To outsiders, the role of the principal may seem as simple as maintaining a timely and well-greased bus schedule, making sure that the supply cabinets are full and that students (or “slackers”) aren’t wandering the halls…
Here’s the truth of the matter: Every year the principal’s role becomes increasingly more complicated. Now, in addition to all of the administrative and managerial duties s/he organizes behind the scenes, principals are also expected to design (and refine) curriculum, offer instructional support, and assess data. And on top of all of this, principals are also expected to lead and inspire their community of teachers and learners.
This is a lot to take on, even for veteran principals who have seen and heard it all, so it’s easy to imagine why a new principal would feel overwhelmed even before s/he truly begins. To make your job less turbulent, here are 5 Survival Tips for the New Principal:
5 Survival Tips for the New Principal
Show reverence for the culture of the school
You may have the best intentions when you replace that tattered and creaky sofa in the lounge or when you box up a wall of trophies or when you move someone from one office to another. And as trivial, tattered, dusty and cluttered as these things are to you, your staff may see them as cultural relics that are not to be tampered with.
Something to keep in mind is that “real” problems (the ones that demand attention) will always reveal themselves in due time. Until you hear about it a half dozen times from a half dozen people, the trophies and couches can stay.
Bury the megaphone for the first year
You were brought on for a reason, so it stands to say that it is your job as a new principal to initiate new and effective ideas. That said, it is better to start the year with a whisper, and save the megaphone orders for when you have a clear and sure view of what needs changing and what doesn't.
Before you make any face-first decisions, meet with each teacher and department chair. Learn who is truly influential in the school. As you meet with these folks, ask them two questions:
- What about our school is working and should be preserved at any cost?
- What isn’t working and how might we change it?
Nurture yourself by doing ___________every day
It’s safe to say that there isn’t a blog out there on stress management that doesn’t offer this trite (but nonetheless true) piece of advice. But we think it bears repeating: Take care of yourself. Set aside a specific time every day to do something that nurtures you physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, etc. Revere this time like you would any important appointment or meeting. Turn off your phone; don’t just turn it to vibrate. The world, its broken couches, its dusty trophies, its schools, its curriculum, its students can wait—for one hour.
Ditch the textbook, call an experienced friend
Like parenting, there’s no textbook for being a new principal—well, maybe there is, but no textbook is as wise as your experienced friends and mentors. You may be surrounded by people all day, but being a principal—especially a new principal—is often solitary and isolated work. Even if you have been promoted from within, you shouldn’t be surprised when a hush comes over the room when you enter, or when people more closely monitor what they say in your presence. That’s just how it is, which is why you need a support system, someone you don’t have to censor yourself in front of; someone who has no connection to your school, its bureaucracy and thin skin.
Realize these three things about your job:
- Principals rarely win the popularity contest
- You can never get everything done
- You can’t ride in on a white horse and change everything yourself; you need the help and support of your colleagues and teachers