During my five and 1/2 years as an administrator in a junior high school, I was consistently amazed when a teacher or staff member would come to me about a student and imply that I knew more than I was telling them. Many, many, many times I didn't know any more or less than the teacher or staff member who came to me.
There seemed to be this belief that I always had more knowledge about the students than the teachers and staff members did and that, for whatever reason, I was holding it back. It was as if I was keeping secrets from them and they wanted to know the secrets that I knew.
The truth is, there were times I knew more than the teacher and, for a variety of reasons, I couldn't tell them "...the rest of the story". It wasn't that I was deliberately withholding information. Rather, I had to decide if the teacher truly had a NEED to know. If, in my judgment, he or she didn't need to know what I knew, I wouldn't tell them. Maybe an example will better illustrate.
Staff Member X comes to me and lets me know that Suzy Q is acting up in class and that her grades are dropping. She's tried to work with her and spoke with her privately but there's been no improvement. She feels like there's something serious going on in the student's life and is concerned about her. So, she asks me: What do you know about her? Is something going on?
I happen to know that there are some very serious issues going on in the family. Suzy's mother came to see me and told me a lot of very personal and private issues they were dealing with at home. I asked her if I could share this information with her teachers and she stated that she would rather I not at this time. I was given permission to share the information with the Assistant Principal, the Social Worker and the Guidance Counselor. I told Suzy's mother that I would be in touch if I felt that others needed to be informed.
Since I have given my word to this parent, I can't tell the teacher anything at this point. I can only make a vague statement like, "She's going through a lot at home. Why don't you contact her mother and let her know what's going on in the classroom? Maybe her mother will give you some insight."
The teacher leaves and is not really happy. In her mind, she wants to reach out and help this child and I'm impeding her ability to do that. In my mind, I'm honoring the wishes of this mother and I'm going to call that mother and let her know that Teacher X has come to me with concerns.
That's the best case scenario of an instance like this.
Here's a sampling of some of the "secrets" I had to keep:
1. Student A's father was selling drugs out of the house and had weapons in the house. He was fearful for his life and his siblings because his father didn't just sell drugs, he used them frequently. When he used them he tended to get a bit out of hand and had threatened to kill everyone. A DFS Hotline call was made by yours truly, the school Social Worker was informed, the School Resource Officer was informed, the Guidance Counselor was informed. A meeting was held by all involved and it was decided that, since the DFS investigation had come up empty but a police investigation was ongoing, it was best to keep this as quiet as possible. The father did not know who had "snitched" on him and we needed to protect Student A.
2. Student B's mother's boyfriend was a biker. He beat her mother regularly, used meth frequently, was prone to fits of violence when he was high, had held knives on the children and threatened to kill them and had made threats to kill anyone who interfered in their lives.
3. A 13 year old girl confessed to her mother that her uncle had been sexually molesting her.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. In each instance, I had to weigh the teacher or staff member's "right to know" with their "need to know" and the desires of parents, DFS, police, etc. for me to keep information confidential. It was like trying to juggle balloons with a needle in one hand. Eventually, something was going to pop!
In most scenarios, it was me that was going to pop.
If you are a teacher or staff member who aspires to be a principal some day, try to understand that you will be the holder of such horrible secrets and you will be the one deciding who to tell and how much to tell.
You will have to determine the difference between "need to know" and "a right to know". You will have to differentiate between the staff member/teacher who wants to know what's going on for the sake of the child vs the staff member/teacher who wants to know what's going on in order to use it against the child. (It's true and you know it is. There are teachers out there who will use anything to weed out the students they don't like.)
Your ability to keep these secrets, weigh all the factors and make a good decision will directly impact the life of that child. For better or worse, your decision WILL have an impact. You'll lose sleep over it. You'll be sick to your stomach over it. You'll want to quit your job over it.
So, it's true that principals often do know much more than we tell staff members and teachers. We are the keepers of secrets and it's a terrible, terrible burden.