Thank you, Commissioner Chester, this is a true honor and one that I will remember always. Thank you to Eileen Woods , who led the nomination process for this award , the team of interviewers who I had the pleasure of spending an hour with two weeks ago at the MESPA center in Marlboro. I would like to thank Rick Rogers, our new president of MESPA, for taking on the challenge of leading our organization through an important transition period and continuing to work tirelessly to serve all of us in our work. Rick has had a long and very successful career and it was an honor getting to know him more through the nomination process.
I would like to thank and recognize my superintendent, Dr. Andrew Keough, for nominating me for this award. I would like to thank our entire faculty and PTA at our school, Parkview Elementary, in Easton. As we all know, we as principals achieve nothing without our teachers, our paras, our office staff, our nurses, our special educators, our custodians, specialists, kitchen staff, parents and students. All of our successes are shared successes. This is one of the best parts of being a principal. Our work is entirely interdependent and collaborative and I am honored to be a part of such a vibrant, cohesive school community at Parkview. Our school is an open and welcoming place for all. Great things happen everyday at our school and I am so fortunate to play a part. My mentor and great friend told me ten years ago walking through the hallways of my new school as an assistant principal, after I just left teaching, he said, “Look for the good.” So simple and so powerful. I’ve been following that advice ever since and it may be the best advice I have ever received.
Being one of the few males in my world of early childhood education can pose a few challenges…but it also has a few perks… particularly through the eyes of 5 and 6 year olds. Last Friday night I was attending our annual PTA adult social and chatting it up with parents who attended. I met a new kindergarten dad who came up to me and told me, “My son thinks you are a superhero.” The dad went on to tell me that the other night he was trying to open a new jar of pickles in his kitchen and his son saw him struggling with it. His son then looked at him and said, “You know, Mr. Getchell could open that.” That might of been the best compliment I have received from a parent all year!
Upon learning of my nomination for the Thomas Passios award, I decided to look into the life and career of Mr. Passios. I learned that he was a highly dedicated and successful educator and principal in Lunenberg, MA. He was so revered and respected by his community that his town named the school he led after him. In a letter to a local newspaper, his daughter wrote of her late father, “Thomas C. Passios cared deeply for the children in his care…He respected the staff he worked with. He loved teaching and he loved being a principal, but he had been lured by the Massachusetts State Department of Education for his expertise, passion and vision.” He later served as president of MESPA. Mr. Passios died of a heart attack at the age of 59, on June 29, 1977… exactly one week later I was born. Nearly forty years later… here I am.
How exactly did I get to this spot? This nomination and preparing to speak to such a prestigious group of leaders tonight made me do a little soul searching this past week. The words of Thomas Passios daughter used to describe her father resonate with me. She wrote, “he cared deeply for the children in his care… he respected his staff… Where does this level of respect for teachers and for children come from? For me, the answer to that question is an easy one… my respect of teaching and children comes from My mother, My father, my wife and my own four children, Sage, Kevin, Rosie and Anne.
My mother was a kindergarten teacher and first grade teacher for over 30 years. My father was a truck driver. They were the hardest working people I knew growing up and entirely devoted to our family. What stands out to me when I reflect on where I come from, and why I am standing here tonight, are not the conversations or words my parents said to me… it was what I saw them doing that had such a powerful effect on me. I remember my mom getting me ready for school, going to school herself, coming home making me and my sister dinner, cleaning up, helping me with my homework, putting me to bed…. And THEN, at 9:30pm each night STARTING her school work. She did this,… successfully… for thirty years. Everyday. I remember my father waking up at 3:00am each morning to get to work so he could be home by dinner. I remember what he did – everyday. He worked and he supported his family. He didn’t spend weekends golfing (although, now that he is retired that’s a different story), he never went on “guy weekends”, never stopped at a bar on the way home on a Friday… he was never, ever late to anything I was involved in. I don’t remember many dinner conversations or talks with my parents… I remember what I saw them doing – day in and day out – they led me to where I am today by their actions, not words.
My wife is a first grade teacher, my partner – in the truest sense of that word – and my best friend. I see her raising our children and teaching first grade at the West Elementary School in Stoughton. She works so hard and is the greatest mother and wife I could ever imagine. She raises our kids first and is up most nights until 11 doing her schoolwork. She has led me to where I am today… by her actions more than any words.
My experiences watching my mother and now my wife teach elementary school, as well as my own experience as a fifth grade teacher has formed a deep and profound respect in me of teachers….And supporting good, hard working teachers is the foundation of my leadership as a principal.
Effective teaching is perhaps the most challenging of all occupations and also perhaps the most influential to the future of our society. How did I get here today?… it starts with that respect of teaching and the respect for hard work. Thank you mom, dad and Erin. You are why I am here. It is no coincidence that Mr. Passios daughter, when reflecting on her father’s life work, mentions respect for teachers in her first sentence.
In remembering my past, it helps me chart my future. I know that is not going to be these words, or any words my colleagues and I share at meetings, or any speeches I make at our school that will resonate. It is what I DO that will matter. We will be remembered by what others see us doing each day.
What is it that we, as principals, should be DOING each day? For me, I think of our school as one big classroom. Everyday starts by making sure I am out in front of our big classroom to greet our students, teachers and parents. Get to know all of their names. Set the tone for your school each day through morning meetings, morning announcements or shared opening routines. Be there at recess and lunch… get to know your students and their families. Be there at dismissal, saying good-bye to all of the students and tell them you will see them tomorrow. Be present in the life of your school. Immerse yourself in the pulse of your school. We are in the relationships and communication business… this must be at the forefront of our work in schools.
Your school is your classroom. Weed the garden, wash the tables, paint the hallways… no job in your classroom is beneath you. Do these things because your passion and love of your school is contagious. We all have a list of meetings and appointments that we need to attend everyday. It is what we do between those scheduled appointments that matters most.
Facilitate the growth of your school culture. Have the students work collaboratively on the core values of your school. What is your school all about? Have your students make the common language and expectations that run your school. Celebrate that often.
Make classroom visits and observations your number one priority each day. Visit each classroom and support good teaching! I am not just talking about mini-observations. I think principals should spend as much time in classrooms in a supportive role as an evaluative one. Your teachers need to see you supporting them. They need to see you walking in their shoes… working with kids, following up. If you are always evaluating, building trust will take longer. Balance your walk throughs between supporting/ relationship building and observing and evaluating. Both are equally as important.
When I am having one of those days where I feel like a pinball in my school.. Bounced around from discipline issue, to parent emails/calls, from IEP meetings to a leak in the roof,…. I ground myself by going into a classroom, sitting next to a student and seeing that room from his/her perspective. It is so easy for us as principals to be distracted from what really impacts all of the kids in your school…the almost constant interaction between teacher and student in classrooms. Never forget that the lifeblood of your school is not in the meeting rooms, or in your office, or in the superintendent’s office… the life of your school in is the classrooms.
One of the keynote speakers at this conference is Todd Nesloney. Did you catch his title? Principal/”Lead Learner”. That is perfect! We should all change our titles to “lead learner”. Our actions everyday should be centered around learning. Your teachers and students need to see you learning everyday. We are not the sage on the stage. We actively learn from our teachers, our students and each other. Be totally transparent in your learning and in your reflections. You must model a growth mindset daily. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but I do think you should be the most curious, most reflective person in your school.
As Principals we learn from teachers, we learn a lot from watching students, teachers learn from principals, students learn from teachers…. The greatest challenge of my principalship, and I would say my ultimate goal in creating a truly collaborative culture centered around the joy of learning, is finding a way to allow TEACHERS to observe other teachers teach! Why is this so difficult? Think of your strongest teachers. I am sure that their focus is entirely of the complex task of meeting the diverse needs of all 20+ of their students everyday. IT is HARD for them to leave their student in someone else’s care. Every minute of their day is carefully planned and purposeful. The idea of leaving their students for part of the day – even 20 minutes – in many ways flies in the face of the very core of what makes them great. This is another critical ACTION of a principal, do everything you can to facilitate teachers observing other teachers.
I remember when I got Lyme Disease. I had such a classic case.. Bullseye rash all over my body, stiff neck. The doctor walked into look at me and the first thing he did was call the other doctors in his office over to look at me. This is HABITUAL in the world of medicine. Doctors do rounds with other doctors… doctors analyze case studies with other doctors all the time! Imagine if we could get teachers, in the midst of a great lesson or moment of student learning, to habitually call other teachers to observe and analyze the lesson/ learning?! This is a great challenge, but one I think worthy of pursuing. If we are able to do this, learning will be pervasive throughout our schools.
As I have learned by the most influential people in my life, Lead not by your words, lead by your actions. What your students, parents and teachers SEE you doing everyday will have a greater impact on them then anything you say or write in an email or memo. Students and teachers need you by their side, interacting with them, believing in them, following up with them.
There is so much TALK these days. Facebook, tweets, emails, CNN, Fox News, political pundits…talk, talk, talk, talk, talk…We are people of action. Thank you for getting up everyday and having the courage to lead, to ACT, in the best interest of students and teachers. It is an honor to be in the company of people like you and I look forward to strengthening our collaboration in the years to come.
It is an honor to receive this award with the name Thomas Passios. Thank you to the heroes in my life, Erin, Mom and Dad… I would not be standing here without you. Thank you to my children, Sage, Kevin, Rosie and Anne… the center of my life… for keeping my feet on the ground and making itimpossible to have a really bad day.
And, thank you all for having the courage to lead.
Chris Getchell has been an elementary school teacher and principal for the past eighteen years, teaching and supporting teachers and students in Stoughton, Sharon and for the past seven years at the Parkview School in Easton. He is a father of four children and is finally finding some balance in his life between work and home. This has brought him peace and, consequently, has made him a more patient and compassionate principal.