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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mattson

The Day I Cried in the Principal’s Office

This is my seventh year in public education. For five of those years I worked as a classroom teacher, doing awesome activities with my awesome kids. Sure, there were those state tests and district required assessments, but for the most part, I was in command and in control of what happened inside of my classroom. Together, my students and I had all sorts of adventures. We raised hundreds of pairs of brand new pajamas for kids in foster homes, we designed websites about books with students from another junior high, we even held our own version of The Hunger Games! Sure, I worked my butt off to create some amazing learning experiences for my students, but it was worth it. We learned so much, together, and I look back on those five years with very fond memories. So much of what I was able to do with my students was with the help of instructional technology, so when I left the classroom, I did so with the hope of helping other teachers facilitate the types of experiences I had with my students.

In my new role as Learning Resource Center Director, I wear many hats, but the one I am most passionate about is instructional technology coach. My goal continues to be supporting teachers and students as they integrate digital tools for authentic learning experiences. And, while I have had many successes to celebrate, the last two years in my career have been the first where I have really experienced some ugly lows – which brings me to the day I cried in the principal’s office.


Long story short, I had been having some problems with district purchased technology not functioning consistently. I was getting very little help from our own technology department, so I sought the help of a representative from the company who manufactured the products. He was generous enough to come out and meet with me, as well as some of our district technology folks to try to offer some solutions. The meeting, I thought, ended on a good note with both parties agreeing to do some further research and remain in contact with one another. Well, time passed and nothing changed. The equipment was still not functioning and teachers were still asking me for status updates. I made another urgent plea to the tech department and was told that they did not have a solution and were not sure if the devices would ever function properly on our network. And yet, the devices remained and even more were purchased for other classrooms in our building. Weeks went by. I visited other buildings in our district to see if I was doing something wrong. I read lengthy blog posts from tech people in other districts talking about the problems they had with the devices on their own networks and how they were able to work around the issues. Every piece of information I gathered, I passed on to the people who would need it because, mind you, I am not a “tech person.” If you give me something that works, I can write you an awesome lesson plan, but don’t count on me to build you a rocket or something!

I was spending so much time, effort, and energy into getting these devices to just work that I had very few of those resources left to do the real work of supporting teachers and students with the functional technology we did have. I was at my wit’s end, and after weeks of frustration, I knocked on my principal’s door. As the story unraveled, I could feel myself tearing up. I didn’t want to cry in front of him. How could I? Crying wasn’t professional. It definitely wasn’t the solution to my problem, but the tears came anyway. I apologized profusely, dabbing at my eyes and nose with my sleeve until he finally left the room to hunt me down a box of tissues. I sat there, embarrassed, and listen to him give me permission to just let it go. He assured me I had done everything in my power to remedy the situation and it was time for me to just move on to something else. He vowed to make some follow-up phone calls and sent me from his office promising that the problem was no longer mine alone. I went back to my office and cried some more. Mostly, because I was humiliated for having cried in the first place.  But as I sat and reflected on our conversation, I realized a few important things about leadership, responsibility, and about myself.

My principal is a great leader.  He did not put me down for crying or chastise me for not coming to him with my problems sooner. His role was truly that of a supportive listener, who then promised to help carry the burden of my work, and in the end, followed through with that promise. This is a the mark of a  true servant leader, and the type I strive to be.

I have learned that leadership is very  different from working in a classroom. In my room, I was responsible for every thing in it, from the students and their learning, to the lessons and materials. While I loved to collaborate, the final word came down to me. In my current role, it just isn’t possible to be solely responsible for everything I want to do for teachers and students. Leadership is about partnership. While my principal was willing to help me with my dilemma, I also had to be willing to let him help me. In order to do awesome things with awesome teachers and their awesome kids, it would take a lot more than a few late nights of planning and preparation to get there. I may no longer have the ‘final word’ about what happens in my day, but I have an ally, a supporter, and cheerleader in my principal, which is something to admire.

The day I cried in the principal’s office taught me something about myself too. While I was initially embarrassed to show my frustration, weakness, and perceived failure, over a period of a few days, my tears stopped symbolizing weakness. Instead, my tears became a symbol of something I was proud to have – passion. I care about my school. The people in it are important to me.  When they need help, I want to do everything in my power to support them. If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt so bad when I couldn’t. So even though this new role has many more emotional lows than the ones I experienced in my classroom, I know that I am doing the right thing because I am passionate about my work and about changing one classroom at a time.

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