Go See the Principal

True Tales from the School Trenches


By Gerry Brooks

Read by Gerry Brooks

Read by Andrea Gonzales

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From an elementary school principal and popular YouTube personality, inspiration and humor for educators to tackle the challenges they face day-in and day-out

Gerry Brooks is an elementary school principal turned YouTube celebrity who entertains K-12 teachers, administrators, and parents across the country. He tells jokes with the kind of mocking humor that gets a laugh, yet can be safely shared in school. After all, even great schools have bad days — when lesson plans fall through, disgruntled parents complain, kids throw temper tantrums because they have to use the same spoon for their applesauce and mashed potatoes, and of course, dealing with…The Horror! The Horror!…dreaded assessments. Ranging from practical topics like social media use in the class­room and parent-teacher conferences to more lighthearted sections such as “Pickup and Dropoff: An Exercise in Humanity” and “School Supplies: Yes, We Really Need All That Stuff,” Go See the Principal offers comic relief, inspiration, and advice to those who need it the most.


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A Note from the Principal’s Desk

I’m an educator who has taught every elementary school grade, with the exception of kindergarten.* I’ve spent six years in the classroom, two years as an intervention specialist, and 12 years as an administrator, plus time as a youth minister. These days, I’m the principal of Liberty Elementary school in Lexington, Kentucky. I’m proud to say that since I arrived in 2014, the school has made great progress as we began to prioritize climate and culture throughout the building. When I came to the school, we were just below the middle of the pack when it came to state testing for our district. With an amazing staff, we quickly moved up the ranks into a proficient rating within one year.

We’ve steadily improved each year, gaining more knowledge of what our students need to grow both academically and emotionally. While I believe I helped set the stage for improvement, I do not in any way take credit for the high achievement at Liberty. That’s all due to the hard work of a dedicated staff.

I believe creating a culture of respect, support, and encouragement helps our staff focus on what’s more important: the students. When this happens, everything else falls into place.

Education was a natural career path for me. Growing up in Rockledge, Florida, I was an outgoing kid. I valued attention, having lots of friends, and involvement in school activities. When it came to summer jobs, I preferred to babysit, teach swim lessons, or work as a camp counselor rather than, say, bag groceries at Kroger. I enjoyed spending time with kids and thrived under the responsibilities and opportunities for leadership that come with those jobs. As an undergraduate at Troy University in Alabama figuring out what to do with my life, it was an easy decision to pursue a career in education. Unlike my father, a school coach who resented having to spend time as a teacher, I truly enjoyed my work.

However, teaching can be stressful, even when you love it. After a fantastic first year at Liberty, I noticed that the mood of the school and teachers changed radically in the spring of 2015. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what happened until I began to listen to conversations about an upcoming state assessment.

By far, the most stressful aspect of education is the pressure we feel from assessments—note the “s” on that word! Nonstop assessments are a regular part of education today. Teachers often have to sacrifice up to six weeks of daily instruction to cram required assessments into their school days. Confident, skilled teachers at Liberty were now in “What if I didn’t do enough?” mode, wondering (more like panicking) about how their students would perform. The staff was stressed in a way I hadn’t seen before.

I couldn’t figure out how to help. One day, as usual, I got to school at 5:00 a.m. because… well, basically because no one is there to bother me that early. In those days, I walked the building every morning for 30 minutes to get some much-needed exercise. As I paced through the halls that late April, I walked by blank walls and empty bulletin boards with no student work on them. That reminded me of how ridiculous our state assessment system had become—the state of Kentucky requires us to put away all instructional materials from our classrooms before state assessments, including things posted in the hallways, because, you know, we wouldn’t want a student to go to the bathroom during an assessment and suddenly learn how to add fractions because of a hallway display that might accidentally help him do better on the state assessment!

I decided a way to break the stress would be to create a short video for the staff where I’d pretend to call out the art teacher’s bulletin board in the hallway because she had left some staples in the corkboard. I stood in front of her bulletin board, which was completely blank aside from some purple background paper, a green border, and some offending staples, and lectured:

I know you aren’t used to this because you are an art teacher and all… but here at Liberty we don’t help students on state testing by leaving things on the walls. I have noticed you left some staples up, and when students see staples, they are going to begin to think, “I went to Staples to get a computer and there weren’t many there, so I had to push my way through the day so that’s an example of scarcity.” So, these staples need to come down.

I wanted to remind our staff how dumb the situation had become. I hoped the half-minute video would relieve the stress of testing and lighten the mood of a fantastic staff that had doubted how much they had accomplished in the previous eight months.

While videos like these were originally made to communicate with Liberty teachers, to my surprise, they began to go viral—the most popular, where I asked for the community’s support during teacher strikes, drew in more than 10.7 million viewers. I have a slight Southern accent in real life (or so non-Southern people tell me), but in the videos I took it to the next level, incorporating the speaking styles of the Alabamans I met at Troy and several kids in our school who speak that exact way (so, no, I don’t actually call myself the “purnciple” when I’m home.)

Since I posted my first video, what started as a way to entertain my friends, family, and staff members has grown into a second career, as I’ve been invited to speak at a number of educational conferences and engagements around the country to commiserate with and motivate other educators.

I think the videos connect with people—teachers especially—not only because I use a funny accent but because behind each humorous topic is something real that affects educators. For instance, I made a video about teacher bathroom etiquette after the alarming experience of walking in on a substitute teacher on the toilet because she had neglected to lock the bathroom door.

Bathrooms are funny; that’s why there’s a whole genre of humor devoted to them. But when I show that film at educational conferences, I use it to illustrate the larger point of why it’s important for a school’s staff to get on the same page.

The stakes of our jobs are high, which is why I feel strongly that administrators, teachers, staff, and parents can more effectively create a positive atmosphere at school.

Kids rely on school staff in ways you wouldn’t even think of. We have a teacher at Liberty who matches everything she wears to her clothes: her shoes, her watch, her jewelry. Sometimes in the hallway she’ll run into a girl who dresses the same way. They’ve built a relationship even though they’re not in the same class. It may seem like a small thing, but that connection strengthens that young girl’s confidence, security, and attitude toward learning.

There is a lock on the door for a reason. Make sure you click the bathroom lock. If you don’t hear click, it’s not locked. It’s very traumatizing to walk in on a staff member in the bathroom.

When the toilet paper is gone, call the custodian. Don’t just leave and not tell anyone because the next person that comes in doesn’t realize there’s no toilet paper and it causes… some stress.

If you share a bathroom, and you have fluffied up that bathroom with lace and flowers and generic Longaberger baskets, put something manly in there so the men will feel welcome. Like a bobble head or a superhero poster.

If you happen to have bathrooms where there’s one for men’s and one for women’s, don’t yell at the men when there is a line at the women’s bathroom. That is not our fault. And stop trying to sneak into the men’s bathroom. If we snuck into the lady’s bathroom you would say “Gross.” So stop sneaking into the men’s bathroom. Gross.

Most important, air freshener don’t make the air fresher. Stop spraying 42 seconds worth of air freshener. It’s just making things worse.

If you have taco Tuesday at your house, Wednesday might be a good day for you get a doctor’s appointment, so you could be off school and bless everyone.

We make a difference in kids’ lives—and the lives of their parents—that we can see daily. When you’re negative, the kids are negative, and when you’re happy and work well together, the children and parents feed off that energy. These kids are all future adults in our community. What kind of people do we want to send out in the world? Positive people who work out their problems, or negative, angry young adults? What we model for them makes a big difference.

Administrators, teachers, and parents don’t always have to agree, but they need to reach an understanding through communication, compassion, and compromise.

It’s pretty simple.

When you communicate, school teams talk through every decision and everybody gets a say. Imagine five teachers trying to plan a Valentine’s Day party and four of them want to have cake, show a movie, and do a craft where all the kids decorate a box, but the fifth teacher says, “That’s not what I want to do in my classroom.” Instead of the other teachers steamrolling her, or that teacher getting passive-aggressive about it, the group needs to clarify, “This is exactly what I think. What do you all think? Why do we think this?”

When we have compassion toward one another, we consider the reasons for people’s opinions. Why doesn’t that teacher want to do the same party? Can she not afford the time? Will she not be able to get the same parent support other teachers get? Does she think it’s going be chaotic and overwhelming? We have to remember that there are valid reasons for people’s opinions.

When we compromise, we see a positive result. I think too often people forget that it’s okay to walk away disagreeing, as long as they’ve communicated and exercised compassion first. If the end result is, “My party will look like this and your party will look like that,” as long as everybody understands that, we’re good.

But even schools with great atmospheres have bad days—when lesson plans fall through, when parents call us irate because they don’t like the way something was handled at recess, when kids throw tantrums because they have to use the same spoon for their applesauce and mashed potatoes, and of course, assessments—when we need humor to get us through the week.

At my teacher events, I like to show the videos to get everyone laughing, and then I talk more seriously about how important it is to get everyone—parents, teachers, and administrators—on the same page. I hope to do the same here in this book—use humor to share what I’ve learned during my time in education and what I’ve learned from other educators—so we can all literally be on the same page.

There are many opportunities for improvement in a child’s educational life, so in this book I try to address each of them and call out how administrators can better support teachers, teachers can better communicate with parents, and parents can better understand their child’s teacher—all in the spirit of serving students.

My goal is to empower educators in order to empower all of us. I’m here to motivate and advocate, and I hope to inspire not just other teachers and administrators, but anyone who’s ever known a teacher—who has ever been positively impacted by a teacher—to do the same.


* Because I’m not insane. I love that kindergarteners all want to be your best friend, but the “um, um, um, um” that permeates their conversations is just one straw too many for me.


Setting Up Teachers, Parents, and Administrators for a Great Year



Principal Tips for Motivating and Bonding Your Team

The first day of school is always a momentous occasion for parents and kids. Teachers also get swept up the excitement—even though their first day occurs a few days earlier—without many “first day of school” photos and hardly any tears.

I think opening day for teachers should be as fun and exciting as humanly possible. It’s the first time your whole staff gathers together, which presents a tremendous opportunity to bolster personal relationships.

You don’t need to rent an escape room or order an expensive catered breakfast for a strong start to the year (although nobody would mind donuts and coffee). I’ve heard teachers complain, “We don’t want to spend three hours on games when we could be getting our classrooms ready,” so simplicity is key.

Principals, I’ve developed some simple icebreakers that you can try at your school. I like to spread these out throughout the meetings so there are little breaks for fellowship in between moments of actual work.

If you don’t have much time to prepare, an easy activity is to give the teachers little packages that contain items like a fun-sized pack of M&Ms or Starburst. I like to use cans of Vienna sausages because it’s funny and there are seven hot dogs per can, but your staff may prefer candy to processed meat. I ask everyone to open theirs and share one fact about themselves to go with each item. It also helps to put up a PowerPoint slide with prompts like “What did you do this summer?” “Where did you grow up?” “Do you have children?” “What’s your favorite movie?” That way people who might be shy or who blank when all eyes are on them will have something to say. With this activity, teachers who might not know each other are more likely to have topics to bond over while they’re on recess duty or bump into each other in the parking lot. They can say, “My mother is from California” or “I was at that concert this summer too!”

If you have a bit more time, try a “Blast from the Past” PowerPoint. A few days before opening day, I go on Facebook and find meaningful photos of as many teachers as I can from earlier in their lives, like wedding or graduation photos. I play the slide show and ask each teacher to tell us something about the day their photo was taken. Then I ask, “What’s one way you’ve changed or grown since then?” This leads into a good discussion of how they can grow this year as teachers and how they want their students to grow as well.

If you have time to research and already have established a good relationship with much of your staff, pull social media pictures your teachers have posted of themselves with their children, and ask each staff member to share something special about their child. I’ll play a game where I ask the teachers to guess whose child is in the photo. “What aspirations do you have for your child?” I then ask, which leads to a discussion about how all parents have certain dreams for their kids—kids like the ones we’re in charge of seven hours per day. I emphasize that it’s our job to help those children reach their parents’ goals and aspirations. It sends a powerful message to see other teachers as parents and to remember that each parent at home wants something great for his or her child.

If you’re blessed with more time or have an active parent-teacher association (PTA), there’s the baggage icebreaker. I’ve spent a few days over the summer gathering used suitcases from Goodwill and the Salvation Army, which usually cost $2 or $3 each. If you’re on a budget, you can email a few dozen parents and ask them to lend the school two pieces of luggage and drop them off a few days before opening day. Then, the night before our first meeting, I put a suitcase in everyone’s room. I send my staff a text message that says, “When you come to the meeting, bring the baggage that was left in your classroom,” and instruct them to leave the bags in the hall. You end up with a huge pile of luggage, which can lead into a discussion about how we can have a more positive year by leaving behind old emotional baggage we’ve carried around, whether it’s anxiety about seeing parents who stressed us out last year, issues with the lesson plan, or overwhelming problems with disorganization. I put out a big sign that reads, “Baggage We’ve Left Behind,” and leave it there for a few days before school starts. Contemplating a fresh start is a release for everyone, and it’s a great visual when the teachers see 50 pieces of luggage piled up outside the staff meeting area. This is an especially effective activity if you’re at a new school or there’s been a lot of flux.

If you can get your staff bonded and optimistic ahead of time, this sets the right tone not just for the first day but for the whole year, and the benefits trickle down to the kids and their parents. Plus, you might just get some extra hot dogs for your lunch.



The Methods to Our Madness

At my school, we mail our placement announcements out in July—the letters that tell parents which classrooms their kids are assigned to for the fall. Due to confidentiality, we don’t mail the whole list, just a letter that reads, “This is who your child’s teacher is gonna be.”

Yet somehow the parents figure out which child is in which class, and every year I get at least one silly call from a parent who complains, “I don’t want my child with Mrs. Smith.”


“Well, I’ve heard she’s a yeller.”

I’ll ask, “Who have you heard that from?”

“Well, my son walks by her room and says she looks like a yeller.”

Or, we’ll hear this:

“I want Mrs. Smith.”

“Why do you want Mrs. Smith?”

“My daughter likes the way she dresses.”

Or this:

“I don’t want my child with Susie.”

“Why not?”

“Susie’s mean.”

“Okay, we can move your child to another classroom.”

“Well, my child has friends in her classroom. Can you move Susie?”

Here’s the thing, and I can’t reiterate this enough: All parents want what’s best for their child. But these parents in particular, who want to control every situation, think they know a teacher’s personality, or whether their child can handle a year in a classroom with a particular child. They’re not considering the professionalism of the teachers and what they see every day.

It was with this in mind that I made a video in which I discussed the secret codes teachers use on student placement cards as we decide which child goes in which classroom. These cards include spaces for students’ names, academic levels, who they should be with and maybe shouldn’t be with, along with the most important information of all: codes to describe the children’s parents:

SS: The Starbucks Shopper parent who’s going to bring you coffee. You want to get that parent.

RRNSU: This stands for Reschedule, Reschedule, Never Shows Up—that parent who doesn’t ever show up for conferences but is always trying to reschedule them.

RCP: This is Reality Check Parent, the one who needs little reminders like “No, your child’s not gifted. He ain’t no prodigy.”

HOE: Hatin’ On Exes—those parents who are divorced and don’t like each other anymore. You gotta make like six copies of everything ’cause they can’t share. Good Lord, you had a kid together. Can’t you share a newsletter?

GGG: The Good Gift Giver. That’s always important to know.

IABYF: It Always Be Your Fault. These parents are always going to blame you for everything.

HSB: This is the Healthy Snack Bringer. Nobody wants a healthy snack bringer as your room parent. Don’t be bringin’ no carrots to a birthday party. I’m serious.

CGA: Constantly Giving Attitude. You know that parent: “Why I got to bring in some coffee filters as a school supply?” Because I said so. Boom.

WTLC: That’s the Way-Too-Late “Conference-r.” Those are the parents that always want to have a conference after report cards. “Can I do anything for my child’s grades?” Yeah, come in before school report cards come out.

Seriously, parents, the next time you pick up the phone to complain about your child’s classroom assignment, remember that the teachers had to carefully juggle the following considerations to create a harmonious classroom that’s optimal for learning:

Personalities of students. Teachers often see conflicts between students that aren’t big enough to bring to a parent’s attention but can cause concern for placing those students in the same class. Are there three or four girls who are bossy and like to be in charge? Then we want to make sure they’re not all in the same classroom because then we end up with behavior conflicts among friends. We also look for the shy, quiet students and make sure they’ve got somebody in the classroom they’re comfortable with.

Academic levels. Teachers seriously consider academic levels when creating a class roster. If there’s a good balance of high, medium, and low students in a classroom, everybody benefits during class discussions. The high students can bring up a lot of prior knowledge and higher-order questioning. The lower students are able to give input and succeed when they’re asked appropriate questions.

Involved parents. This was what inspired the video about the parent codes on student placement cards. Whose parents can send some food in for a party or go along on a field trip? While we may do a good job of splitting up academics and personalities, we might have all the parents that are willing to help out in one classroom, when another classroom doesn’t have snacks at a party because nobody was there to help. So, we strive to ensure all teachers have parental support for their class.

Teacher consideration. Administrators need to make sure all teachers are present when they finalize classroom placement. There’s a lot to be said for a teacher who says, “I really struggled with that child’s parent,” “I know that girl well because she lives in my neighborhood, and I don’t want her in my classroom,” or “I know that family well and I do want her in my classroom.” Make sure you consult your specials-area teams, the librarian who goes, “When they’re with me, these girls fight all the time,” or the physical education (PE) teacher who says, “These two kids are very competitive.” A lot of times, you’ll separate a kid from a distracting friend in second grade, and then by third grade they’re put back together because the first grade teachers weren’t part of the conversation and no one can remember why those two were separated to begin with, and now they’re back together, more distracting than ever.

And that’s almost as bad as carrots at a classroom birthday party.



Yes, We Really Need All That Stuff

Several years ago, Staples released a funny commercial in which a father danced around the store to the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” tossing school supplies in his shopping cart while his children watched, stone-faced.

I wish all parents were that excited about pencils, folders, and protractors, but some push back when supply lists are sent home. They grumble when they have to spend $25, $50, or $100 on supplies, but they don’t understand that if the student doesn’t bring that stuff in, then it lands in the school’s lap—or even the teacher’s personal wallet—to supply them.


On Sale
Apr 30, 2019
Hachette Audio

Gerry Brooks

About the Author

Gerry Brooks is an elementary school principal in Lexington, Kentucky. His educational experience includes six years in the classroom, two years as an intervention specialist and twelve years as an administrator. He is also an accomplished public speaker on the topic of encouraging, motivating, and inspiring teachers. His work focuses on encouraging and helping teachers improve their instructional abilities and helping administrators successfully lead their staff.

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