Dear Mr. Mendes,
I can’t say thank you enough for your list of 25 rules for directors that appeared in the Vanity Fair article written by Bennett Marcus: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/03/sam-mendes-rules-for-directors.
I’m not a director. In fact, I have this entirely different weird double life (more about that in a second, but I promise it’s not NSFW). But I still keep finding myself dragging the list out and looking at it. When I went to it today and took a highlighter to it, I felt that perhaps it was a sign I should say thanks to you for putting it out in the universe for me to chew on.
So about that double life. I write. I write novels, and I write screenplays. One of my novels is published with two more on the way. I hope to get my screenplays out in the world at some point, but right now I am buried in work and don’t have time to tend to them. They need to be nurtured, and for now they’ll have to stay put in a cool, dark place till I can help them grow.
Why? Well, I also work full-time as a school principal. And here’s the weird thing. Your advice spoke to me as a writer, to be sure (number 20 — “get on with it” is sooooo spot on), but it’s resonating with that dichotomous principal part of me more and more.
I’m a newbie in both worlds. I just got published in 2013, and I’ve only been a principal for a few years. I’ve been in charge of a building for three.
Your advice about collaborators is crucial in helping students achieve, and so is learning to say, “‘I don’t know the answer.'” Shared leadership is the only way I can help my school get better and help kids learn to the best of their abilities.
Thanks also for the advice about reviews. I had this weird experience as a writer where I was so myopic about getting my novel out into the world, I forgot that the world would then critique it. Some of the reviews felt personal and stung a bit, and now I know to skip that painful feeling, just get the general gist of good or bad. I think perhaps in the evaluations of my performance as a principal from teachers and parents I would be wise to take the same advice.
But the one I needed the most was number 22, “learn to accept the blame for everything.” Thank you for the rule about strong shoulders. As a principal, I may be carrying out a district directive, but the buck stops on my desk as far as anyone that matters is concerned (teachers, students, parents). It stinks when I know whatever has happened isn’t my fault, maybe it’s not anyone’s fault, and I have to accept that responsibility, but you’re right. It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to leadership in any field, and it’s time for me to suck it up.
That’s a sobering thought. Not only does a principal have a lot of responsibility for the learning of students, but if heaven forbid someone ever came to our building to try to harm them, every principal I know would run to the danger, not away, because we shoulder the ultimate responsibility for our students. We love and care about them as people most of all, so we would try to save them. And I know a director doesn’t have to do that, but maybe that’s why I got the highlighter out today. Because your article reminded me that I took the job, and so I have accepted the “blame for everything” and the responsibility for everyone in my building, too.
I feel like I should share something with you in return, since you’ve helped both the Jekyll writer and the Hyde principal in me. So I will leave you with this, learned from almost twenty years working with people: eating makes a meeting. Bring good snacks, and people will work hard.
Thanks again for the great advice.