Five Daily Musts for School Principals
By Mike Nitzel
Principal, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School
Rock Island-Milan (Illinois) School District #41
While I do not claim that this is a complete or extensive list, these are MY five daily musts that I do which I believe has increased my efficacy as a school principal. I would be interested in reading what you think and what you might add to the list through your comments.
1) Personal Professional Development—I spend at least an hour a day on my own professional development. I’m always reading at least one book on leadership or professional practice that I can bring to bear on my work on a daily basis. I spend at least 30 minutes per day on Twitter (per my friend and colleague Dr. Jeff Zoul) and I find some time each day to read online blogs which I find most useful and applicable to my current professional development needs. The hour need not be contiguous and in my case it usually isn’t. If you’re an early riser, this might be a good time for you to engage in this activity. Often times, I end my day here.
2) Relationship Building—At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you can never spend too much time working on building your relationships with all of the stakeholders in your school communtiy. It’s all about relationships. A simple “Hi! How is your day? Is there anything you need or that I can help you with?” can be huge in the eyes of the person on the receiving end. Showing people your genuine concern and care for them not only as your colleagues or customers but as people will go a long way towards helping you advance your mission—improving student learning and outcomes.
3) Instructional Leadership—Be in classrooms every day. Period. Share feedback with your teachers. Provide them with useful resources that meet your school-wide needs but also provide them with resources that will advance their individual growth. For example, your entire school might be working on increasing student engagement. Share what you come across with your school community on this topic. You may, on the other hand, have one or two teachers working on improving their use of Twitter as an educational tool. When you come across something on that topic, share it with them. That level of personalized attention will pay huge dividends for your school and your school goals. I make an effort to do this daily, for my school through my Daily School Update and my weekly Monday Focus, and individually, through emails, texts, tweets, or conversation.
4) Connect With Your Principal Colleagues—Being a school principal, particularly an elementary school principal, can be lonely. When I was a high school principal, I had an entire administrative staff that I had the opportunity to interact and share with every day. Usually that’s not the case at the elementary level. I make it a habit to pick up the phone each day to talk to one of my administrative colleagues in my school district. Sometimes it’s just to ask how things are going. Sometimes it’s to talk through a situation I’m working on or to offer them any help I can with something that they might be working on. Sometimes we talk professional development. Feeling connected to others who go through the same things that you do on a daily basis helps mitigate those feelings of isolation that we all sometimes feel. I invariably leave those conversations feeling reinvigorated and reenergized which helps me do a better job for my school community.
5) Take Time for Yourself—If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve sat through the flight attendant’s safety talk, you know, the one where they tell you where the exits are and how to use your seat cushion as a flotation device. Do you remember what they tell you about the oxygen masks? They tell you to put yours on before you assist others, even your own children. Why? Because you can’t help others if you’re lying in a heap. There is a lesson to be learned there. As a building principal you spend your days taking care of hundreds if not thousands of other people. In order to do that effectively, you have to take care of yourself first. Make sure you get plenty of rest and make sure you eat as healthy as you can. For example, I eat lunch every day, granted sometimes it’s at my desk but most days I carve out 20 or 30 minutes for lunch. I have little patience for principals who say they have no time to eat lunch. Forgive me but most of the time I find that a self-serving “look at how hard I work” thing to say. You can find some time for lunch and to sit down and take a breath. Have you ever sat down and eaten in the cafeteria with your students? Do that and you’re taking care of yourself AND building relationships at the same time. There are other things you can do to take care of yourself as well. Find some time to exercise (I REALLY have to do better on this one). Do something for yourself each day that YOU want to do and that you enjoy, whether it is exercise, reading a book for enjoyment, playing a game, attending a club or church activity, meditation, yoga, whatever! I am working hard to make a habit of ending my work day no later than 9:00 p.m. and saving the hour from 9:00 to 10:00 for something I want to do. I refuse to feel guilty for spending an hour watching the two episodes of Modern Family that I have on the DVR. You shouldn’t either. This is the longest of the five musts I’ve written about and there’s a reason for that. In many ways it’s the most important. If you forget that, think “oxygen masks”.
Again, these are my “musts”. Yours may be different. I would like to know what you think and what you might add to my list. Please share your comments! Until next time, take care and BE AWESOME!