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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
November 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 3

Voices: The Assistant Principal / Will It Play in Mayberry?

      One of the truly difficult adjustments in moving from the classroom to the principal's office is having to work in the summer. Entering the building at 7 a.m. and leaving behind sun, blue sky, and the soft smells and sounds of a summer morning seems an unnatural act. My teacher friends, my old summer companions at the pool, lament and wonder at my plight, inevitably asking, “But what do you do all summer when no one is there?” I assure them that I have plenty to do handling a steady stream of students, staff, and parents with unfinished or new business and attending meetings, meetings, and more meetings. But the real boon of summer work is having the luxury of time to read and reflect.
      One November at a state ASCD conference, I feigned knowledge in innumerable conversations, and I appeared (at least, I attempted to appear) professionally au courant. “Slavin, oh yes. Strategic Planning, indeed ... National Curriculum, MI theory, Restructuring, ODDM, Outcomes-Based, Site-Based ... of course, of course.”
      I left, resolving once again to catch up; the summer allows it. I wallow in professional journals and absorb a year's worth of innovation and reform. The idea of restructuring, in particular, intrigues me, and one quote keeps playing in my head: “We believe the system cannot change incrementally—it has to be shocked out of existence.” Wow! What a solution for all the times when I have felt mired in apathy and stagnation. I imagine shock treatment for my building, and the possibilities are titillating.
      But the reality of my building, of my district, and of most of the districts in my corner of the world is that we are not at the shock treatment stage. We are schools in small towns, in rural areas. As I contemplate change in my district, I am reminded of the many reruns of The Andy Griffith Show that I have watched over the years.
      In most episodes, some sort of problem occurs requiring the attention of Sheriff Andy Taylor and his deputy Barney Fife. Barney leaps to correct it with as much speed, fuss, and bother as possible. He rushes around in great agitation usually waving his arms and ordering Aunt Bee, Opie, or even the entire town to follow his directions. Invariably, people rebel and protest to Andy. Then, Andy sizes up the situation with great astuteness, and acting slowly and unobtrusively, he manages to solve the original problem, soothe the town, and appease Barney.
      Change occurs, but it happens in such a way that the Mayberry townsfolk are not shocked and often believe the solution began with them.
      Schools like mine respond best to the Andy Taylor style of change—a style with minimum fuss and fanfare that takes into account the needs and readiness level of staff and is administered with wisdom and shrewdness. Any program introduced in the Barney Fife style has little chance of effecting lasting change. When too much occurs top-down, when there is too much upheaval and too many promises to be delivered too fast, our townspeople protest either in up-front confrontations or by going underground. They go back to their classrooms and do what worked for them in the past, leaving the change agents rushing around waving their arms and yelling in great agitation.
      I continue with my reading and my reveries. I like being bombarded with plans and programs. Many of the ideas are valuable—not only so that I can hold my own in conference conversations but because they provide the impetus for growth. But I temper my tendency to be swept away. I am not anxious to be an enthusiastic but totally ineffective Barney Fife. No, I resolve to be wise and ask of each new idea whether or not it will play in Mayberry.
      End Notes

      1 J. O'Neil, (April 1990), “Piecing Together the Restructuring Puzzle,” Educational Leadership 47, 7:4–10.

      Patricia McDaniel Dombart has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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