Today marked the 100th day of my first year as a principal. Twelve months ago I thought I was heading for the chair in the soon-to-be-empty Elementary Principal’s office, but as it turned out, that chair was rolled into the workshop. It was disassembled and combined with the Secondary Principal chair and rolled back into service for me as the the new K-12 Principal. Tonight, for the one hundredth time, I turned off the light, shut the door and left that chair in a darkened, wintery office illuminated only by the pulsating green light of the Nespresso machine waiting in the corner. It is starting to become a little more comfortable, but at times has been the last place I wanted to sit.
So 100 days in seemed like a poignant moment to take a rhetorical lean back in that chair and jot down some thoughts on what I have learned in those 100 days. I address you as if you are about to move into a Principal’s chair…
Restraint. This is the first big lesson of my 100 days.
Be restrained. Think carefully about everything you say. Think carefully about who you say the things you want to say to. Think carefully if “saying” is really what is needed. Spend twice as much time listening. Most people know what they need to hear. Let your speaking help them listen… to themselves!
Learn. This is the second big lesson of my 100 days.
A new leader in a new school has a LOT to learn. Tell others around you that you are in the PROCESS of learning. Let them know how they can help you learn. ASK for help. Be thankful when it is given. Apologise when you get it wrong (and never by email!).
Write with a pen. This is the third big lesson of my 100 days.
Thanks written in your hand with blue ink on a small piece of paper communicates a message that reading is not required for, that is remembered for a long time, that others mention. It takes time. It is time well spent!
Reflect. This is the fourth big lesson of my 100 days.
Mistakes will become more regular, more obvious and more impactful. Take time to notice them, ponder them and act on them. Find a person you can trust. Let them listen to your story. You know what you need to hear. Let them help you say it.
Hold on and breathe. This is the fifth big lesson of my 100 days.
There are no such things as slow days. There are fast days and there are are REALLY fast days. There are days when someone has broken their leg, the fire alarm goes off, a school bus crashes on the way to school, three students get caught smoking in class, a parent wants to know whey their child received a B+ and not an A (can he retest???) and a teacher decides today is her last day. These are every days. They don’t get any slower!
Spend a part of your day with students. This is the sixth big lesson of my 100 days.
Without fail… it will be the best part of your day!
Make teachers smile. This is the seventh big lesson of my 100 days.
Sometimes teaching is the toughest job in the world, so do all you can to make teachers smile. When teachers smile, they feel good. When teachers feel good, they teach well. When teachers teach well, students learn well. It’s not rocket science. Make teachers smile.
Grow a pair. This is the eighth big lesson of my 100 days.
If calling a meeting with a teacher who is not doing a good job is going to be tough for you, get some training on having hard conversations or rethink your movement into school administration. Bad teaching needs to be addressed. Address it. Or frame an apology to the class full of students (and their parents) who have been subjected to Mr I’m-doing-my-best-but-it-is-still-really-crap!
Love your work. This is the ninth big lesson of my 100 days.
If you don’t obviously love doing the job you are doing, students will notice. Teachers will notice. Parents will notice. And no words you say will dissuade those folks from believing what they think they have already noticed.
Get your calendaring system organised. This is the tenth big lesson of my 100 days.
You will begin to live by your calendar. If it is not set up properly and others cannot add appointments to your calendar for you, you will look stupid.
And that rounds out my Top Ten. Please take a moment comment and add anything you think I might have missed.