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Decisions, Decisions
A Week in the Life of a Principal

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Each day, principals make dozens of decisions -- small decisions and big decisions, decisions that may have minor consequences or major consequences for their staff and students, decisions that affect one person or an entire community. For one week last month, seven of the Education World Principal Files Principals tracked the decisions they made each day. Education World compiled those decisions to paint a picture of "a week in the life of a principal."

A few months ago, Education World approached the Principal Files team with an idea. We wanted to create a journal that might help principals-to-be and other educators understand exactly what a principal does all day long. Seven school leaders willingly agreed to keep track of their daily decisions for one week.

"This exercise was fun until a couple of days into the process," said principal Laura Browning Crochet. Then she added, kiddingly, "I became overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions I make..."

Crochet winnowed down her list and sent it to us.

"I've had a wild week," said Mary Ellen Imbo at the end of her journal-keeping week at an Oklahoma elementary school. "I couldn't write everything down. It would have taken too much time. So here we go, just a few per day."

"I am bombarded with requests from the minute I step onto the campus until the minute I leave the campus," Marie Kostick, principal at Goodwyn Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, told Education World. "The variety of decisions I am required to make on a daily basis is mind-boggling.

"I realize that each person who comes [to me] has a problem or concern that is important to him or her at that time," explained Kostick. "I sincerely try to assist as promptly and efficiently as possible, often placing myself in that person's position."

Crochet, Imbo, and Kostick joined administrators Bonita Henderson (Pleasant Ridge School in Cincinnati), Jeff Castle (Collins Lane Elementary School in Frankfort, Kentucky), Lucie Boyadjian (Glen Oaks School in Hickory Hills, Illinois), and Jed Landsman-Yakin (Belfry High School in Belfry, Montana) in this weeklong journal-keeping effort. Below we've created for our readers a composite picture of a typical week in the life of a K-12 school principal.

We're sure current school administrators will relate to the pace and the number of decisions. It is not our intent to overwhelm or scare off educators who might be considering the administration route! Rather, we hope to provide an image of the principal as a dedicated and unselfish leader of teachers and mentor to students.

"At the end of the day," Kostick said, "I can look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I have done the best that I can within my means and abilities, placing what is best for the child as my number-one concern."

Now, let's peek over the shoulders of our decision-making principals.

Day 1: Decisions, Decisions! A Week in the Life of a Principal

8:00: Called the police to report that a teacher saw a gun in a nearby creek.

8:05: Custodian fainted while doing breakfast duty. Called her supervisor.

8:25: Distributed state tests. Started state testing our fifth graders. Because my counselor is out for surgery, I must take over her duties. Two of the five parent monitors haven't shown up. I corralled one student teacher and one instructional aide to fill in.

8:45: Sat down to figure next year's instructional budget allotment for each teacher.

8:50: Interrupted by a parent who showed up and wanted to know why we locked down last week. He needed to be reassured. Decided to schedule an all-personnel meeting for Wednesday morning at eight to debrief after last week's lock down. Will need to meet with before- and after-school day care workers to instruct them in security procedures.

10:30: Distributed and collected state tests from monitors.

10:40: Met with first-grade teacher to talk about our course of action for a six-year-old student who choked a child, kicked the teacher, and left school property twice. We will recommend a three-day suspension because that will trigger assistance for the student from a mental health agency.

11:45: Had to fill in for an absent lunch and recess duty aide. Made mental note to find somebody to take over bus duty for him.

1:10: Looked over a draft of revisions to our school's discipline policy. Made a few suggestions re: appropriate consequences for disruptive or misbehaving students and returned it to the fifth-grade teacher who chairs the discipline committee. The committee will meet on Wednesday to finalize the document so our site council can vote on it at next Monday's meeting.

2:00: Discussed preparation for tomorrow's presidential primary election with lead custodian. Community will be voting in our all-purpose room.

2:20: Should I return call from salesperson? Nah, they are a pain. Instead, worked on a survey I'm preparing for staff re: technology learning standards. Trying to discern at which grade we will introduce keyboarding skills and teach specific software programs such as PowerPoint and Excel. Collecting teacher input is the first step. We need to have standards in place by the end of the school year. Teachers will work on curriculum to match the standards over the summer months for in-servicing in late August.

2:40: Sat down with secretary to go over her collected records re: excused and unexcused absences.

2:45: Interrupted when teacher sends two students to office. Listened to the he-said/she-said and decided there was no way to get to the truth of the situation. Today must be my lucky day. It's time for them to get on the bus -- and they're on different buses! Told them I wanted to talk to them first thing in the morning so I could be certain that this situation was behind us.

3:00: Made sure bus duty went smoothly. Then went back to the attendance discussion. Will make those phone calls to parents later in the week.

3:15: Interviewed a candidate for an instructional aide opening that came up last week. The candidate has possibilities.

4:00: Reviewed spring field trip request forms from teachers. Signed off on all but one. Will talk to fifth-grade team re: unexpected costs associated with their amusement park trip (to study the science behind amusement attractions).

4:15: Spent some time trying to figure out whether I can come up with enough budget money to purchase TVs and VCRs for four teaching teams that don't have them.

4:30: Returned call to university instructor who called to see whether we might be able to handle one more student teacher in the fall semester. I think I know just the place for that student teacher. Will talk with the teacher tomorrow.

5:30: Met with parent group that is planning this spring's golf tournament (an annual school fundraiser).

Tomorrow: Day 2 of "Decision, Decisions: A Week in the Life of a Principal!"

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Gary M. Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2000 Education World

Originally published 05/16/2000
Updated 05/06/2003


 

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