I often stumble across nuggets of wisdom for Assistant Principals in places with no official relationship to schools or students. It’s a constant source of joy and affirmation for how intertwined our professional roles are with the learning and living of most everyone around.
Last week, I discerned the Assistant Principalship is much like the world of barbers and hair stylists, or rather, that it should be. I see this taking place behind the chair and upon, every time I visit for an appointment. Just thought of this again recently as my son and I met-up for a trim with our hair professional. Regarding what Assistant Principals can learn from hair professionals, let’s consider the interactional involvement clients experience.
First, hair professionals seek input regarding the visit’s outcome—in this case, the type of haircut desired. Typically, we’re asked, “What are we going to do today?” and if the same as last time, it’s often remembered without the need for reminder. Notice the “We” in the statement—it values client agency, with our hair professional’s expressed desire to get-on-board with the vision. Might we as Assistant Principals value client agency, soliciting and embracing student and stakeholder desired outcomes in our work, as well?
Second, hair professionals start wherever we are and strive to take things in a positive direction. Reminds me of the “Meet, then Move” strategy in All Other Duties As Assigned: The Assistant Principals Critical Role in Supporting Schools Inside and Out (2022), wherein “Meeting and moving is all about their [client] feelings, their story, their worldview, and their dignity. You want to affirm all of it” (p. 73). In the hair professional’s booth, starting wherever we are might involve challenges in the length or texture of our hair, in how many cowlicks we have standing up stubbornly—with scars to cover, moles to work around, or differences in product/skin sensitivity. Hair professionals do their level best to meet, then move, bringing us to an attractive place before we leave. As Assistant Principals, how can we also meet persons work similarly to bring about attractive results, even if figuratively?
Third, hair professionals constantly check-in to see how we’re doing, with what they’re doing. A mirror hangs in full view, ever-present to gauge the balance of the cut or satisfaction with progress. Everything is transparent. With every step of the process, the hair professional has a perspective on how they’re doing, and we do too. They’re not shy about involving us in quality control. We are partners in the project. From whose vantage points do we as Assistant Principals gauge progress in the play-by-play of any given busy day—Ours, or others’?
Finally, hair professionals show genuine interest in who we are while trying to do what they do. And if not genuine interest, we typically believe it so. They inquire about our hobbies, interests, and loved ones; the better ones get us talking more about ourselves than they do about themselves. When we call folks into our Assistant Principal offices, who does most of the talking, and who feels more-validated, non-judgmentally?
Years ago, I had a barber who said he had long wished to write a book entitled, “From Behind the Chair.” I thought it brilliant and still believe strongly how much we could learn if he did. Assistant Principals can learn much from hair professionals—nuggets of wisdom abound in every visit to their business. The fact that we can learn from them, however, necessitates it seems a larger question, “Do we allow ourselves to do so, and then, operationalize in a way that works in our schools—for clients, and also for ourselves?”