, I am still not sure what I would have done or how I would have handled an emergency. I get to save that experience for another day.

After shadowing Bobby I knew that I had to jot down my thoughts from the day. I am currently doing my internship for my administration license. That means I had to complete 110 hours this past semester shadowing an elementary principal. This spring I will be shadowing my principal at Fayetteville High School. A day in the life of Bobby Smith was nothing like my 110 hours in the elementary school. Not because of the age differences, but because it was authentic. My internship hours were spent doing specific projects and shadowing at principals meeting. I never had the opportunity to just follow Mrs. Ryan (my advisor) for the day.

Nothing about my day with Bobby was scripted. He had things he wanted to show me, but he was still an administrator at work. When things came up, he had to address them right then. I had several “ah-ha” moments that I will forever be grateful for.

100 Fist Bumps

Bobby has a rule: 100 fist bumps each day. We began the morning walking the hallways and greeting students. I was blown away by the number of students he personally knew by name. Way more than I knew. So that quickly shattered the argument that when you get into administration you lose touch with students. On the contrary, he had a much broader scope of influence with students than I do.

I noticed he gave all the kids he walked past a fist bump. Later he explained that he tries to give 100 students a fist bump each day. Doing this is much quicker than a handshake, and is therefore feasible to reach 100 in a day. He said it’s amazing the impact a “Hey bud how are you doing today?” with a fist bump can have on a kid. He listened to the students’ responses, but surprisingly never really broke his stride. He had perfected this maneuver.

Flexible Organization

Being flexible, I realized, is kinda nonnegotiable for administrators. Bobby had his to do list for the day. When we got to his office after morning duty he showed me the list. There were 4 items on it. I was confident we would be finished with the list by 10 (one hour later).

When the dismissal bell rang at the end of the day we had completed 2 of the items. Within the first 30 minutes of being in his office three students, two teachers, and the director of transportation came by his office. Next thing I knew it was time for lunch duty.

I am definitely a to do list type of person. Lists have always helped keep me organized and prioritize the day. That is exactly what Bobby had done. He knew what he absolutely had to do that day (the two items we accomplished) and the other two were “lets see if we have time” category. Never once did he look flustered when someone came in needing to talk. He always took the time to talk with each person and hear them out. Administrators have to have a balance between flexibility and organization that is nearly impossible to find, but somehow each of them does.

Making Time for Yourself

As the day was wrapping up Bobby told me about his 4:30 CrossFit class that he was going to. He stopped and turned to look at me and said with all sincerity, “Britt, this job can consume you. Don’t let it.” We talked about the need for family time and hobbies. Self-care will make the difference between a good leader and a great leader. He said that he cannot come and give the staff and students 100% if he has not taken care of himself first.

Laugh

I happened to be walking across campus when I saw four of the assistant principals coming back from the luncheon. As they walked up they actually reminded me of a group of high school boys: laughing and goofing off before they crossed the gate into the building. I had to stop and appreciate how these administrators, who deal with difficult issues all day and have to be the strict disciplinarians and role models for high school students, were able to leave their responsibilities at work and be care free friends enjoying a lunch together.

Working in education can be one of the most rewarding careers, as well as one of the hardest. There are days that I have come home and cried to my husband. What some of my students are dealing with breaks my heart and it can almost be too much to bear. And I only see a fraction of what is going on; these men see so much more. It is essential to have a support group that you can lean on when times are rough and that remind you why you get up for work every day.

I am so thankful for my day in the life of Bobby Smith. I have always looked up to him and respected him since I was a little kid. Having phenomenal leaders around to help guide me on my journey to growing as an educational leader will make all the difference in my effectiveness as an administrator.

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