Given the opportunity to speak to graduate students who are working on their administrative degree, I would share some of my ideas and experiences.
But first, I would question, what kind of college professor lets me speak to their students?
Mostly, I would warn the future administrators of the upcoming trials and tribulations of their newfound position by sharing some of my many mistakes. I would like to tell them about all of my mistakes, but graduate classes generally last only 3-4 hours.
Plus, the judge says I still have to remain silent about several “incidents”.
Since the students would be forced to sit through this presentation, I would give them real life, practical advice they could actually use when they take their first jobs.
No complicated formulas or hypothetical cases. Just tried and true nuts and bolts of the job.
It would consist of roughly 25 thoughts. Maybe a PowerPoint. Possibly, handouts. If I am in a good mood that day, I might even bake them cookies (not really… in the world of highly paid guest speakers, this is called a tease).
I may even go all out and put my thoughts in the form of a countdown. Because when I think of school administration, I think of Casey Kasem.
So, here are my first 10 (or 25 through 16… yes, I am going all out).
And this list is entirely different from my original The 10 Rules of Survival for a New Principal (I have learned a lot since May 14, 2008).
#25. Understand that all administrators have failed miserably at one time or another. If you haven’t, you aren’t trying hard enough. Remember, it is not the mistakes you make, but how you react and learn from those mistakes (hey, I just made that up… I could be on to something here).
#24. Take your job seriously, but not yourself. People are going to make fun of you. Roll with it. And just hope the “nicknames” they give you don’t catch on.
#23. Find mentors. Yes, I said mentors. I am not a complete idiot and I do have spell check.
My point here is that it will take more than 1 person helping you not to be a total failure. Plus you can learn from their past mistakes.
The more mentors… the more mistakes they have made. This provides a greater chance of them helping you from becoming a failure, fired, arrested, or simply run out of town on the next train (there is a Gunsmoke reference for you, because what graduate student in 2008 has not seen Gunsmoke?).
#22. Use the latest technology in front of your staff. No one likes to be told they should be doing something when their fearless leader has no idea what they are talking about it.
If you want your school to rely on email, stop handwriting your memos.
#21. Be in unexpected places. By this, I don’t mean sneaking up on people in the restroom or hiding in the closet so you can scare the janitor.
I mean be somewhere besides your office or the donut shop. Get out and show up in a classroom once in a while. And not when you have to be there to do an evaluation or tackle a student.
#20. Know a little about everything. This includes curriculum, health insurance, purchasing books, what type of light bulbs are in the gym, who delivers your milk, how student schedules are put together, and where the janitors store the extra toilet paper.
The last one may be the most important (and trust me, this is a fact you need to learn from day one).
Truthfully, it is unlikely that you will ever know everything that is required to run a school. So the most important thing is knowing who to ask to find out these various answers.
#19. Be nice to the people who can help in times of crisis. Luckily for you these crises generally only happen Monday through Sunday.
When things go horribly wrong, you may need one or all of the following: a lawyer, secretary, school nurse, architect, plumber, insurance company, auditor, janitor, fire department, police, electrician, or all of the above.
If in fact things have gone so wrong that you need all of the above at one time, focus most of your kindness on your lawyer. He or she will be the one sitting beside you at the trial (seldom will the school electrician “cut a deal” for you with the district attorney).
#19. Change 3 things each year. Any more than 3 and you will make your staff nervous. Any less than 3 and the staff will thing you are overpaid and lazy.
Honestly, they will probably always consider you overpaid, but at least this will give you a fighting chance to convince them you are not lazy.
#18. Realize school starts for administrators exactly 30 days before the doors actually open. Don’t think in the summer you can put things off until 3 days before school officially starts.
Your life will go from kind of hectic to completely hectic exactly one month before the students arrive.
You have to keep the last 5 days of summer open, because all the bad things happen at once towards the end of your vacation. This never fails. And by never, I mean never.
#17. Understand that people have relatives. This means don’t make fun of someone to another staff member because you don’t want to hear this response, “You know, that is my sister-in-law.”
This is the definition of awkward. And uncomfortable. And possibly the end of your career if the sister-in-law is on the school board.
#16. Always wear a white dress shirt when it is hot (August, September, April and May) or if you are speaking in public.
Those sweat rings that you don’t think are that noticeable… are very noticeable. And staff members have a difficult time taking direction from someone who looks like a nervous underprepared fat guy at a job interview in an office without air conditioning during late July.
So that is my official countdown of advice.
This is pure gold and you won’t pick it up out of a textbook.
You’re welcome. And no charge. This time.