Always say hello to the principal: A young researcher's lesson

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One of the more memorable lessons I learned as a new faculty member and researcher in 1975 occurred in the Coquitlam school district. I was conducting a study to compare the French language skills of kindergarten French immersion children with Grade 7 Core French students. The district French coordinator, a wonderfully supportive person and excellent coordinator, had scheduled me one morning to test the oral-aural communication skills of the kindergarten children.

During this period of my life, I was also attending regular modern/jazz dance classes and also participating in a weekly improvisational dance group. Just prior to my scheduled testing session, I broke my little toe during a jump. The doctor decided that a cast was not necessary and advised me to simply keep the leg elevated as much as possible.

As I began my testing sessions, I noticed right away that the children were very nervous when facing me. This is understandable as facing a large adult for the purpose of being tested is a frightening prospect for any five-year old child. So I decided to use the old adage that ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ I started each testing session by asking the child if it was OK to place my leg up on a chair next to them. Then I talked about my dancing and explained what happens when a little toe gets broken. This seemed to establish some rapport and put them more at ease and the testing was completed smoothly and productively.

However, I was in for a surprise! That afternoon, I received a phone call from the French coordinator. She told me that she had received a call from the district superintendent complaining about my unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour. Apparently the school principal had looked through the window in the closed door while I was doing the testing. He had misinterpreted my seating position with the children and phoned the Superintendent to complain.

I was very upset about this and I explained to the coordinator what had occurred and she passed along the explanation to the superintendent. As we had an excellent relationship, she was able to vouch for my professionalism and to smooth things over, so this had no impact on my future work with the district. However, this could easily have been avoided if I had dropped in first to say hello to the principal and explain the situation. I learned a valuable researcher’s lesson: Always say hello to the principal.

Dr. David Kaufman
Professor