My first year as principal is in the books. At times, I thrived. Many times, I merely survived. I experienced success and adversity. Lessons were learned the hard way. I have much to learn. There is an infinity of room to improve.
There are so many great memories from this first year, so many highlights! I remember pacing the halls in early August planning and preparing. We worked so hard to make sure everything was ready for the students’ first day. The happy faces on the first day were a very rewarding.
Writing words of inspiration on school windows to be seen by all…..
Filling out my first accident report as principal. Luckily, it was nothing serious, at all. And yes, I realize I’m a nerd for even having this picture taken.
My first tornado drill as principal. Safety first!
What a proud feeling the first time I led our first character assembly!
Walk to School Day was a success.
A small town Christmas Tree Lighting…..
There were great classroom experiences, like book tastings.
and thoughtful classroom projects that allowed students to give back to the community. This one in particular raised several hundred dollars to a community outreach center.
Celebrating our 5th graders’ 1,000th day of their school career.
We invited local volunteers to mentor our students, they continue to make a difference.
I’ll never forget these two 2nd graders who began our recycling program. End of year events, like kindergarten graduation were so precious.
I remember the feeling of relief following the panic after locating a misplaced student at dismissal. I’ll remember shaking the hand of every single fifth grader at our promotion ceremony and telling them I was proud of them and how bright their future is. There were tons of memories but overall it sure did seem to go by fast.
Here is my advice to next year’s batch of first year principals.
1. Be yourself. During the year, I caught myself thinking back to how I had seen other principals do things. Did I have to mimic them? Must I do it that way? Did I have to rule with an iron fist? Was I supposed to march around reminding everyone of my new title? I found that the best answer is to trust myself by making the best decision I know to make and to be myself.
2. Resist the test prep mentality. I don’t and won’t ever get fired up to prepare kids for a standardized test. Our job is to provide students with meaningful learning experiences. We are here to provide them for the future and to help them love learning. Educators must not fall into the trap of basing every decision on the test. There are so many more important things us educators do than teaching kids to bubble. Focus on what’s important: teaching, learning, relationships, and growth.
3. Think before you act. My Grandpa said the key to a successful life was making good decisions. Educators make hundreds of decisions per day. There are automatic ones and easy ones. Sometimes the answer is; do nothing. Many times a decision is mandatory or even out of your hands. There are also choices that require deep thought and deliberation. The idea is that you want to be okay with your decision a month from now. Avoid making a decision if you need time to reflect and decompress. Choose wisely.
4. Apologize You are bound to mess up. You are going to get things wrong. People will have their feelings hurt. You will forget things. Preserve relationships. Take accountability. Look people in the eyes and say “I’m sorry.”
5. You have not arrived. What got you here isn’t enough. Keep pushing. The idea is to not simply become a principal. I want to be a great principal. I know this will require continuous improvement. I’m not done learning and hopefully neither are you!
6. Develop a PLN. Find your tribe. You need people to blow off steam with, ask questions to, bounce ideas off of, and to laugh with. The principalship can feel isolated, don’t suffer alone.
7. You need a mentor. A mentor is like the MVP of your PLN. You need at least one person you can trust 100%. You need someone to tell you that your idea is bad. You need someone to nudge and encourage you. I love asking my mentor dumb questions I’m ashamed to ask anyone else. Find someone who will have your back, maybe someday you can return the favor.
8. The job isn’t in the office. I proudly wore out at least 4 pairs of shoes this year. Email can wait. Paperwork can usually wait. The magic happens in the classroom. Choose to be there.
9. Support people. All people have value. Parents send us the best kids they have. Everyone faces their own struggles. Be there for people. Encourage others. Compliment folks for a job well done. Tell people you appreciate them. When someone makes a mistake, offer grace. Listen and consider different points of view. Offer your smile freely. It’s more important to have someone’s back than to get your way or “be right”.
10. It’s all for the students. Adam Welcome says, “schools don’t exist so adults have jobs, schools exit to be awesome for kids.” He couldn’t be more right. We must make school magical for students. Our buildings should be special places that kids looking forward to visiting. Build relationships, teach lessons, take risks, model kindness, and be a role model because our kids need better schools.
Year 1 was an adventure and I can hardly wait for year 2!