Top 4 Tips for a New Principal
On July 17, 2017, the keys to Moore Magnet Elementary School in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County School system were handed over to me. I was fulfilling my dream to be a school principal. I have been fortunate over my career to travel to hundreds of schools and help them implement new strategies to increase engagement, rigor, and culture, but this time it was different. It was my school. And it was scary. For those of you in the same boat, or looking to be a school leader, here are my top four tips for being a new principal:
Do One Thing
I was completely overwhelmed at first when I saw a great stack of “to-do” items sitting on my desk, such as completing budgets, schedules, agendas, etc. After catching my breath, I realized I needed to start by doing one thing. I needed to feel some sense of accomplishment in order to realize that I could be a successful principal. To figure out what that one thing would be, I needed to decide what the most important piece of a well-functioning school is. In my opinion, that is human capital. Having the right people is essential. Therefore, I decided that hiring was going to be my first “to-do” item. I had several hires to make, and I wanted to make sure I was able to find the best people I could to fill those positions. While I certainly began to work on other items simultaneous to hiring, I wanted to make sure that my focus was dedicated to what I deemed was the most important first thing I needed to complete.
Meet With the Staff
There is a lot of mystery surrounding you as the new principal. To ease fears and begin relationship building, I blocked off every afternoon for an entire week to meet with my staff. I was able to get 34 meetings in, which allowed me to begin to get to know my team. When I met with each person, I had a handful of questions I made sure to ask:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are the things you like about working here?
- What are ideas you have to make it better?
My primary goal was to listen. I did not share anything about my plans for the year. I did not tell them what I was looking to do at the school. That could come later. I wanted to make sure the staff knew I cared about them. I took notes with each person I met with. In the end, I looked for trends and interesting ideas that I could use to shape my approach in working with the staff.
Find Your “Go-To” People
People love giving you advice as a first-year principal. Everyone will have an opinion for what you should do! The challenge is figuring out whom you can trust and feel most comfortable. Over time, you will begin to create a group of colleagues who are transparent and tell you like it is, not what you want to hear. These are also the people you can vent to when you need to let off steam. They understand because they are in it with you. It can be lonely as principal. There is a distinct difference in how people treat you once you are “the boss.” Therefore, your “go-to” people become invaluable in your success as a first-year principal.
Let It Go
If I got a dime for every time I said “Let me just finish this and then I’ll go home,” I would be rich. No matter how hard or late I worked, there was always something more to be completed. And then, when I thought I was caught up, I got an email with something new. I had a lot of trouble letting go of work at first. It got to the point where I was losing family time because I had to answer “just one more email” or respond to “just one more text.” To fix this, once my family and I determined things had to change, I began to put my work phone away when I got home until my kids went to bed. This gave me a chance to spend more time with my family and let myself separate from work for a few hours.