For seven weeks, I was an interim, elementary principal in one of my district's elementary schools. It was an opportunity and experience that was invaluable. When I began I was nervous and full of anxiety, but when I ended, I had wonderful memories, great new relationships, and a very real and meaningful learning experience.
So as I look back on my seven weeks as an elementary principal, and try to put things into perspective, these are my top ten things I have learned.
From my very first day, I knew I had to be out of my office and in the halls, classrooms, cafeteria, and out on bus duty. I needed to show students, parents, teachers, and staff I was there for them. I could not do that from staying in my office trying to sort through all the emails and paperwork. While those needed attention, being visible was more important.
While I was filling in for another principal in his building, I still I had to be myself as I addressed issues and worked with others. I couldn't pretend or try to be someone I wasn't. If I wasn't myself, then chances were my time as interim principal would have been a disaster, and I would have left with regrets.
Whether it was support for students, teachers, parents, or staff, being supportive was probably the most important thing I did. I tried to be supportive in various ways, whether it was just being present in the hallways, cafeteria, out on bus duty, or offering to cover a teacher's class while they explore a new topic or need to collaborate with another teacher. Simply put, I listened to, talked with, and followed up with people, and I took the Rocketbook notebook everywhere I went.
This was one of the funnest parts about the job. Going into classrooms, the hallways, the cafeteria, or out on bus duty allowed me to interact with the students, parents, teachers, and staff. Just getting to see the wonderful things going on in the classrooms and talking to everyone allowed me build meaningful relationships in the seven weeks I was at the school. One teacher asked if his students could share their Google Docs assignment with me. Of course I agreed, and I commented on each of the students' Google Docs. The students then responded to my comments. What a great way to connect to the students and get to know them in a short amount of time.
Being a principal I found that communication was vital to everything. If I did not communicate clearly or if others did not communicate with me clearly, then there were going to be some bumps in the road. The more everyone communicated with each other, the smoother the days went. Even if there were difficult conversations that needed to take place, I always wanted to be honest and upfront. I would always choose to talk, rather than not talk.
Build & Strengthen Relationships
I cannot underestimate the importance of building trusting, honest, and sincere relationships. Relationships need to be established with all stakeholders. I tried to build these relationships by being visible, listening, smiling, getting back to people, letting people know they are doing great things, giving little notes of praise and/or encouragement, attending after school functions, making phone calls (even the difficult ones), sending weekly emails, and establishing a strong, positive social media presence. Relationships always need attention. They cannot be let go.
A part of being a principal that cannot be ignored is handling discipline. As soon as I began my principal experience, I had to deal with discipline issues from kindergartners to sixth-graders. They were classroom issues, bus issues, cafeteria issues. You name it and it seemed to follow me, and I was okay with that. I wanted to support my teachers and my students, even the students whom I had to talk with. By handling the discipline it was a way of supporting my teachers and students, while at the same time building and strengthening trusting relationships. Yes, I had some difficult discipline issues, but my answer was always remain calm, be firm, be clear on my expectations, and talk with the students. For some students that needed a little more help, I would ask them what I could do to help make their time at school better. By doing this, I let them know I truly was there to help them, and the next time I saw them, it made that next meeting much easier. At the end, I would always touch base with the students' parents and teachers to follow up with them, and I would also follow up with the students the next day. Discipline was more than consequences, it was more about helping students.
Pick Up the Phone
Whether it was picking up the phone to call a parent or picking up the phone to call a fellow administrator, the phone was a great tool. Calling home to talk to a parent about their child, immediately starts to build a relationship. It did not matter if it was good new or bad news, I wanted to the parent to hear it from the school first, and I wanted to be able to connect with the parent in a more personal way, rather than an email. There were also very few days I did not pick up the phone and call another administrator for help or advice. Just because I was the principal, it didn't mean I had all the answers (especially being the newbie). I use my PLN on Twitter often for support, so why not use my PLN in my own district? I wasn't afraid to ask questions, and that was one of the smartest things I did.
A Principal's Voice Goes a Long Way
As principal, it was important for me to keep in mind that what I said and how I reacted to situations would have a significant impact on the culture of the building. People looked to me to calm a situation down, not escalate it. They listened to how I spoke with others. Having that voice as principal was a great opportunity to make a positive impact on the school.
Expect the Unexpected
From day to day, I could not predict what was going to happen next. I did use Google Keep to help keep me organized or at least give me a starting point from day to day, but it quickly got changed around. I could not change the unexpected from happening, but understanding all of the above ideas helped me handle the unexpected with a much greater sense of confidence and calmness.
Being an elementary principal for seven weeks was a honor and privilege. I was in an amazing school and witnessed everyone going above and beyond to help a fantastic bunch of students, and the students weren't the only ones learning. I was right there along with them.