The Secret to Being a Great Principal.

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A long long time ago in a school district far far away I was a teacher.Business question

It was so long ago the Evil Spawn wasn’t even around to mock me (I can hardly remember my pre-Evil Spawn life).

As a teacher, I spent a lot of time watching principals interact in their environment (sort of like the monkeys at the zoo… I kid because I care).

Meetings, supervising games, getting yelled at by parents who hated school when they attended, etc.

What I discovered was the secret to being a successful school administrator.

Actually, it’s not really a secret. 

But when you call something a secret, people seem to want to pay you a pretty penny to stand up and explain it (so it’s a secret… and call me).

For this special one-time offer, I’m going to share it for free (I’m an idiot… nothing should be free).

The secret came to me over 10 years ago.

That particular day seemed like any other.

I taught my classes.  Looked forward to lunch.  Waited for practice to begin.

And hung around the office bothering people who actually worked for a living (sorry, secretaries).

On that day, you won’t believe who walked into the office.

The superintendent.

Some of you might be thinking it was mid-morning and he was just showing up for work, but I’m not going there.

I will say it was his 2nd year on the job.

Also, in the office was a high school senior.

When the superintendent walked through and closed the door to his office, the senior turned to a group of us and said “ Who’s the new guy?”.

Again, this was his second year on the job.

And the senior wasn’t kidding.

He had never seen him.

This is both sad and tragic (which is how I like my stories).

At that very moment, I was both doubled over with laughter and the keeper of the secret.

The secret to being a successful school administrator is walking around.

In the hallways.  In classrooms.  At games.

Even around town.

People want to see you.

They assume when you’re out and about, you are working.

They also assume when they don’t see you, you’re not working.

So take a walk.

You don’t want to be the “new guy or girl”.

Especially in your second year.

Even sadder… the district only had 50 employees.  At some point, the two stars of the story probably should have bumped into one another.

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12 Responses to “The Secret to Being a Great Principal.”


  1. Michelle Howell-Martin
    on Nov 6th, 2011
    @ 12:35 pm

    The Mysteriously Appearing/Disappearing Administrator–met a few of those in my career.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Michelle Howell-Martin, As have I.


  2. Dave Meister
    on Nov 6th, 2011
    @ 3:15 pm

    Dear keeper of the secret,

    Does walking around on a golf course count?

    Sincerely,
    Aspiring Great Principal

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Dave Meister, Sometimes – Yes.

    Every day – No.


  3. Teach_J (Robert Courtemanche)
    on Nov 6th, 2011
    @ 5:22 pm

    I would agree with you that this is Step 1 of being a good administrator – being visible. But you’ve got to go further than that and actually solve problems. Even just trying to solve problems goes a long way, but actually finding fair solutions to real problems is why we have principals/administrators in the first place.


  4. Pat
    on Nov 7th, 2011
    @ 6:49 am

    The best principal I ever worked for was very visible and caring. He was in the halls before school started talking to students. He was usually in the lunchroom every day possible talking to students and teachers. Throughout the week, he popped into classrooms to say a word to the teacher or the class. He was at most of the after school events talking to parents. My hubby and I wondered how in the world he did it all and still had a life…oh, maybe he didn’t have a life. His door was always open for those who needed to see him. He told me he got to school about 6am before anyone else did so he could get his paperwork done. He also stayed long after teachers left. But we knew he was there and he cared.


  5. Sarah Powell
    on Nov 8th, 2011
    @ 1:40 pm

    In all my years of school I was always very scared and intimidated by my principal. One of my principals always looked at us like we where the lowest beings on earth and he was appointed by the gods to rule over us. This is not what a principal should be like. You were right about how a principal should be seen but how he or she is seen is also very important. They should want to be seen as stern but fare. Students will not voluntarily come to someone that they are afraid of.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Sarah Powell, I think has changed over time. In most cases the principal is no longer the scary ex-coach.

    At least we hope so.


  6. Marcus Byrd
    on Nov 18th, 2011
    @ 9:06 am

    I love that secret. I wish that taking walks worked the same for teachers. Wouldn’t it be great if the secret to being a great teacher was taking walks around the school or the golf course?

    Find the secret to being a great teacher at http://www.teacherade.com.


  7. Pat
    on Nov 22nd, 2011
    @ 9:48 pm

    This blog has brought back some bad bad memories!!!!!

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Pat, I always assumed this blog gave people nightmares.


  8. Dennis Reeves
    on Feb 27th, 2012
    @ 8:28 pm

    Not that being an ex-coach is a negative. My coaching years were some of the most wonderful years that I’ve spent in education. I still miss Friday nights and the wet morning grass of early practices on the football field. However, I absolutely love being a principal. Just before I began this stage of my career a fellow coach and myself were taking our last classes in pursuit of our Masters Degrees and we were talking about principals and such. (we both had Principal jobs lined up). We told ourselves that we would never forget where we came from and that if we turned out to be bad principals that it was our own fault because we had seen so many bad ones and didn’t want to be like them.

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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.