Sunday, December 17, 2017

7 days as a Principal: The highs, lows, and how awesome it is to lead a school #PrincipalLife

5,000 words on the #PrincipalLife

A common assignment that Administrative Preparation programs give their candidates is to shadow a principal for a day.  I have had the oppourtunity to have interns follow me around on occasion, and hopefully they learned a little about the job.  This blog post is to give an anecdotal account of a work week for a principal, as I think a day is at best, cursory.  I do not claim to be the busiest, most effective, or otherwise a great example, but I think my experience is pretty consistent with my peers.  Please hear me when I say that this piece is a little awkward to write, as I think it’s somewhat braggadocio, which is not my intent.  I think we need leaders that have a clear understanding of what they are taking on, not for money, or influence, but because this is the work they want to do, and think they can do well. Hopefully an aspiring administrator can read this and glean some information for what they are in for if they take on the principalship.

Every Sunday I carve out time in the morning after church to answer emails and work on the Monday and weekend report.  Sometimes I complete them on Saturday, but I usually spend 2 hours or so putting these together for the week on Sunday.  I think every school has their versions of these reports to set up their week, and communicate out to the community.  A reflective note: I think these are effective in communicating –some- of what goes on in the school, but inevitably I kick myself weekly for missing something.  With seven grades levels and 2,100+ students, this seems to be a common theme.  It’s an area I am continuing to work on.

Total Email sent for the day:                        12
Signatures:                                                     0

Began the day in district training for the MAP assessment at 745am.  Returned to school after the two and half hour training, around 1115am.  Walked around building and touched base with four of my APs, two team leads, and a counselor until around 1pm.  Since I had a meeting to start the day, we didn’t have our normal Monday admin meeting for the building, so went face to face with items I needed to make sure a couple of the folks needed to know.  Whenever we don’t start the week with admin meeting, I feel like we will be a little off for the whole week, so touching base on the important items is critical. 

Returned to my office and answered email for about 20 minutes.  During the time I had last checked email (around 1030am) I had 43 new items in my inbox.  I also signed my green folder (invoices, deposit slips, checks, etc) during this time.  I signed my name 19 times, and this will be something I track throughout the week.  Met one on one with an employee to discuss a concern. Spoke to my boss in the phone for about 5 minutes. 

Afterwards walked around some more, checking on some teachers, touching base with some students, and checking progress on one of our projects.  Spoke at length with our state department education leader assigned to our building on our upcoming state audit, and items necessary to making it successful.  Met with a teacher for a post observation conference from an observation during the previous week.  This was a positive meeting as she is at the point in her career and ability to define what she needs to do to continue to grow.  Fielded a call from an educator outside of the district who wanted me to present at a conference.  Met with one of my PBIS teachers to discuss incentive day coming up.  Met with one of team leads during their planning (not planned, just stopped by) to check pulse.  Met with a new teacher on their planning (not planned, just check in) to check pulse.

Table full of docs to sign the day before a break.

Local news station came during this time.  Spent 45 minutes with them being interviewed on building size/ space.  Talked with them until about 2pm, then went to a meeting of all of our winter athletes.  Delivered points about our athletic code of conduct, my expectations, and what it means to be a student athletes.  Monitored dismissal through first run buses then returned to office and made a phone on my list.  Afterwards talked to a couple of teachers about some items until about 330.  Then did paperwork in my office until I left for the day.  This consisted of working on the slides for our state audit in January, some title I stuff, reading some information on our pension (our legislature is looking to royally tear us up on our pension, and I am extremely invested in their decision), drafting some thoughts about graduation rate, and filing some evaluation paperwork.

Left the building around 530pm.  Spent family time until around 930pm, then spent about an hour and twenty minutes answering emails and reviewing documentation of a parent complaint.

Total Email sent for the day:                             48
Signatures:                                                         19

Started the day in the building at 6:41am.  Set up my laptop, got a cup of coffee, checked my mail until 6:57 and walked downstairs.  Did morning lobby duty until 7:30am.  This time consists of standing in the lobby, talking to a few people, talking to students, and telling students to stop playing in the bathroom (a daily reminder to middle school students).  After duty I walk the high school side, come back through the arts hallway, and walk the middle school side.  Walked around the building until around 810am and returned to my office.

Closed office door for about twenty minutes to return phone calls.  Returned a parent phone call.   Spent 21 minutes on the phone discussing a student’s progress.  Resolved with having a parent meeting with the teachers at the grade level.  Returned another parent phone call.  Spent about 4 minutes on the phone, got cussed at, redirected the parent, got cussed again, and hung up on them.  Radioed my secretary and told her to let my bosses secretary know she may get a complaint, and if the parent called back, that I would talk to them tomorrow.  Then went to a meeting with a district resource teacher to discuss PLCs/ vertical alignment in one of our content areas.  This was a productive conversation as she is good at her position and understands where our school is in terms of need.  Discussed vertical alignment, some ideas for a January in service day, and some documents.

Meet with STC to discuss copiers, and during this time signed my name 42 times to checks, statements, and other documents, because my bookkeeper (she’s awesome by the way) saw me in the library with the STC and asked if I had time to hit my folder.  Me and the STC discussed copiers because this a big issue for our school.  We have, by virtue of previous administration and years of practice, a ton of printers.  These are not cost effective, so we are transitioning to printing to copiers, to redirect money back into the classroom.
Afterwards went back to my office and worked on 2 meetings agendas for about 20 minutes.  Met with my secretary to discuss an employee on leave, spoke to the leave office.  Fielded a phone call from another HS principal to discuss some concerns mutual to our schools.  Met with an AP to discuss student concerns.  Followed up on emails for about 12 minutes, then spent about 20 minutes in the lobby talking to students/ staff during lunch.  Walked the halls for a few minutes, popped in a classroom for a brief walkthrough, filled out our instructional focus document (admission: I forgot to follow up with this teacher and they reminded me the next week) then returned to my office.

Ate lunch in my office (thanks Jeanne!) while I finished a behavioral letter home to our community, and posted it on social media.   During this time an AP came in and briefed me on an employee situation, a student stopped by to talk, and a clerk stopped by to talk.   Walked around the building for 15 minutes.  Came back and checked our social media accounts in my office for about 10 minutes.  Answered an email from a district person for about 5 minutes, then returned to walking around the building until dismissal.  Spoke to AP on dismissal to check status on EProve surveys while we monitored dismissal. Went to new teacher cohort to see what my APs were facilitating and checked with our new/ newer teachers.  Returned a phone call from a middle school principal.   Boss texted me on a couple of items. Left the building at 338pm to go to doc (sinus infection I get every year).  Met family for dinner, and also corresponded with my Admin team via GroupMe to discuss a problem we have with kids leaving campus and coming back onto property.  Worked on a letter for school (6:21-6:36) while my kids did their homework.  Did family things until around 845.  After kids went to bed worked on audit slides for January, answered some email, and reviewed EProve surveys until about 10:00.  Afterwards I worked on college class work until about 11, then went to bed.

Total Email sent for the day:                             47
Signatures:                                                         42

Started the day in the building at 6:44am.  Began the day meeting with an SBDM (our Site Based Decision Making council comprised of teachers, admin, and parents) member to help him construct a survey using google forms for his ad hoc committee.   Went to do morning duty after that.  Around 815 met with 2 APs working on CSIP.  Discussed this with them until about 920am.  Returned to my office to compose a response to a request from central office.  Did this until 940am.  

Walked around the building until around 1115am.  During this time went in four classrooms, met with an AP over a team issue, spoke with a few students about some things I had heard they had done, did a discipline conference with a  student for a minor infraction, spoke with a teacher and security guard about general issues, and signed my green folder (34 signatures) for the day.  A note here: I don’t do much discipline with 7 APs.  It honestly isn’t the best use of my time, but from time to time I do smaller discipline if an AP is unavailable, or I have interest in a particular student.  I usually consult on anything that requires a suspension of more than 2 days, and if it’s a big ticket discipline item, I am involved.  Last year we processed over 4,000 referrals, and 900 suspensions.  While I could write a dissertation on why I don’t think suspensions work, we don’t have many other alternatives.  We suspend for fighting, egregious behavior towards staff/students, weapon, drugs, and chronic misbehavior.  While I realize it’s easy to say from my chair, I do believe our suspensions are justified the vast majority of the time.  I think we can all agree we want students in class.

Returned to my office and looked at employment applications for about 15 minutes, as we have vacancies.  Since I took the position here, we have always had at least one vacancy.  I’ve hired over 120 people in the last 15 months, and we are close to being fully staffed.  With over 235 employees, this is pretty daunting.  Met with a teacher who wanted to discuss something.  Met with a clerk to check status on an item.  Returned to walking the halls until around 100, made it into 2 classrooms, stopped in on a PLC, and had a long conversation with an AP and teacher about some initiatives we are working on.  Stopped and talked to one of our KDE resource teachers for a few minutes, and touched base with my secretary.  Returned to my office around 100 and answered email, and spent about 15 minutes on personal business not related to school.

Attended Men of Quality meeting (youth program for young men run by one of our counselors) that afternoon.  Afterwards monitored the hall until 235pm, and then talked to our director of facilities about an issue, then caught up on some paperwork.
I left the building around 3:20 to make it to class on time.  Stopped and grabbed food for class, as we were doing a potluck.  Went to class at 430 until 810.  I am currently pursuing my doctorate.  During class texted with my boss to resolve a funding issue (she’s still working around 730).  Got home around 8:30, spent time with the family and put the kids to bed around 9.  Worked on some hobby work until about 1015, then answered emails and composed a staff attendance email.  I have been doing a lot of reading on attendance and have decided not to send out percentages and dog the staff on the importance of attendance.  They know it’s important, so instead, I’m going to spend time and effort on other items to monitor, and recognize that the work is tough and sometimes people call in.  Worked on these things until around 11:30pm, spent a couple minutes trying to do some reading for class, didn’t want to, and then went to bed.

Total Email sent for the day:                              57
Signatures:                                                         34

Started the day at central office.  I chose to get there early and answer some email/ work on items rather than go straight to the building as the drop off for my youngest child is nearer to central office than my school (and if I went to school I’d only have about 15 minutes before I’d have to leave to make my meeting).  The meeting was the Principal Communication Committee.  This is where principal representatives of their peers (mine is Area 3 High schools) share concerns common to their areas for the district to address.   This is attended by the superintendent and our chief academic officer.  They share some big ticket strategy items, and then listen to concerns, and either give answers, or form a plan to get an answer.  I like this committee as I think it is a good way to communicate the needs from the ground. This lasted until 10:10.
Returned to the building around 10:35 after grabbing a sandwich on route back.  Met with counselor on a student out of resides that we directed to attend their resides school, and gave him 3 suits that one of my college professors collected for his suit drive for our juniors and seniors in his men’s group.  Called pupil personnel and talked to an assistant DPP for about ten minutes.  Afterwards met with our Chief Operations Officer for our district and my STC to discuss copiers, centralizing, and cost saving to redirect more money back into the classroom.  An editorial note here:  I think it’s cool that one of our Chiefs actually comes out and spends time to help us work through these issues.  Often, central office is maligned, and I think many times we only focus on the negative.  A supportive, consistent central office is what a school needs to be great. 

After meeting, a teacher popped in and updated me on his climate change project and radio spot.  I walked around the building for about 45 minutes after that, and then spent some time reviewing some assessment data.  During this time signed my green folder.  Then met with a parent, grandparent, student to hear their complaint and to let them know they could not come back to school as we were no longer their resides school.  Gave them information for their new school across town.  It was not a very pleasant meeting.  Afterwards called pupil personnel office to give them a heads up, and signed some documents for my bookkeeper and secretary.  Went and touched base with 2 APs on some issues afterwards and discussed a personnel issue.  Had a phone call from another department, then monitored the tail end of dismissal.  Walked down to cafeteria for last buses, talked to AD for a bit to touch base, and monitored kids with APs in the cafeteria.  After that went to the middle school drama performance.  Left the building at 4:35, and went to work on class stuff until just after 7:00.  Got home and had family time until 900.

Worked on Monday report from 900 until 1030.  During this time texted with my boss about issues from the day/week that needed discussion.  A note here: this is not an expectation.  She replied back to me about an item I had sent earlier in the day, and then conversation started.  Boss is respectful of people’s time, but available when you have questions.  Remember that common theme of central office support?  It’s not brownnosing here, but as a future principal, you must expect central office support, and when it’s done right, be thankful for it.  They need reinforcement too.

Total Email sent for the day:                              47
Signatures:                                                         31

Same as yesterday, started the day at central office.  Went to district meeting on new budget allocation for schools for next year at Central Office.  This lasted until about 945.  Returned to the building by 1015.  Started by talking with secretary about start of the day.  Returned a parent phone call, and a phone call to a board office.  Walked around the building for a half an hour touching base with a couple of folks.  Sat in a new teacher’s classroom and put some feedback on their instructional focus document (I followed up with this teacher the next Monday).  Monitored the halls until I returned to my office around 1130.

A counselor grabbed lunch for a bunch of us and I went to her office to get my lunch, and happened to be near a student who was screaming in the hallway every obscenity under the sun at another student, and then at a staff member during hallway transition.  Security guard was trying to calmly get her to go into a nearby office.  She tried to move past the guard several times, I intercepted and moved her into the office by getting in her way.  She tried to get past me a couple of times, but eventually got her to see reason and sit down.  Conflict was with a peer.  Counselor and guard sat down with her and got to the bottom of it.  I explained to her when she was calm that her behavior was wholly unacceptable.  We discussed how this was not the first time, or even the second, and that it’s not ok to scream obscenities at people in the hall, or try and push past people. She agreed, and her AP took over.  Decided on a 2 day suspension in accordance with our code of conduct.

Ate lunch while talking to counselor and guard, answered some emails.  Walked the halls for a bit and touched base with another AP on a student concern.  Let the AP vent some frustrations, and discussed some items we need to reinforce when we get back from thanksgiving break.  Got a call from another principal and spent about five minutes on that.  Then went into a classroom.  Students working on a project, talked to them for a bit, and then got a call our fridges and equipment for culinary had come in.  Went and looked at the equipment.

Returned to the office and answered some email.  During this time met with our senior class president to discuss an item we were working on.  Met with a teacher to do post observation from the previous week (she had been out for a few days so our meeting was pushed back), spent about twenty minutes doing her post observation.  This was not a great meeting as she received some low marks on several items.  Gave her my advice for what to do next, and a few directives on what had to do next.  Signed some things my bookkeeper brought me.  Received a call from another district office with a reminder to do a report we had not submitted yet.  Called the AP in charge of the report to fix the issue.  Met with one of our support personnel (social worker) to discuss a student concern she thought I needed to be aware of.  After my HS athletic director stopped by to talk about basketball season and some items I needed to be aware of.  A big topic of our conversation was a new local prep school and how that impacted scholastic basketball.  This may seem like it’s not driving the mission, but I’d urge you to think about these things and how they impact scholastic concerns.  If you are in charge of a high school and don’t see the benefit of athletics, I don’t know what to tell you.  Answered a couple of texts from my boss during this time on an issue from earlier in the week.  Reviewed some items on our CSIP that is currently being drafted.

Met with the student who had the outburst from earlier with her AP to discuss her wish not to be suspended.  Explained why I believed suspension was warranted, and how ultimately holding her accountable would be better for her in 5-10 years.  She actually agreed, and committed to returning and meeting with our mental health and counselor to come up with a plan on how to change her behaviors and stick to it.  Walked the halls until dismissal, mainly to make sure kids weren’t wandering out of area, which is an issue on Fridays near the end of the day on our HS side especially.  Politely reminded a few to return to class.  Stood with an AP at one of our high traffic areas and talked about non-school related stuff while we stink eyed students who tried to wander out of class.
During dismissal got a report that a student we suspended had got back into the building and was looking for the AP who suspended them to ostensibly “talk” about the suspension.  Spent about 10 minutes looking for them, another employee found them and escorted them back off property, reminding them that they were trespassing.  During this time also talked to a teacher who had a concern about another employees out of school status.  Talked to an AP, coach, student, and teacher in the hallway where we all chided him for being goofy in class, and discussed our expectations for him as a leader.  He took the feedback well and promised to be less goofy.

Left the building at 305 to go pick up my son for basketball practice.  Took a call on route for student due process to discuss a student that might be placed in the building, discussed student that had come back on campus and that we were referring them for alternative placement.  Did family stuff until around 900 then answered some emails and corresponded with boss about an ongoing issue.  Felt guilty that I didn’t go to our wrestling scrimmage (alumni night), because it’s a big deal, but family wanted to stay in that night, so didn’t feel too guilty.  Stopped working around 1000, did some hobby stuff and went to bed around 100.

Total Email sent for the day:                         68
Total Signatures for the day:                         55

After breakfast worked from 930 to 1030 on Monday report for the week and answered some email.  Spent around an hour in the afternoon working on class work for school.
Total Email sent for the day:                         23
Total signatures for the day:                          0

Total Email sent for the week:                    302
Total Signatures for the week:                   181

Add on day: A Principal’s “Day without kids”
As I was preparing this post, we had a day without students.  I am a 261 day employee (year round) so when we have a break and don’t have students, I’m usually here with my custodial staff and secretary.  I thought it might be informative to give you readers an idea of what a Principal does when kids aren’t in the building.
Started the day in the building just before 700.  Got an email first off from our superintendent that we were allowed to close up shop at 1200 for the holiday, so that was a good way to start the day.  Met with secretary on building concerns for about twenty minutes.  Met two new custodial staff assigned to our building.  Checked with plant operator to see where she was in her training.  Updated our admin team DoD (Division of Duties).  Our admin team is close to 20 deep with APs, Counselors, support personnel.  Hard to make sure we have it all covered.  Reviewed our current budget codes.  Totaled out, our school budget is around fifteen million, with quite a bit of that in flexible codes that we oversee.  The bulk is of course in personnel that we don’t oversee, but the flexible codes total twenty two pages long, and as the principal, it’s my job to monitor them and ensure we are spending them according to budget.  The budget it a collaborative effort, but most of the spending is driven from my office. Worked on SBDM policies being posted to our website and internally.  Checked final grammar/ language on some policies we had just ratified in our council.  Cleaned out laundry from office, as I have a habit of letting shirts stack up when I change for a night event.  Cleaned office and cleared off desk. 

Walked around the building with a clipboard and map in hand.  I like to do this on days without kids to both look for things to fix, and also places where I want new graphics or visuals to improve our building.

Spent a solid half hour signing stuff.  Truth be told, I didn’t sign anything the day before the break because I knew I’d have the next day to sign things.  So it mounted up.  Signed our payroll, the green folder, and my red folder.  This totaled 141 signatures.  Spent the rest of the day working on improvement plans.

Total Email sent for the day without kids:                              32
Total Signatures for the day without kids:                              141


I really enjoyed writing this post, as it forced me to log my week.  Amazing what we can manage in a weeks time.  Below i'll offer a few reflective points.

1.     Prepare for, and then live with feeling like you are spread all over the place.  Because you are.  This is where competent people around you, and strong systems matter.
2.     Email will be the ban of your existence.  It is out of control how much you will utilize email.  We are a pretty google and cloud savvy school.  Doesn’t matter, still live in email hell.
3.     You will sign your name A LOT.  Get a good bookkeeper and secretary that can keep you on point with the number of times you sign your name, and what you are authorizing.  Any one of those signatures, if it is a mis-expenditure of funds can result in you being in disciplinary trouble, or being let go.  Know how finance works.  Your college program will not prepare you adequately for this, so attend auxiliary trainings and find practicing principals that you can learn from.
4.     Expect that some of your evening, pretty much every evening will be spent on the schoolhouse.  I’ve gotten better at the work/ life balance, but almost every day requires some work at home just to be decent at the job.  I’ve been a principal in three buildings, and this has been par for the course for me.  I don’t know a single colleague of mine who would disagree with this either.
5.     Don’t dog central office folks too much.  If you will notice in my narrative my boss touched base with me/ answered questions several times throughout the week.  In my experience (2 districts as a principal) this is pretty consistent.  Supportive assistant superintendents/ superintendents make a world of difference and make you a better leader.
6.     When they tell you pursuing a Doctorate and working as a full time admin is hard, believe them.  It’s absolutely brutal for a number of reasons:
o   The amount of reading and work
o   The constant feeling you are behind
o   The constant feeling you are missing school events.  I miss out on things I would normally go to as a principal because I have class.
·           The amount of extra time it puts into your week.
7.     Mission is the root of the work.  If you aren’t doing this job from a mission driven standpoint, I don’t think it will be fulfilling, or you will be terribly effective.
8.     Lastly: It’s worth it.  Being a school principal is an insanely fulfilling (and grinding) job.



  1. I found this to be a fascinating read. I believe this information is relevant not only to aspiring principals, but also to building staff. It is important to know what each person's role entails. Many times staff think this person just sits at their desk all day or that person just walks around all day. While I know there are many who would not take the time to read this, they would gain valuable insight into what it takes to make an organization run efficiently and effectively. As a school counselor, I want to understand everyone's role in the building. I enjoy sitting down and speaking with staff about what it's like to be in their shoes. It makes me a better school counselor and allows us as a team to be more efficient in removing barriers to serve our students. Thank you for the insight!


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