Fair, Care, Aware: Principal Keys

This past weekend, I attended an all-class reunion. I am a proud graduate of Immaculata High School, which educated young women from 1941-1983 in the city of Detroit. In addition to all of my “sisters” that attended, we were also blessed to have one of our beloved principals with us. As you can in the above pictures, Mr. Joyce, principal from 1971-1978, still has that great smile!

Why was Mr. Joyce such an exceptional principal, that 40+ years later he was celebrated so? Three reasons: 1) he was fair; 2) he cared; and 3) he was aware.


From a purely ethical standpoint, principals must treat similarly-situated people fairly. Any decision-making process must not only be fair, it must also appear fair. In other words, principals should not make arbitrary decisions that create different standards for teachers, students, or families within those groups.

Moreover, neuroscience tells us that the brain perceives unfairness as a threat, and responds accordingly; this can be avoided:

“The threat from perceived unfairness can be decreased by increasing transparency, and increasing the level of communication and involvement about [ ] issues. For
example, organizations that allow employees to know details about [ ] processes may have an advantage here. Establishing clear expectations in all situations – from a one hour meeting to a five-year contract – can also help ensure fair exchanges occur.”

As students, we may not have always liked Mr. Joyce’s decisions, but we respected them.


We also knew Mr. Joyce cared about us, individually and collectively. He showed it in so many ways, especially taking time to get to know us and our unique stories. For my family in particular, he was the source of great strength when my sister, a junior, ran away from home and was missing for almost a full year.

Mr. Joyce also cared about the faculty, and while we were oblivious to it at the time, it is so evident in hindsight. Even though teachers at our school were not paid much (a first year teacher started at approximately $7000), the culture cultivated by Mr. Joyce was one of professional respect and admiration. We all knew we were receiving a top-notch education, and our teaches knew we appreciated them.

Principals today show they care for students, teachers, and families in so many different ways. Even so, it is important to make sure that one reflects on it and is intentional about it. For a good read, check out BRAVO Principals: Care About People by Sandra Harris.


As a white principal whose student population was modeling that of the city — shifting from majority white to majority African American — Mr. Joyce was aware of the changes taking place both inside and outside of the school. Much like today, the school environment is not immune to external changes and new expectations in economics, politics, and society. How a principal navigates those changes is crucial.

While framed for teachers, this excerpt from Brian Gatens’ post on managing expectations is just as relevant for principals:

“New teachers soon realize that a community defines itself by the quality of its school system. It is the main focus of parents, businesses and local government.

Remembering this simple fact is essential to meeting the evolving (and rising) expectations for teachers in today’s rapidly changing world. Communities have always expected a lot from their schools, and that is being magnified by social media, email and the ability to foster a Web presence. Those outside of school are now closer than ever.”

Gatens suggests focusing on five items: 1) building a base of community support; 2) inviting the community in; 3) transparency in practice; 4) protecting privacy; and 5) fostering a legacy.

As I read Gatens’ post, I see Mr. Joyce in all five areas, especially in terms of fostering a legacy. It’s why so many were delighted to reconnect with him again, so many years later.

Join the conversation…how are you demonstrating fairness, care, and awareness in your school?

Since this article was originally posted, Cathy Guinan, one of our stellar English teachers, reached out with the following:

“Everything you write about is so true. I was blessed to work with Jim Joyce and all the rest of IH faculty! Amazing young women -loving and committed community!💚💚💚”






One thought on “Fair, Care, Aware: Principal Keys

  1. That was very well written and reflects your deep respect and admiration for such an influential person in so many lives. It took a person with deep compassion and sincerity to handle the cultural transition of the school during that time.


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