(Originally posted on Servant Principal.)
By Walter A. Kozlowski
I recently posted to Twitter that I was wondering whether Parking Lot Management should be a topic included in school administrator preparation programs. The comment seemed to resonate with a few people and it led me to thinking . . . what else do school administrators regularly deal with that nobody taught us? What follows are some of the things I didn’t learn in school. They are also topics not found in the mythical Principal’s Manual.
Making decisions about individual situations is often relatively easy, but school leaders must understand the potential impact each decision has on the system, overall. Systems thinking allows school leaders to identify recurring issues and develop policies and protocols for dealing with similar situations. This eliminates the mystery of how something is to be done, thus empowering others and increasing organizational efficiency.
Student attire can be a polarizing subject among staff and within the community. Handling dress code issues in a manner that pleases and appeases can be a difficult balancing act, yet it seems to be an issue in every middle school and high school – even those with uniforms.
Attending the neighborhood school is no longer a given. We are all salespersons, promoting our schools. As leaders, we are also in the position of convincing others regarding the merits of new programs or ideas. We truly have become salesmen, who do not work on commission.
Branding/ Reputation Building
Digital leaders like Joe Sanfelippo , Tony Sinanis, and Eric Sheninger are great resources on the importance of creating and promoting a school brand, but this was not even part of the conversation when I was working on my administrative degree more than a decade ago.
Parking Lot Management
For a variety of reasons, the number of parents who use personal transportation to get their children to and from school has steadily increased over the past several years. As a result, working to keep the parking lot safe and efficient has become a big concern for many schools. However, if the principal is outside directing traffic, something is not getting done inside. That something may include parent contacts, connecting with staff, or other important responsibilities of the school leader.
Handling lice checks is something I learned through on-the-job training. It’s not something I ever even thought about while earning my degree.
Security and Emergency Preparedness
School safety has never been as paramount a concern as it is now. Planning for a variety of situations and clearly communicating the plan has taken on a great deal of significance. As a result, school leaders must be prepared to take command over an incident at any moment. Effective security measures are an important means for preventing emergency situations from arising.
First Aid and Preventive Care
Allergies, dietary concerns, and response to medical emergencies are all things I never considered prior to becoming an administrator. Now, I have to know the calorie count of snacks we give as incentives, am trained to administer an epipen, and have to be prepared in case of seizure or heart attack. A full course in first aid would benefit everybody who works in a school. Yet, for many of us, responding to medical emergencies is outside our comfort zone.
Social media and Web 2.0 have taken communication to a whole new level. What was once written and published on paper to a school community, now may be viewed by anybody anywhere in the world. Furthermore, news now travels lightening fast. School leaders must be prepared to respond to inquiries about situations that they may be the last to learn about.
As obtaining additional financial support for school programs has become necessary, it would be helpful to have a background in how to do so successfully.
No matter how honest a person is, there are times in leadership roles when successful acting is necessary. The most difficult, for me, is acting angry when a student does something that upsets somebody else, but that I think is funny.
When I became a teacher and even when I moved into administration, I believed people’s actions were pure. It didn’t take long to learn, however, that there are politics to everything. Understanding the nuances and the motivation behind school politics takes a little longer to figure out.
Despite obtaining a degree in Education Leadership, I don’t remember ever having a conversation about styles or principles of leadership. Sure, we learned about a lot of topics relevant to school leaders, but being a leader is much more than knowing how to manage a building, understanding law, maintaining a knowledge of curriculum and instruction, managing behavior, and being able to budget.
When I became an administrator, I was fortunate to work with a veteran principal who taught me a lot. Despite his years of experience, he would occasionally ask, “Do you think I’ve dealt with that before?” Often times he had not. School personnel, and particularly school administrators are frequently faced with a variety of situations for which we were not trained. Frequently, other experience, advice from colleagues, or just pure luck get us through. School leaders can never be prepared for everything. They have to be people who can think on their feet and gain knowledge and skill along the way. We never know what we will be asked to do next. I don’t expect most of these topics will ever become part of the preparation one goes through to become a school administrator. Nevertheless, these are some of the things principals are called upon to do despite having no more training than anybody else.
Now, it’s your turn. What topics would you suggest adding to the programs that prepare our school administrators and leaders?