Have you ever seen an iceberg in person? I’ve personally only seen pictures, but from my understanding they can seem very large when you to them in person. What is hidden from view is a much larger part under the surface of the water.
Sometimes, talking about the principalship is like an iceberg. We can talk about great leadership practices, but something the conversation only covers the surface. This is my attempt to look under the surface of this topic by talking about my experience.
Recently, I had an opportunity to share with a group of Aspiring Administrators about what it’s like to be a campus principal. I talked about the importance of protecting your personal brand and how this can impact what others think about you. Along with this conversation, they asked me several questions about my transition from the classroom to administration.
Moving from the classroom teacher to campus administration was a major adjustment. There were so many things I had to get used to and some of them were very challenging. Perhaps the most challenging things were understanding what exactly a school administrator does. Nothing can truly preparing you for being a classroom teacher, you just have to do it… it’s the same about the campus principalship. I thought I knew what the campus principal was going to be like… but I didn’t really understand until I started doing it.
So I have some basic challenges about the campus principalship listed below. Please keep in mind as you read these items, it’s like seeing a tip of the iceberg… there’s a lot more to them under the surface.
You probably have heard about the importance of communication. And I use to wonder why in several leadership books, papers, and seminars why communication was always talked about so often. I thought: “of course I’m going to communicate my expectations of others…this is so simple. Why are we talking about this topic again?!?”
I believe this is the most important and misunderstood skill for leaders…especially for me. As a classroom teacher, communication with my students and parents seemed much easier. Yes, I had to repeat myself to them from now and again by reteaching a difficult concepts, or tutoring them after-school… but overall, communication was much simpler. Afterall…I had a captive audience with me all the time.
As a campus leader, I don’t always have a captive audience. My teachers are in classrooms, my students are moving from class to class, and my parents are working or at home. What I communicate and how I communicate becomes very challenging because my audience is seldom in the same place at the same time. Often I find myself stating and restating the same thing over and over and over so that everyone I contact understands my expectations. One of the traps about communication is that I will have a conversation with one group of individual and neglect to tell another group.
Justin Baeder recently wrote on his blog (www.eduleadership.com) “Verbal announcements invite two-way communication, and while this can be extremely helpful, it can also introduce ambiguity where it doesn’t belong.” He states in his blog post that principals should write to staff and parents to help clarify expectations and limit misunderstanding.
District Policies and Procedures
As a classroom teacher, I seldom read the campus handbook (actually, I probably NEVER read the thing). I did my job as a teacher by knowing the curriculum, using assessment data to plan my lessons, communicating with parents, and building relationships with my students. So reading a campus handbook that is filled with information concerning compulsory attendance, the acceptable use policy, and School Health Advisory Council was not a priority to me as a classroom teacher. Besides, many of these things were handled by the campus administrators. However as a campus principal, knowing and understanding the district policy is critical. It’s like the handbook for being a campus leader. I cannot stress the importance of knowing and understanding the teacher evaluation system, attendance policies, and student discipline practices especially.
The Principal’s Schedule
While I was teaching, I basically had a daily routine. I taught all my subjects about the same time… instructional periods, conference times, lunch, and duty were all about the same time each day. And if you asked me as a classroom teacher, I would have told you that each day was very different from the other… however my schedule as a campus leader varies much greater.
At the beginning, I used to create a long items of “To Dos” thinking I would get through my list of things and be very productive… I mean I had have a lot of time in the office, right? However I have quickly discovered that I might only got one or two things off that list… and this will be counted as a productive day. Unlike being a classroom teacher, I have no scheduled conference time, no standard lunch break, and no daily routine. And because I have an open door policy and spend a lot of time during the school moving from one conversation to the next. My agenda for the day is frequently interrupted by the needs of the campus for that particular day. Most of “my work” is done after school hours, on the weekends, or during breaks.
Please don’t misunderstand.. I love my job. I enjoy serving the needs of others in my role. But my schedule as a campus principal is very different compared to my classing teaching experience… is it has been an adjustment.
Again, what I have shared is only the tip of iceberg. These ideas are difficult to describe clearly with specific examples. Sometimes you just have to experience for yourself.