The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

So, is it different?

6 months ago, I moved across our district to a new office, transitioning from Assistant Principal to Principal. For the first time since taking on this new role, I’ve had time to catch up with family and friends and many have asked “it is different?” Reflecting back on a year ago, I cannot believe how much change one word can bring. Removing “Assistant” from my title on business cards and letterhead has brought about huge shifts for me, among them:

I need to be more intentional to see students.

  • As an AP, my role was all about students. Monitoring attendance, assigning discipline, meeting with at-risk students and their families, and getting into common areas such as the hallways or cafeteria for supervision made up the majority of my day.
  • As Principal, entire days can be spent in meetings, with paperwork, or on conference calls. I find that so often, my day breaks down into many small conversations, most in my office, to answer questions about one thing or another. This has been a big challenge for me, as I have always prided myself on being a visible administrator. I’ve found that I have to put “classrooms,” “game” or “cafeteria” on my calendar, to be intentional about making an effort to see students and get to know them.

I need to be the leader the staff needs me to be.

  • As an AP, I worked with staff members to monitor student behavior, got back with people about decisions that had been made, and did my best to find answers when someone had a question or issue to talk about. Most of my work with staff as an AP was reactive.
  • As Principal, I must be proactive, planning ways to promote professional growth and making sure I am prepared to meet the needs of staff members when situations arise in their personal lives. I’ve found that I have to make talking with teachers, individually and in small groups, a priority. Sometimes this is just to lend an ear, other times, it is to remind someone that while they are a great professional, they need to take a step back and take care of themselves. It’s my job to recognize when it has been a long week and people need a break, and it is also my role to see when people may be coasting and to push them to “turn the volume up.”

I need to communicate decisions more than ever before.

  • As an AP, I could count on seeing everyone every day. Supervision required me to be in all around the building where I was easily accessible to both staff and students. It was relatively easy in these moments to let people know what I was doing and why I was doing it.
  • As Principal, sometimes one task ends when another one begins, and I’ve made a decision (or two or three). A budget meeting, then a scheduling meeting, a meeting about a new idea a staff member wants to try, and then a phone call from a parent to make a recommendation all happen in the span of an hour. Failure to get the word out about any of these conversations leads to frustration and confusion. I’ve found that I have to, after a decision is made, ask “how is this going to be communicated?”

I need to focus on my own growth too.

  • As AP, my goal was clear. Learn about school administration from a great leader, grow, and get ready to move into the role of Principal. I felt ready to make the move because I was prepared to be direct, understood many of the “mechanics” of a budget or a schedule, and had ideas on processes.
  • As Principal, sometimes I forget about my own growth because I am in such a rush to get better. It’s hard sometimes not to take things that are said personally, and some details about decisions I am making I need to learn more about. I have to really see the big picture before giving an answer because my decisions have both intentional and unintended consequences. I’m fortunate, I work with an exemplary school staff, have tremendous mentors, and the best PLN on Twitter that bring me back to realizing my own need to grow and learn, and then helping me get better.

So to answer the question, yes, it is a lot different. The four areas I’ve written about are all still a work in progress. Some moments I feel like I am “getting there” and others I see myself as a “taking a step backward.” With that said, there are more good days than bad ones, and I’ve never seen myself grow as a professional more than in making this transition.

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2 thoughts on “So, is it different?

  1. Great post. This is my fourth year as a middle school principal and I am still learning so much.

  2. Maureen Lamb on said:

    Excellent reflection! I have been a principal for 34 years and each day is still a learning experience. Thanks so much!

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