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From Principal to Dad Principal

They say time flies when you’re having fun and that is certainly the case for me. It’s hard to believe that I’m now in my sixth year as Viewmount Branch Principal and it’s extremely exciting to serve a thriving and vibrant Jewish day school. While the job is not without its challenges, I wake up every morning feeling grateful for the opportunity to spend each day with our incredible students, staff and parents.

In the early years of my career in educational administration, there were a couple of moments when a frustrated or upset parent, speaking with me about their child, mentioned something along the lines of, “You wouldn’t understand because you don’t have children of your own”. During these conversations, I remember thinking to myself that my ability to be empathetic could undoubtedly allow me to put myself in a parent’s shoes when navigating their way through a difficult situation with the school. I remember reassuring myself that my knowledge of child development and the dozens of parenting lectures I had attended certainly put me in a position to understand the feelings of parents when they were “going to bat” for their child. Well, it turns out that I did have a lot to learn.

In March 2021, my life changed forever when my daughter, Andie, was born. Three weeks into her life, while on a walk with my wife, a bee landed on Andie’s exposed foot. I remember my protective instincts kicking in as I almost leapt into the stroller to ensure that the bee would not sting Andie’s little toes. At this moment, several conversations with Bialik parents rushed into my thoughts. There had been numerous times when I had felt a parent was being too involved or overly protective, and I was now able to see that they were simply expressing that innate need in parents to protect and support their child.

With this newfound appreciation in mind, I sent my daughter off to daycare for the first time – a structured environment where caregivers outside of our family would ultimately be responsible for her daily needs. The internal struggle was certainly challenging. Dropping her off at daycare that first day was a big moment for our family and I can now say, with full certainty, I understand the mixed emotions of parents sending their child out into the world, relinquishing caregiving control and trusting the institution you’ve chosen to look after them. Regardless of how qualified and loving the environment is, it’s not easy to leave your little human with other people. And while navigating parenthood for the first time has certainly not made me an expert, I have gained a fresh perspective and would suggest both new and experienced parents at our school try to keep the following in mind when it comes to your child’s education experience:

Place Trust in the School and Teachers
Just like my wife and I did with daycares, you meticulously researched and carefully chose Bialik because of our capable staff and teachers who have devoted their careers to nurturing children. Trust that we are always acting in your child’s best interest and have the same goals as you –— to positively impact your child’s happiness, well-being, and development. When you do find yourself reaching out to a member of school staff, remember that the person on the other end of the phone or email is on your team. Developing a positive, respectful relationship is key to making that team work effectively.

Empower Your Child
Have confidence in the wonderful child you are raising and empower them to advocate for themselves during tough situations. Encourage your child to speak to people they are having issues with or ask a teacher for support. This helps build resilience, problem solving and fosters independence — all essential skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives. If you do find yourself communicating with school staff on a regular basis, pause to consider moments when your child may be able to speak for themselves, regardless of their age. Remember, all of those incredible hopes you have for your child will only happen if you let them.

Listen with a Critical Ear
Bialik’s former Head of School, Shana Harris, used to jokingly say, “We’ll believe 50% of what we hear about home life, if you believe 50% of what you hear about school life.” It’s of course important to listen to, and trust your child, but it’s also essential to understand that children’s recollections of school events can, at times, be skewed. Just like adults, children can let emotions colour an interaction or experience. If your child says someone was mean to them on the playground, pause, and ask some follow-up questions. Suppress those instincts to step in and protect them. Think about how the events might have transpired differently and the role they likely played.

Rely on Your Instincts
Although it’s important to pick and choose your moments, if something is unsettling for you, just ask. Teachers and staff are always willing to answer your questions and discuss your concerns. Speaking with your child’s teacher also builds the all-important relationship between school and home and they will be the best person to liaise with on almost every issue. It goes without saying that if an issue is serious, our administrators’ doors are always open.

Although I’ve discovered a lot in my early days as a dad, I still have plenty of milestones to experience and lessons to learn. Becoming a parent has improved my ability to appreciate the lengths parents will go to ensure their children’s happiness and I’m more keenly aware that it can be difficult to suppress our protective instincts — even when we know we should be allowing our children to navigate their way through the world.

So, the next time a parent emails or calls me, I will remind myself of the bee that landed on Andie’s toe when she was three weeks old and approach the conversation with the knowledge of an educator and the empathy of a new dad.

Jake Gallinger

Viewmount Branch Principal