I got the job!!!
I was so excited when the phone call came. Honestly, I felt that I’d crushed the interview and it was now just about getting the offer. So accepting the job was easy, and I was fired up!! I was now a High School Principal. Five years after beginning my run as an assistant principal, I was moving down the hallway at my school into the principal’s office. I knew this was a big leap, but I really didn’t know HOW big it was.
We had been on a family getaway when I received the big news, so I wasn’t in my new office instantly. But as soon as we got home, I was headed into the office. I had to get my stuff moved, afterall. I had to think through all the changes I wanted to make. I had to fill my now-vacant assistant principal position. So much to do, and I wasn’t really sure where to start.
Many of you are experiencing the same thing this summer. You’ve landed that position you wanted so badly and it’s time to get to work. But what are the steps you need to take. What might be some things you might pump the brakes on? I have talked about it often, but my experience moving from AP to Principal left me breathing through a snorkel in year one, my head never coming above the water that entire year. So here are some pieces of advice to hopefully help you be successful in your first principalship. (btw: this advice is also good for new superintendents and new APs)
Don’t try to be Superman
I fell hard into this trap. You feel like you have to be everything for everybody. The smartest person in the room, the solver of all problems, the master of all things education. But here is the thing, they hired YOU not Superman. Be you…you’ll be great!
It should go without saying, but in this new role you have to build relationships with people both in and out of the building. Get to know who they are, start building trust, and spend time letting your face be seen. If you are new to the community, get in touch with the police chief or sheriff, connect with the fire marshall and fire chief, get lunch with the mayor or a city council member. Yes, it’s important. Even though I’d been at my school for as long as I had, I still needed to form these relationships. There will come a time when they need you, or you need them. It’s better to have put in the time to get to know each other prior to a crisis situation bringing you together for the first time.
Take it easy with the changes
What I mean here is don’t throw systems overboard simply because you think you have a better way to do something. I was eager to put my own mark on the principalship and felt some realignment of job duties was in order for the assistant principals and my AD. I wanted my APs to grow and be prepared to take on their own principalships. I also wanted to make sure we didn’t lose institutional knowledge when one person left a role. I decided to break silos in job duties and cross pollinate what each person’s responsibilities were. Newsflash: the system was really good and I could have cross trained without disrupting the roles and responsibilities. Change is good, but change for the sake of change is mind-numbing and pointless. This is a people business, make sure you have them in mind before making any radical changes.
Don’t throw it all away
You might be tempted to gut the files and paperwork you’ll undoubtedly find in your predecessor’s desk and cabinets. Instead of simply pulling in the rolling dumpster and chucking it all in, slow down and be willing to invest the time in going through what is there. As a new superintendent, I found a lot of very important paperwork, personnel information, and grant documents that helped me get a very good understanding of what was happening prior to my arrival. As a new principal, even though I had been in that same building for five years, I didn’t throw anything away until the end of my first year as the principal.
Build your routine
This is a great time to start working on your in-year routine. By that I mean when you are taking care of yourself, setting aside family time, scheduling regular time with your counselors, secretaries, etc. If you can get into a regular routine prior to all the staff and students arriving, it increases the likelihood you’ll hold to the routine.
Find your support network
I was really lucky in that, when I started as the principal at my high school, the other high school in the county’s principal had been an AP alongside me. He and I put in motion a plan to meet for breakfast one time per month. It was a life saver. You are going to need someone to vent to, bounce ideas off, and to talk through some of the difficult conversations that await you in the coming year. Figuring out who that person is now and how you’ll communicate will pay off big time down the road.
It is an exciting time for you, running headlong into your first principalship. Enjoy the ride but remember to take some time each day to collect your thoughts. Breathe (this is really important)…just breathe
You’ve got this!!! Enjoy the year
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