From Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, kids grow up reading about authoritative figures such as headmasters and principals. In many books and movies, principals are portrayed as the ones “out to get the students.” From what I’ve noticed, whether it be in a book, a movie or real life, when a student is called to the principal’s office, the immediate reaction from the student and their peers is to assume trouble. This got me asking myself, stereotypes and assumptions aside, who is our principal really?
To find out, I decided to sit down with him and ask that very question.
Meet MTHS principal Greg Schellenberg, 6 feet 8 inches tall and absolutely dedicated to his job. He also happens to be able to clap with one hand.
That’s not a joke.
Schellenberg’s motivation for involving himself in the education system started a young age, with his dad working as a superintendent and his mom as an elementary school teacher. Before becoming a principal, Schellenberg’s journey in education began as a teacher and basketball coach. After graduating college, he started out as a math teacher in Federal Way, where he also founded a video production club that eventually became an elective class.
“That’s like my sliding door. If I wasn’t in education, I’d be doing something with video,” he said.
However, Schellenberg never had his sights on becoming a principal and fought the urge for a while, thinking he wanted to just teach and coach. Eventually, he begrudgingly conceded to the inevitable and decided to get his master’s degree in school administration.
After he started doing his internship though, Schellenberg was hooked. He fell in love with the breadth of the work and the chance to be a counselor, teacher and manager, all at the same time.
At the age of 28, Schellenberg got his first job as an assistant principal at a junior high school in Puyallup, where he was chosen out of 55 candidates.
“I have to look back at that now and be like, what were they thinking? They must have really been out of options,” Schellenberg said laughing.
After three years as a principal in Puyallup, Schellenberg and his wife ventured to Shanghai, China, where he taught for a couple of years. Then, he got his first job as a principal in Saudia Arabia before coming back to serve as a principal for a number of high schools in Washington state.
The family had twin boys and he returned abroad as principal in China and Thailand. With the twins approaching middle school, Schellenberg and his wife decided to come back to Washington, where he took a job opening as MTHS’s interim principal.
The interim title was removed a year later when he was the unanimous choice to remain at the helm following long-time principal Greg Schwab’s move to the district as an assistant superintendent.
In addition to his time as an administrator while abroad, Schellenberg also coached and taught. He distinctly remembers one basketball team he coached as being extremely diverse, all with different nationalities and religions.
“It was just so heartwarming to watch them pull together and laugh and enjoy each other,” he said.
However, the biggest thing that stood out to Schellenberg from his time abroad was that “people are amazing.”
“There’s a pace to life here and it can just be like, I’ve got all these things I need to get done,” he said. “I think that can be at the expense of how amazing people are that are right in front of us and right around us.”
He also knows that principals can be thought of as serious and mean people who aren’t always genuine.
“There are times when that is important, because there are serious things that need to be taken care of, but there’s plenty of times when there’s a lot of cool stuff happening around this building, and just to be able to see it and support it is pretty special,” he said.
According to Schellenberg, his job as a principal is rather like that of a plumber in the ways in which he must handle his duties.
“If you picture a plumbing system in a house, if everything works as it’s supposed to, nobody notices the plumbing system,” Schellenberg said. “But as soon as there’s a problem, a leak or a clog or something, then it’s the principal that comes in and tries to take care of that so that the system can work again without people thinking about it.”
This, he explained, could include anything from dealing with difficult conflicts to holding people accountable. Schellenberg’s favorite part of his job, though, is visiting classrooms and watching students wrangle with tough real world problems.
“I think that’s part of our job, to present things and let people practice developing their own thoughts and their feelings about them,” he said.
Outside of school, Schellenberg is just like any other human being. He enjoys listening to alternative styles of music, coaches basketball and loves to cook. Greek is his favorite type of food.
So, if you see him in the halls, don’t be afraid to stop and say “Hi!”
And if you ever want to learn to clap with one hand, he’s the perfect person to ask.