Online Inspiration for the School Administrator Committed to Providing the Highest Quality Educational Leadership

Advice for First Year Principals – Jessica Cromer

(Originally posted on Mrs. Cromer: Leading and Learning.)

By Jessica Cromer

Whoa, what’s that in your newsfeed?  A new blogpost from @MrsJCromer?!

Its only been since February people, don’t be so surprised.

I’ve been just a little busy with my first year running a school and have not been the best blogger.  But have no fear – all of the learning I’ve experienced over the past year has made for a pretty decent blog post for all of the new administrators out there.

Here are five truths that you need to acknowledge as a new principal and five ways I have found to help digest the reality of school administration:

You do not control your day.
You might as well get used to a full calendar.  And by full, I really mean overflowing. While it is nice to not write lesson plans, the sad reality is that you don’t really plan anything anymore.  Everyone needs you in a meeting, needs to ask you a “quick question,” needs you to call them back, and needs you to just BE THERE.  You have a huge to-do list, and it seems the whole world has you on theirs.

By nature, I believe most educators are organized and time-conscious so this adjustment can be really stressful and difficult to deal with.  Unfortunately, the best time to tackle your own list is after school once everyone is gone.  Of course this is when you are dead tired and your brain seems to struggle with any thought process that doesn’t involve food (because of course you didn’t get lunch – didn’t include that one in this list because that’s a given and there is no known solution).

The best way I have found to gather a small piece of my day is to schedule it.  Usually it only ends up being 30 minutes, but that is 30 minutes that I got to plan.  The important thing here is to SHUT YOUR DOOR!  I tell my secretary that I’m taking 30 minutes and everyone can wait unless there is blood.

In full disclosure, this cannot and does not happen everyday.  But several times a week can make you feel somewhat better about being pulled in 50 different directions.

No one understands your job.
Unless you have an assistant principal.  And even then it is totally different when it all rests on your shoulders.

The stress of knowing that you are responsible for EVERYTHING is quite overwhelming at times.  I am the only administrator in a K-7 school with 302 students and 50 staff members.  While I know those numbers aren’t huge – it is a lot for one person to look after.  I think no matter how many students and staff you are responsible for, the pressure is there.  It will wake you up at 3:00 in the morning but also keep you striving to do your best until 9:00 at night.

The duties of a principal vary greatly throughout the day and are not always witnessed by your stakeholders.  I have struggled this year with the range of emotions I experience when dealing with the day-to-day running of my school – and the fact that many teachers/students/parents have no idea what I have been dealing with previously before they approach me with a request.

While I know their requests are important, and many people just want someone to listen, it is hard to be positive, alert, and understanding when I have just been involved in a threat assessment, suspended a student, and talked with a teacher about an upsetting doctor’s appointment.

The assumptions many people have about administration can never be corrected because you can’t share what has been going on and they will never be an administrator.  So you must plug along and be attentive, listening to requests and following up when needed.  All with a smile.

Combating this truth can be challenging.  You can’t share a lot of details with others because of confidentiality.  But you have to share with someone.  I love my husband and try to tell him why I may be particularly upset one evening, but he doesn’t have experience in public education so sometimes he still has no clue.  Bless his heart.

I am fortunate to have the best school secretary in the world and she is often there to witness the craziness.  Through it all she is calm and supportive – exactly what a school leader needs.  I also have a colleague that I trust and frequently call, email, or just text when I need a word of encouragement.

Hopefully you have one of those people in your life, whether they work alongside you or are available to call.  You’re going to need them.

Change is slow.
And by slow I mean it creeps.

Everyone tells you not to make a lot of changes your first year and they are right.  See how things play out and what is already working.  You will surely have a list of things you want to improve, but if you look over the list you will see that many of them cannot be fixed overnight.  Sometimes the problems are just bigger than any “quick fix” will solve and other times you need to get staff input before moving forward.

You can set the wheels in motion by moving teachers, changing procedures, and having LOTS of conversations, but it will take years for that new remediation program to show lasting success.  While you will see some short-term benefits, it will again take years for the results of the new literacy framework to improve student achievement.

We often want instant results and this can be a hard truth to swallow.  I am excited about the small changes I am making to my second year and thankful for the support I have from central office to take the necessary time for lasting improvement.  Small steps, as long as they are forward, will get your school where it needs to be.

There’s always something great and inspiring going on outside of your office.  
The great thing about being a school leader is that there are kids in the building!  You aren’t in a stuffy office, you are in a school!  Let that be encouragement to get out and enjoy those students.

My favorite parts of the day are arrival, breakfast, lunch, and dismissal.  I LOVE to see all of the kiddos and give hugs and high-fives.  Of course my iPhone is also jam packed with photos and videos of my students (and teachers) being awesome in their classrooms.

So when the days are long (which they always are) and you have experienced every emotion possible, pull up that camera roll or that stack of student-made artwork and remember just why you chose this crazy career.

jessica-cromer

 

Jessica Cromer is a Principal in SW Virginia. She shares her insights on her website, Mrs. Cromer: Leading and Learning. Follow Jessica on Twitter at @MrsJCromer.

 

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