Ten tips to be a successful principal, from one principal.

Being a principal is one of the best jobs in the world!

Been thinking a bit on a follow up to Ten tips for new teachers. Decided to think about 5 tips for successful principals. 5 gave way to 10 pretty darn quickly.

I spent 15 years as a building administrator, with 3 as a high school assistant principal, 1 of those years simultaneously being a junior high planning principal, and then 12 as a junior high principal. My tips come directly from my experience…and what I learned.

Here they are in no particular order!

  1. Always, and I mean always, look up from what you’re doing when somebody comes into your office. And genuinely attend. Eye contact, interest, enthusiasm, cheerful. I know it can be frustrating sometime to be interrupted, but you are a leader of people. Be available for people instantly.
  2. Appear to be everywhere, attending everything. Not always possible, but just like the power of a teacher attending kid events…same goes for the principal. We respect what we inspect. Your attendance at things speaks to that which you value. Be out and about as often as you can.

3. Try to never hit the gas on a decision, unless it’s a flat out emergency. I found the brake to be a much better pedal. Slow down. Think. Confer with trusted and experienced colleagues. Communicate. Ask questions before big decisions. Or little ones for that matter.

4. Love on your staff. Your staff loves on the kids. They are the people closest to the kids. Take care of them. I strongly suggest having chocolate in your office. It makes a nice reason for people to swing by when you’re in there. I made a point of being in my office early on Monday mornings. Very typical for staff members to swing by before school to share events and/or concerns from the weekend.

5. This one might not fit everybody, but I learned it from a great mentor principal and I believe it. Don’t stand in the spotlight. Let others, especially teachers, stand in the spotlight. You stand next to them and clap.

6. Rest. Relax. Unwind whenever you can. Being a principal is literally a 24/7 job. Phone calls come at all hours. And the 2 a.m. ones are usually horrible. Take good care of yourself.

7. Make it a goal to touch base with every teacher, everyday. Literally run through your school in your mind at the end of the day to see if you spoke with everyone. Not always possible, I get it, but a good goal.

8. Grow your assistant principals with ever increasing leadership roles and responsibilities. We don’t hire assistant principals to be assistant principals forever, we hire them to become principals. It is a principal’s professional responsibility to grow her/his assistant principals.

9. Know when it’s time to move on. Figure out what your professional and personal signals, symptoms, or inklings might be when it’s time for you to think about turning the reins over to someone else. Nothing is sadder than a principal who has run out of juice and can’t bring it everyday. Well maybe a teacher in that situation is close.

10. Always tell your school’s story as often and in as many ways as you can. If you don’t do it, who will?

11. I lied about ten. Just thought of a huge one that I can’t neglect, and I don’t want to delete any of the above. Number 11 tip for a successful principal is to continue to grow and learn. A real sign that it’s time to move on is when you think, “I know it all, seen it all, and can’t learn anything else. I’m full.” I speak from painful personal and professional experience.

We have great principals in our district. I’d LOVE to hear each of their ten tips to be a successful principal! I wonder what our teachers would list as ten tips for a successful principal? I wonder if there would be overlap? I wonder what our superintendent, deputy superintendent, and Director of HR might say? All were principals.

Let me go ask. Stand by please.

Author: Jnelson

Jeff Nelson Fife School District Assistant Superintendent:Teaching-Learning-Innovation 39 years as an educator. 16 years teacher 3 years assistant principal 12 years principal 8 years Assistant Superintendent BA, Washington State University MAEd, Washington State University Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining. Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years. jnelson@fifeschools.com twitter.com/jeffnelsonTLI

5 thoughts on “Ten tips to be a successful principal, from one principal.”

  1. I don’t know that I have been a principal long enough to give advice… but I’ll give it a go!
    1. Be enthusiastic – You never know when a conversation with a kid or a teacher is the turning point in their life. Knowing the weight your words and actions hold is of the utmost importance.
    2. Be honest and transparent – People listen when you talk, you just can’t fake how you really feel. Like a teacher, when you aren’t real, people will see right through it. There is a reason someone has trusted you a building full of teachers and kids. If you have limitations, admit it and work on it, but keep doing the things that got you to where you are.
    3. Every member of the staff is important – Like the above thoughts of seeing every face, it is also important to be aware of every staff member’s thoughts. Sometimes you can naturally lean into the people you connect with the most. Getting everyone’s thoughts helps form a complete picture.
    4. Go toward the pressure – Ignoring a problem only allows it to fester. Have difficult conversations. Ultimately, people are less likely to tear down the things they help to build. If you are leading and you leave someone behind they aren’t just your enemy, they are now shooting you in the back!
    5. Be flexible yet firm – For a principal to think they know it all or have the best solutions to every problem is arrogant and unrealistic. However, knowing your true-north and where some things can’t be compromised is important. For SLMS it is the idea of We’re ALL in this together. No idea or solution can get in the way of working together on behalf of students
    6. We are here to help kids become positive members of society – Scores are important, but not definitive. We can’t be so focused on measuring progress and define their learning that we forget to keep the passion for learning alive.
    7. Read. Read. Think. Do. Read. Think. – This is on the wall in one of our teacher’s classrooms and I love it. If we aren’t lifelong learners, how can we expect teachers to be? Or students?
    8. Parents are your partners – I always say I love talking to an angry parent. Obviously, I prefer a parent who is praising our good work, but at least an angry parent is engaged in their child’s learning. Listen, understand, and be sure to communicate that everyone is interested in the success of their child.
    9. Find mentors – Luckily I have a few. I find key aspects in folks that I highly admire and do my best to emulate that behavior while still being me.
    10. Never forget that teaching is the toughest and best job in the entire world – Luckily I have a brilliant wife who consistently reminds me. But, the farther removed I am from the classroom the harder it is to remember the balance of being a teacher and a normal person. People have to leave meetings (on-time) and pick up their kids. They want to attend a conference but have a tough 5th period that has been struggling and they don’t want to let them down. They want to read an article but have a stack of papers to grade. Be patient while pushing for growth.
    Make it safe for folks to make mistakes. Teachers want to try things but if for one moment they feel as though they are being judged for a mistake they will lean into the safest idea/lesson/strategy.


  2. So, Mr. Neufeld here. As my Fife colleagues know, I am not and have not been a principal. What I would like to do is share some of my recollections of principals and assistant principals in Fife that have impacted me over the years. So here goes . . .

    1. John McCrossin–“Brian, don’t come to me asking for my permission. Bring your idea and plan of action/rationale. It’s not my job to manage you. It’s my job to foster your leadership and independent decision making.” Developing leaders.
    2. Mark Knight–“Whatever we do around here, I want to make sure that our admin team is working well together and quite frankly enjoying each other and having fun.” Developing Team.
    3. Jeff Short–“Don’t worry too much. We’ve got this.” Instilling trust and confidence.
    4. Jerry Lankford–“Jerry it’s 5 o’clock. Why aren’t you home?” “Some things need to be done right and can’t be left to wait.”
    Sacrificial giving of time.
    5. Amanda Fox–“We need to be providing more support and opportunities for ALL kids.”
    Commitment to equity and student support.
    6. Chuck Silvernail–“You should consider going for your admin credential.” Seeing the possibilities in others.
    7. Jeff Nelson–“Never stop learning.” Commitment to excellence and life-long professional growth.
    8. Amy Mittelstaedt–No direct quote here, but Amy has a strong gift for seeing a vision and making it happen. The power of visionary leadership.
    9. Josh Goodman–“So, how does that work? . . . ” Thoughtful, wise and informed decision-making.
    10. Mark Robinson–“Whatever it takes” Commitment to perseverance and effort.
    11. Taking a cue from Mr. Nelson, I added a #11. Each and every one of these folks listed above demonstrate a deep love for kids, staff, and their school community.

    I am a better person for having worked alongside my colleagues in Fife.

    WordPress.com / Gravatar.com credentials can be used.

    Liked by 1 person

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