(Originally posted at Leadership that Matters)

By Julie Trepa


I remember my first day on the job as an administrator.  I had just been hired as an associate principal for a middle school of approximately 1,200 students; it was July 1, and I couldn’t wait to get my feet wet.  I walked into my office and thought…now what?  I didn’t even know enough to know what questions to have!

For many of you, you are sitting in a similar position.  This is your first month “officially on the job” and you are thinking to yourself, what next?  After several years in administration and mentoring several new administrators, I’ve developed a top 10 for new principals of my own:top 10

10.  You get 365 days of “ignorance”…take advantage of it!

Ask LOTS of questions and if you make a mistake, you have the “I’m sorry, this is my first year here, I wasn’t aware…” excuse. Now, don’t get carried away with this, but do know that no one expects perfection the first year.  You will make mistakes.  You will make mistakes in your 20th year on the job.  What matters more is that you learn from those mistakes and that you adjust to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

9. Delegate as many managerial duties as possible.

That way, you can concentrate on being in classrooms with students and in meaningful dialogue with staff. This is not as easy as it appears.  Managerial duties can take up the entire day if you let it.  Be sure your actions match your philosophy.  If you want to be an instructional leader, then be sure your actions match that of an instructional leader and not a manager.

8. Work smarter.

Only touch your mail once, even your email.  Decide immediately whether your are filing, deleting or acting on the email, and do so.  Re-handling mail, email, and phone calls can take up a great deal of time. Time, you will discover, that is too precious to waste on doing the same task several times.

Document, document, document.  Have records of phone calls and conversations that you will be able to refer back to, if need be.  Be sure the date, time, who was involved and a short synopsis is included in your documentation.  Be sure discipline issues are well-documented.  You may think you won’t forget things, but you will be interacting with thousands of people in a year’s time.  Your best memory is one you’ve written at the time. Find a system that works for you. You may not think you will need it later, but you’d be surprised how handy this documentation comes in when you need it most.

7. Make your schedule in classrooms non-negotiable.

NOTHING should interrupt it, not even a phone call from the superintendent. My secretaries know that when I’m in classrooms, I’m only to be interrupted if the building’s on fire!  Most people are reassured and comforted knowing that you are in classrooms and are willing to schedule their time with you as a result. Doing so also sends the message that students are THE priority.

6. Don’t change too much too early.

Get to know the culture and climate of the building and community.  Sometimes, what appears on the surface to be something you may wish to change, turns out to be something you want to carry on once you’ve been in the position for a year.  Traditions in districts and buildings run deep.  If you plan to change a “tradition”, be sure it’s necessary.

5.  Listen, listen, listen.

You only get to be new once in a building, so listen carefully.  Listen to what the constituents are saying, the staff (both classified and certified), and to what the students are saying.  Engage in rich dialogue around the patterns and themes that appear to be reoccurring.  This will help you determine your next steps.

4. Build relationships.

  • Get to know your families and community members.  Attend events and activities outside the school setting.  Volunteer. Join philanthropic groups.  Let your community know that you are more than just the principal; you are an active member of the community.
  • Get to know your staff on a personal level. Do they have kids of their own? Are they taking master’s or doctoral classes? Do they have family in the area or are they alone?  It’s not enough to know them on a professional level alone.  They need to know you care about them as people, too. After all, you are in this together.

3. Find your critical mass.

  • Who are the movers and shakers in your community?  Which parents/families appear to have a wide network of friends and influence? Find out their perceptions of the school.  Is it positive? Build on that! Is it less than desirable? Then, you know what your next steps need to be! Get them involved in the school.  Put them on the building leadership team. Engage them as leaders at the next school event. You will need these families and community members to help you lead the school and community.
  • Find out which teachers hold the informal power in the building. Which teachers are sought out after a big announcement in the building? Who do the teachers look to for validation?  These teachers may be positive, or they may be the naysayers. Regardless, every staff has a few that hold the informal power necessary to help you lead.  These teachers are the leaders you need to have on board if you want to move the staff forward.

2. Lead by example.

If you want every staff member to blog, then you better be blogging. If you want a professional staff, then you better be the exemplary model of such. Model what you preach. Don’t expect anything out of your staff that you aren’t willing to do yourself.  You need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

1. Build your PLN!

You are not alone, though it may feel like it at times.  There are a plethora of experts and beginning administrators willing and waiting to help support you in your administrative career.  Cast a big net on this one.  The more diverse your network, the greater diversity of ideas you will receive.  You will stretch yourself as a learner and and become a better administrator as a result.

Finally, enjoy!  You have the best job in the world…embrace it.  There is no greater reward, nor responsibility, than knowing you are making a difference in the lives of students every day.

Julie Trepa is a Principal in Bettendorf, IA. She shares her insights on her website, Leadership that Matters. Follow Julie on Twitter at @JulieTrepa.