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Decisions, Decisions
A Week in the Life of a Principal

Day Three

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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."

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Day 2
Day 1

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 Laura Browning Crochet, principal at Genesis Alternative High School in Houma, Louisiana. 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 Westwood Elementary School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. "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 continue our look at our decision-making principals with our journal from Day

Day 3: Decisions, Decisions! A Week in the Life of a Principal

Click here to read the introduction and previous entries from "Decisions, Decisions!: A Week in the Life of a Principal"

8:00: Held quick staff meeting about lock down. Addressed the staff's concerns.

8:25: Distributed state tests for third day of testing.

8:30: Spent time reviewing purchase suggestions from our school's site council. Need to send a request to central office to get OK to spend bond money on those purchases.

8:40: Heard from my secretary that a parent called to complain that a second grader had been threatening to shoot people at the bus stop. Decided to call transportation (they handle bus discipline) and convey this so they could address it. Later, a father dropped in to tell me that the parents in the second grader's neighborhood had filed police reports on this child for the threat.

8:50: School psychologist dropped in to discuss two troubled boys. Decided to call the parents and to document everything they say.

9:15: Back to work on the site council's purchase requests.

9:45: Met with our school psychologist and guidance counselor. We committed to letting go a local nonprofit organization's mentor for our teen-parenting program. She simply was unwilling to accept the organization and chain of command for our programs and went back to her organization and reported problems on our campus that were not within her area of concern.

10:30: Collected state tests.

10:50: Decided to close office door to contain the stray dog that joined the PE class. Made a semblance of a leash to keep the dog from running off. Decided to let dog go home with a student who probably doesn't have enough food in the house to feed himself or the dog. Student had bonded with the dog instantly, something about strays. Called parents to share the plan and they were OK with it.

11:25: Lunch duty aides usually eat lunch before the first shift. One aide is often five to ten minutes late. Had to tell him he must eat faster to get to the cafeteria earlier.

12:15: Met with teacher who chairs the discipline committee during her lunch to finalize amendments to the school discipline policy.

1:00: Traveled to district office for school dress code committee meeting, which I chair. I'm charged with facilitating the development of dress code guidelines for approval and vote by the school site-based decision-making councils.

2:00: Had meeting with superintendent re: my concerns about new accountability program and its impact on my school.

2:45: Back to school in time to monitor bus duty. Apparently, there was another event in the boys' lavatory in the grades 6 to 8 wing. Will need to discuss the problem with teachers on the team. Does a teacher need to monitor the lavatory between class periods?

3:00: Computer lab teacher comes to me re: the printer. It's a goner. Is there money to replace it? We can't live without it. I asked her to fill out the requisition for me and I'd railroad it through.

5:00: Time to leave. Will grab something quick to eat, then run to the city to do research for a graduate class thesis.

Tomorrow: Day 4 of "Decision, Decisions: A Week in the Life of a Principal!"

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Gary M. Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 05/18/2000
Updated 05/06/2003