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Becoming an effective principal--and avoiding first-year blunders


effective principalsDespite the fact that many new principals have spent years—and sometimes decades—in education, they are often broadsided by the new (and unavoidable challenges) that come with the territory. Although we certainly can’t prepare you for all of them, we’d like to offer a few tips to help you avoid a few first-year blunders.

The first year: Making new principals into effective principals

Effective principals know that not everyone knows what they do all day
The expectations placed on leadership have never been more demanding. Sure, principals know who creates the school’s vision, develops curriculum, evaluates teachers, manages the building and collects data. But outsiders are, generally speaking, completely unaware of what principals do throughout the day.

If your colleagues genuinely believe that your day consists of issuing orders or combing the halls for truants, it makes sense that they would be frustrated when you do not respond to their needs immediately. The best way to let them know what you do is by having them help you do it—which brings us to our next point.

Effective principals create a community of shared responsibility
You may think that you have to do it all—and certainly you have an overwhelming amount of responsibilities—but don’t try to be a rugged-individualist. We’re saying this for a few reasons: First, it’s impossible. Second, because it will make you look like a control freak. Third, because you have any army of intelligent and perfectly capable teachers who can help you shoulder the burden.

If you assign a specific, task-savvy adult to handle every anticipated melodrama—crumbling drywall, for example, or a flock of birds who has made a nest in the rafters of the gym—you can spend your time on “big-picture” issues. Quick fixes may make you look good, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice when you stay mired in perfunctory disruptions.

Effective principals make themselves visible
Like we said earlier, not everyone understands what principals do—and they’re never going to if you hole up in an office all day. One way to make yourself visible is by taking your office with you. If you need access to email, bring along a laptop and set up shop in the library. Is there a study hall going on somewhere in the school? Grab a seat in the back of the room and get some work done there. Try rotating your “satellite office” every day. Doing this not only gets you out of the office, it also gives you the opportunity to speak with faculty and students.

Effective principals accept the fact that they’ll be compared to predecessors
Knowing ahead of time that everything you do will be measured against your predecessor will save you a lot of grief and restless nights. Comparisons are going happen. You are going to hear things like, “Principal X didn’t seem to have a problem with this,” or “Principal X would never have done this.” Ditch your gut reaction to react defensively and use these moments to ask questions and engage in an open discussion.