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Journey of Principal to Principle - Stepping out of the Comfort Zone and Growing in Strength
by Brenda Randel

1988. The start of my journey into the world of school administration coupled with a message from Wayne Dyer’s work – “if you are not happy with your life, it is up to you to do something about it.” I had been a classroom teacher for seventeen years and had convinced myself that I could not “make it” financially as a single mom. My marriage was abusively dead and I was mired in “poor me” thinking until Mr. Dyer’s message finally came through – “do something about it”. So, I started the path to becoming a school principal knowing that the hours would be long but the gross pay would be higher. I don’t think divorce was part of the conscious decision to do this, but it played a huge role in the subconscious thinking. I wasn’t going to be destitute and dragged down by a husband who could not hold a job and was verbally, mentally and sometimes physically abusive. He was a taker and I had no more to give.

My plan was to take three hours a semester and in three years I would have the certification necessary to become an administrator. The community in which I was teaching did not have a four-year university – the nearest one was over an hour away. I knew the expense, the travel time and the time completing the courses would be taxing but I was accustomed to hard work and getting things done. The four-year university was offering one of my required courses locally, so I signed up and charged the tuition to my credit card. Then I found another required course that was meeting only five times during the semester so I registered for that one and charged the tuition to my credit card. And then a third required course was offered locally and yes, I registered for that one too and charged tuition to my credit card. So that’s nine of the 24 required hours, a full-time language arts teaching assignments with hundreds of papers to grade, a single mom (my daughter was eight years old), a time-jealous husband, and home and farm responsibilities. But I was reawakened to take charge of my own happiness.

The following semester echoed a similar scenario – nine hours, same responsibilities. I completed the three-year goal in one year with summer school hours and lo and behold, there was an administrative opening in my district. Through a series of synchronistic events, I found myself in the position of assistant principal the following year. My husband was very threatened by my growth and things continued to worsen on the marriage front as my career progressed. After two years as an assistant principal, the final death knell of the marriage sounded as I moved to an education cooperative to help with school improvement initiatives. This position was funded by grants and knowing that I required more security than a grant-funded insecure position, I started applying for school principal openings in other communities for the following year.

My daughter and I made that one hundred mile move in the fall of 1992, one year after the divorce. I left my friends and security base of 17 years and it was miserable, lonely, desolate and just plain tough. The community to which we moved was a fairly closed society and being the introvert that I am, it was extremely isolating for me. I was not the most effective and nurturing mom but my daughter slowly adapted and formed friendships with peers even though she was a student in the middle school in which I was principal. The work was exciting and I buried myself in the work to keep myself from feeling the pain. The challenges of the position were enormous – student discipline issues, special education challenges, a hostile BOE attempting to fire my boss, and hundreds of ballgames to supervise. I was naïve enough to think that I could easily inform, influence and move those teachers who were there for their own agendas and not in the best interest of kids. The challenges of getting some to support a cohesive, purposeful mission took a mental, physical and psychic toll on me. I learned – and learned quickly about the politics of education. There were great moments but also very trying times. Fortunately, I had the good sense to take care of some of my needs by seeking outside help. I drove to a local counseling center where a most gracious kind and insightful counselor introduced me to Science of Mind philosophy. My interest was piqued and I simply could not get enough of the positive philosophy of that movement. I also managed to find and participate in John Bradshaw’s work on dysfunctional families, a seminar on Silva Mind Control, and other “out-there” approaches. I was fascinated by this work, something that my former husband had censored. My soul was reaching out and dragging me along even though I did not feel the freedom to discuss these emerging beliefs with local citizens. (One of my parents had objected to these new-age people who meditated! The implication was they must be the incarnation of evil.)

After three years in this position, I decided to apply to a very progressive, neighboring district and was selected as principal. The system supported high expectations and success for all students – it really was progressive. I thrived in this position; my daughter struggled with another transition. As a team of educators, we were able to build an approach where all students were expected to achieve. I knew that we had arrived when I had the experience of consoling a newly-arrived sobbing 8th grade boy who was being forced to leave this school because his parents were getting a divorce. His exclamation to me, “I know I could be smart if I could stay here” -- although painful, was an affirmation that our staff had created an environment where students could believe in themselves. This was a belief that I had not developed as a student myself. Could this be part of the spirituality I was being schooled in as I pursued more Unity and Science of Mind teachings? A belief in oneself! A confidence that one could grow, change and make a difference. How novel! I knew from teaching those seventeen years just how much the relationship between student and teacher was all important. This just gave identity to what that relationship could do for students. To be a leader of an entire staff of people who could get high achievement results from every student was awesome. I was riding on high until….

The years passed, I threw myself into the work and neglected myself again and again. Even though I had some growing spiritual connections, there was still something missing. I desperately wanted to be involved in a loving relationship. I had a hole in my heart that couldn’t be filled with food, work, busyness, duties, volunteer work, or travel. The 60-80 hour weeks grew weary. After a time, I felt as if I had sold my soul. My spirit was crying out to me with each discipline issue I handled, or each parental complaint that came that I could no longer do this. My health was in jeopardy—I was completely out of balance. I had always regretted that I was not able to be a stay-at-home mom when my daughter was young, but that early work experience was now paying off in the retirement formula. I was able submit my resignation and file for early retirement at age 56. I knew I was not through working but my spirit knew I could no longer keep up the pace of the long hours, the myriad of responsibilities, and the fishbowl life where each aspect of my life was under scrutiny. A few months after retirement, I found that I had uterine cancer – I firmly believe this was a result of the stress from all of the life challenges.

To be continued...