New Principals: If You Read Only One Blog, Make It This One.


I began my administrative career as a principal 9 years ago and can still recall how I felt on my very first day.

The sun was out.  Not a cloud in the sky.  I recall a slight breeze out of the southwest. 

It was the perfect school day.  I Was a Little Bit Nervous.  And This Isn't Me.

There wasn’t a student or teacher in sight (it was summer).

I walked into the office and plopped down at my desk.

And that was it.

I didn’t have a clue what to do next.

So, I just sat there.

In a puddle of my own sweat and fear.

In summary.  New principal.  Scared to death. 

My gut told me I was unprepared and in way over my head.

My gut was right.

And a little nauseous.

I felt like two cats were wrestling in my lower abdomen.

As I look back, I realize how thankful I was for two things.

1.) What a lucky break I didn’t eat the night before.  This eliminated the possibility of getting sick on the giant stack of paperwork which sat before me.

There’s really nothing more pathetic than a new principal hurling on his desk after 30 seconds into the job (the custodians would have never let me live this down).

2.) I was blessed with a secretary who recognized the “deer/principal caught in headlights look” I was wearing on my completely translucent face.

It’s a miracle she didn’t call the morgue on me.

I’m still not sure what kept me from sprinting out of the office and back to my life as a teacher (it might have been because I was concerned running might cause me to wet myself).

Luckily for me, I survived my first day and many more.

The one piece of advice that helped me through those early days came from a wise old administrator.

He looked at me with a slight hint of disgust in his eyes and said “Don’t be an idiot.  Do what’s right for the kids because you are probably going to get fired anyway.”

So wise.  So true.

The moral of this story: If you want to survive, find a good secretary and make decisions in the best interest of kids.

And if you remember nothing else from this blog, please know it’s probably not a good idea to eat Mexican food the night before you start a new job.

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New Principals: You Can’t Say I Didn’t Warn You.


As we get ready for a new school year, I feel a sense of obligation to share some important information with new school administrators.

I can only hope they are sitting down.This is Not a Happy Person.

Although new administrators probably aren’t sitting… or even taking time to read this blog (or eat or sleep).

It’s very likely they are busy drowning under the paperwork that is already piling up on their desk.

But there’s good news. They will survive (at least some of them).

In the meantime, this blog will be here waiting patiently (until they get their new jobs under control or become unemployed).

The information I’m about to share will come as a total shock because colleges and universities seldom share this little fun fact with the students in their graduate programs.

So here I go.

Ready?

Are you sure?

Okay, here it is.

Parents are going to sue you.

A lot.

And by a lot, I mean several times each year (if you are “popular” this may happen several times in a single day… usually a day with a full moon).

You need to prepare yourself, not just for your impending legal trouble but also for the noise.

Parents seldom say they are going to sue you in a nice quiet inside voice.

They scream it.

You will recognize this event happening when you hear the cursing which is then followed by finger pointing (literally and figuratively).

As soon as you see a finger (hopefully index) being pointed in your direction, cover your ears.

Because the “Suing Announcement” is always concluded by the act of slamming.

After all, good parents must always express their love by yelling at authority figures (I need to check but I’m almost positive this rule is on the back of each child’s birth certificate).

The formula is a simple one. The Louder the Parent = the More They Love Their Child.

Parents get bonus points if they make a scene in a public place.

In the main office, at a game, the grocery store, maybe even at a funeral (sad and disturbing… but true).

But back to the slamming.

Parents can be very creative.

They will slam almost anything to make their point. It could a phone, office door, fist, chair, basketball… pretty much any object can do the trick.

The good news is once this happens, the conversation (or threat) is coming to a close.

There is something else you should know.

There is also a direct correlation between how loud parents scream and the odds of you really getting sued.

This formula. The Louder the Threat = Less of a Chance of Them Having a Lawyer.

So now you’ve been warned.

Let the suing (or not) begin! (if it hasn’t already happened during registration)

Lucky for us (people foolish enough to try and run a school) these threats don’t happen every day.

Angry parents usually take Sunday mornings off.

However the rest of the week, school administrators are fair game (especially when you’re trying to eat or leave school in a timely manner).

This doesn’t really seem fair to me because even deer have an offseason.

But those are the rules that school administrators have to live by, so make sure you have the school lawyer on speed dial.

Because you’re about to get sued.

Or not.

But you’re definitely getting yelled at.

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Teacher vs. Principal’s Evaluations. They’re Just Different.


Back to School.  Some are Happy.  Some are Sad.School is about to start.

This means a variety of things. The first thing it means is I’m already way behind schedule.

And secondly, I am getting grumpy. Or grumpier (see I’m falling hopelessly behind… how is it possible for this to be happening and school hasn’t even started???).

Even worse… stores all across America are putting school supplies on SALE.

This is code for: they would rather get rid of these pencils than count them.

Everything must go.

Paper, binders, book bags, erasers, glue sticks, and a bunch of other stuff that will eventually be lost or thrown away (don’t parents wonder where all the stuff they paid for goes??)

If you don’t believe me visit your local school’s lost and found… it has more merchandise than a Wal-mart.

Things are changing. School starts in a month (for every worried school administrator there are 400 moms filled with joy).

How is all of this possible?

Stores need to make room for the Christmas items. This my friends is a sad commentary on our society.

Before I can focus on the impending holiday season (only 5 shopping months left!), I need to get school started.

This is a complicated process.

Hiring teachers, assigning students to classes, buying some new ties… the list goes on and on.

Once the students arrive, there are certain things that have to be done.

This includes the E word.

I am almost hesitant to type it because it’s so heinous.

If you are easily offended this might be the time to look away… or at least send the kids out of the room.

Here it goes. You’ve been warned.

Evaluations.

There I said it (or typed it…).

It’s amazing how many people dread the thought of being evaluated.

And it’s not just teachers. Bus drivers, custodians, coaches, and even principals dread them.

You would think principals wouldn’t mind. Especially since they spend their days evaluating others (and chasing down that kid who stopped up the sink in the bathroom with paper towels).

The others I refer to are mostly teachers.

Some teachers don’t exactly enjoy evaluations. That’s understandable because it’s strange to have someone in your classroom that normally is not there.

Especially when they are taking notes as the teacher is trying to teach a room full of students who know the principal is taking notes.

It’s just not natural (much like expecting a junior high boy not to talk when there’s a sub).

Evaluations must be done, but they are still a little odd.

Most teachers view evaluations as a necessary evil they must experience once a year or even every couple of years.

The good news is teachers are usually evaluated under the best possible circumstances.

They have the opportunity to prepare and make a special lesson.

If all goes well the principal sees them under the best conditions. They are evaluated when they should be at their best.

Principal’s evaluations are different.

And this is something all new principals should know.

They won’t be evaluated when they are at their best. They will be evaluated starting the day they are hired.

And they won’t be evaluated by just one person. They will be evaluated by an entire community.

More importantly, this happens when they aren’t at their best. They will be evaluated when they are at their worst.

Like when they are nervous, mispronounce a name, forget a meeting, wear brown shoes with black trousers, dribble food all over their shirt, or even when they walk down the hall with their dress shirt caught in their fly (I can assure you none of these have ever happened to me… as far as you know).

Principal’s evaluations never formally start and they certainly never end.

So good luck.

But don’t worry. You should be fine.

Just remember to check your fly before you walk down the hallway (and yes, I learned this the hard way).

If you need me I will be doing all of my Christmas shopping this year out of Lost and Found. I have my eye on 12 jackets, 27 t-shirts, 3 pairs of glasses, some tube socks, and a pair of Pittsburgh Steelers sweat bands. Some of them don’t even smell… that bad.

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People Want a Boss.


It is definitely that time of year. And not just for resumes and countdowns (spring break and end of the year).

Schools districts are in the process of hiring administrators for next year.

More people will be joining me in this challenging profession (notice I didn’t say “foolish” people… although you can assume it’s implied).

In a matter of months, they will be neck deep in troubles.

The problems they will face are tough, but manageable. Especially, if they have an idea about what they are getting into.

Being in charge of anything makes you tired. Being in charge of kids makes you really tired.

Being in charge of adults makes you borderline stupid.

But someone has to do it. mean_boss2

When you are in charge, you quickly learn the tricks of the trade or you get steamrolled. And unemployed.

Once hired, people will expect you to make decisions. No one likes wishy-washy. You will never hear a staff member say “I wish my (principal, assistant principals, dean, superintendent, etc.) was more wishy-washy.”

People want those in charge to be decisive. While people hate being told what to do, they hate not being told worse.

Now this doesn’t mean they will approve of your decisions. In fact, some people will take a great deal of pleasure in pointing out your mistakes (and trust me, you will make hundreds… if things go well and you aren’t in the profession very long).

That is okay, as mistakes and second guessing are part of the job.

If you are hired to lead, you need to do it or get out of the way.

When placed in command – take charge. -Norman Schwarzkopf

While staff members may criticize your bad decisions, they will be even more critical if you don’t make decisions (in the profession we call that “smelling blood”… and by we, I mean me).

Since this is a lose-lose proposition for you, make well-informed decisions and hope for the best (and by hope I mean pray and call your lawyer… not necessarily in that order).

Others may point out your faults, but deep down they don’t want to be in charge. If being in charge was easy, everyone would do it.

People will always offer advice on the easy situations, but when things get difficult you are on your own.

While opinions are a dime a dozen, solutions are much harder to find.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help. Just make sure you involve people with knowledge of the situation. And those people want the situation to improve.

Please don’t force people to be on a committee. No one likes a committee. And if they do, that just shows the quality of their judgement so consequently you don’t want them on a committee.

It’s a vicious circle.

And if you force people to serve, they won’t be happy. Or productive. And then what have you accomplished.

You have angered people and you end up with a watered down idea.

To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent. – Robert Copeland

You will also learn that as a school administrator you are no longer a teacher.

I picked up on this when I noticed the sign on the Teacher’s Lounge didn’t say Teacher’s/Administrator’s Lounge.

You are no longer in the group; you are responsible for the group. The trick is remaining available and approachable to all employees, but not getting too close to some or all.

A good leader is part of the group, but not in the group.

Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them. -John Maxwell

I believe that people want to be led. They just don’t want to be bossed. Having a boss and being bossed are two different scenarios.

Employees have opinions and like to share their thoughts. Especially on decisions that affect them. And this is a good thing.

Most good leaders will tell you that some, if not all, of their best ideas came from other people.

Give an invested person a problem and it is highly likely they will come up with a solution.

If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results. – George S. Patton

Another challenge is leading people to change. Just a heads up… people don’t like change. At least at first.

People like change when it is over. But only after it has become the new norm.

Employees have put time and effort into the status qou. Things just didn’t accidently become like they are. Someone worked towards it.

So when you ask those same people to change, their first reaction is often “This will never work”

They usually don’t have a reason why it won’t work. Unless you count “Because” as a reason.

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be. -Rosalynn Carter

Most people react to change better than they think they will. Too often, they don’t give themselves enough credit on their ability to adjust.

And the older we get, the more of a challenge it seems to be (I am well on my way to reaching my goal of being an angry old man who is stuck in his ways).

People underestimate their capacity for change. There is never a right time to do a difficult thing. A leader’s job is to help people have vision of their potential. -John Porter

You can lead people to change if you give them several things. Fair warning, time to adjust, direction, and support are all important.

But there is one thing that is more important.

Hope.

The people involved have to be told (usually over and over) that everything is going to be fine. We can survive this and we (and students) will be better off for it.

Hope is free. Feel free to spread it around.

A leader is a dealer in hope. -Napoleon Bonaparte

If you want to be successful, this is the best advice I can share.

Don’t be afraid to look stupid (it’s going to happen, so don’t fight it).

Surround yourself with good people. Don’t feel threatened if you aren’t the smartest person in the room.

Take this as a blessing, not a threat.

The ultimate leader is one who is willing to develop people to the point that they surpass him or her in knowledge and ability. – Fred A. Manske, Jr.

Like with most things in life, leadership isn’t overly complicated.

Keep things simple.

In summary, my 4 Keys to LEAD.

Listen more than you talk.

Encourage more than you dictate.

Anticipate more than you react.

Don’t be the smartest person in the room.

Lastly, keep in mind that I have no idea what I am talking about. This advice, says my lawyer, should not be taken for anything more than it is… rambling incoherent thoughts of an administrator who is not getting enough sleep. I am just like everyone working in a classroom or a school… wondering if my spring break will ever get here.

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The 50% Rule.


50% Rule (or Off)...  Both are Good Deals.If you are a first year principal, my guess is that you are tired.

Why do I think this? Because I’m not a first year principal and I’m tired.

It is part of the job. Like the copying machine always being out of paper, the kids being jumpy during a full moon, a student almost “accidently” hitting you with a ball as you walk through the gym, and having someone complain about something 42 times a day (on a slow day).

There is some good news.

For most administrators, the school year is already about half over. You will make it to the end of the year.

At least, keep telling yourself that.

It is really hard to tell at this point (although I am pulling for you).

During my first year, I had a theory (actually I have thousands of theories… most of which make very little sense, even to me).

My theory during my first year was thousands of principals came before me and they survived.

Surely, I had to be as good as at least one (maybe even two) of them. So I set a goal.

Be a principal for 2 years.

A lofty goal at that point (and to people that knew me… an almost unreachable one).

But I survived. As so might you (again, a little early to tell).

Near the conclusion of my second year, I sat in my office and took a moment to reflect (keep in mind it was a very short moment… as I had a game to get to…as you have probably found out… supervision never stops).

It occurred to me that my second year was easier than the first.

Not easy.

Easier. Let’s not get crazy here.

And just like that, I had myself a new theory.

Every year you are a principal, it gets 50% easier. And for once I have found a theory that has held up over time.

Each school year gets a little more manageable (if you survive this one… and that is really up to the administrative gods at this point).

At least you have something to look forward to. Next year will be easier. About 50% easier if my theory holds.

And that’s the good news.

The bad news is the job of principal starts out on a difficulty scale of about 37,000 %.

Which means you (and the rest of us) are in way over our heads for the next few years.

And by few, I mean until you reach retirement.

If you make it. Really hard to tell at this point.

But I think you will.

At least that’s my theory (let’s hope this one also works… :) ).

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New School Year, New Crop of Principals, and Old Advice… Run.


Newbies... Best of Luck.I had my first big meeting of the new school year this week (1 down and only 800 bazillion to go).

The start of meeting season means two things. One, I had to iron my dress clothes and two, I saw the brand new crop of first year principals.

I don’t know which circumstance made me feel worse. The wearing of a suit and tie did break my streak of 76 consecutive days of wearing shorts (oh, how I love the summer), but the “deer in the headlights” look that new principals have in their eyes always makes me nostalgic (and of course by nostalgic, I mean sad).

As I continue to fumble around with writing this blog, certain subjects come up over and over. New administrators seem to be one of them. Lucky for me it seems very appropriate since a high percentage of this blog’s readers seem to be new administrators.

I guess that makes sense. I seldom meet a reader of this blog who is over 50 years old (if you are, email me and you may officially be named The Oldest Reader… quite an honor don’t you think?… Plus you may receive parting gifts and the game version of PrincipalsPage.com).

Just like students, the new principals seem to get younger each year. It is like the school districts are hiring sophomores to run their buildings.

I remember when I was a new administrator… and young… but just barely, because the mind is not as sharp as it used to be.

The newbie’s are so excited to begin their career in educational administration. And scared to death.

How can I be so sure?

The glazed over look in their eyes always gives it away. And as someone who had that look, I feel qualified to comment on it.

Pure and simple. It is fear.

Fear of new responsibilities, teachers, parents, students, school board meetings, supervision, speaking in public, evaluating staff, addressing employees… you name it and it makes them nervous. Really nervous.

But the good news is that if you are lucky that feeling passes. At least a little. I don’t think as an administrator you ever completely shake it.

Another quality of a first year administrator: Fast talking. That always blows their covers as a rookie. First year administrators forget to breathe when they speak. They are so focused on spewing everything out just to “get it over with” often forgetting their audience doesn’t understand a word they say. The blue facial tint (could be fear, could be lack of oxygen, could be a sign of snug fitting pantyhose or too tightly knotted tie… who knows) of a first year administrator is a sure give away.

By the second year in the job, these feelings go down by about 50%… so at least you have that going for you.

If you are a new administrator my advice hasn’t changed (or grown in value). Run.

Like the wind.

And don’t look back.

And I don’t mean from the job. I mean for the job.

Exercise. A lot. And don’t make the excuse that you don’t have time.

Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day. It is just how you prioritize them.

Make exercise a priority for yourself, your family, and your school. Get up early if you need to.

A half hour a day will do you good and everyone around you will benefit.

And if that doesn’t work. Run.

From the job. There is no shame in hiding in your office, sitting in the corner in a fetal position, and rocking back and forth.

We have all been there (not really, I am just trying to lift your spirits if things go horribly wrong for you).

The good news is that when you survive the first year (and you will, especially if you exercise), you can attend a meeting and stare at the new crop of 2009 administrators.

And you too will recognize that glazed look in their eyes.

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New Principals: Free Advice is Worth Exactly What You Pay For It.


Free Advice is Worth What You Pay for It.It is that time of year.

One school year is quickly coming to a close and 1.7 seconds after it concludes, it will be time to start planning for the next one (actually, if you wait that long… you are in big trouble).

Enjoy the much deserved time off.

With the approaching new year, I am reminded that there will be a whole new crop of eager, young principals who have been hired and will be starting their new jobs in the fall.

Welcome, newbies. And be careful out there.

This reminds me of my theory that the school calendar is broken into 5 very specific seasons.

The Vacation Season (summer… possibly my favorite). Then there is the Cold Season when the leaves change and I will freeze to death at one (or 9) football games (fall).

Next up is the Depression Season which lasts 4 months and has really bad TV (winter).

The fourth is the Pre-Vacation Season which always cheers me up because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (spring… vacation is coming… did I mention it could be favorite?).

And then there is the last season of the year. It is the little known and always vastly underrated Season of The Hiring of New Principals.

While not widely known outside of the world of education, this particular season happens every year like clockwork.

Somewhere between March and July the new principals emerge from their classrooms (or gym) and are hired for the following school year.

They are so excited and full of ideas. They have their whole careers ahead of them (sadly, some will be shorter than others).

Good for them. Did I mention to be careful out there? It is like sending a new born deer out on the interstate (don’t feel badly, I was that deer once… and I only got hit by
about 97 cars… I am happy to say no physical scars were left behind, but a few mental ones still haunt me).

Now if they (or you) want my advice (as if you have a choice if you have read this far), I am more than willing to share.

To the brand new crop of principals and future leaders of education, I have come up with The 10 Rules of Survival for a New Principal.

Some were passed on to me while others I learned the hard way. Please keep in mind that you are getting these free, so no complaining when 157 other things go wrong (I am only one man and I can’t prepare you for the unexpected… I have problems of my own after all).

The 10 Rules of Survival for a New Principal.

1. Never speak in 3rd person. It creeps people out. And you are just not that important.

2. If you are changing school districts, don’t constantly refer to your old one. As in, “We used to do it this way at my old district.” That angers people.

3. Make sure that if you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t make people ask you 14 times. Secretaries are big fans of this rule.

4. Much like students, always be where you are supposed to be. Never skip a meeting and “take the rest of the day off.” You will be watched and people will be more than happy to catch you doing something wrong.

5. Return you emails promptly. And by promptly, I don’t mean 9 days later.

6. Don’t spend more money than you take in. Sure your salary is going up, but it doesn’t mean you have to buy a new car immediately. Save a little for a rainy day or in case things don’t work out (although I am sure they will… for most of you).

7. Stay out of the coach’s office. Or wherever you came from. Spend time with the entire staff, not just those with which you are most comfortable.

8. Be out and about. You don’t want students to refer to you as the “new guy or lady” three years from now. Head to the hallway and meet some kids. You might like them.

9. If you have to announce student names in public (Honors Day, Graduation, etc.), make sure you pronounce them correctly. Parents loooove it when you butcher their child’s name.

10. Lastly, don’t spend $18,000 redoing your office. Let the students and staff get the benefits of the new computer or furniture. You can wait. Refer to rule #1 about not being that important.

There is my best advice. If you want better, it is going to cost you. The PrincipalsPage can only do so much (crap, I just broke my number 1 rule… now the PrincipalsPage feels badly… oh, I did it again).

If you are starting a new job in administration… Congratulations. Enjoy the Vacation Season and rest up.

A year from now you will realize why the rest was so important.

Actually, you will realize it after the first day, but I am here to help; not frighten.

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Disclaimer

While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.