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.