The principalship is a difficult job. Anyone who tells you otherwise works at the golf course.
Think for a moment about the hundreds of interactions we have over the course of a week, the thousands over a month, or the hundreds of thousands over a year. Consider the swarms of individual faces that come calling with requests, questions, comments, ideas, and complaints. Ponder the reams of paperwork that we are expected to complete by unforgiving deadlines. Contemplate the decisions, both immediate and long-term -- combining simple tasks and complex consequences -- that we make on the job.
Effective principals engage in two extremely worthwhile activities with high degrees of success: prioritization and delegation. If we cannot effectively prioritize time and energy, and if we cannot delegate certain tasks and decisions, then we will find ourselves dangling at the end of a very short rope over a frothing sea of sharks, piranhas, and other scary creatures (like talk-radio personalities).
What's the big deal about delegation? Heavens, our jobs are hectic, non-stop, demanding, roller-coasters with a shot of WD-40. Delegation is a must. It's a strategy that bullies, bookies, the mafia, and male lions have utilized for generations. However, they may not be our role models, so we're left to explore and learn the art of delegation on our own.
Release control. Even though many people think of the principal as the CEO (Chief Everything Officer) of the school, recent studies show it actually benefits everyone on campus if others are allowed to make decisions. If too much control is concentrated in one person, the school environment actually loses balance. Empower others. If you're a power monger, start by sharing small decisions that don't really matter. Then, as others in the school community build capacity and earn the trust of the troops, let them become more involved in the real decisions of the school. You'll be amazed at how relieved you feel, and how powerful the school becomes.
[content block] Reject the monkey*. Every time your teachers ask you to do something, or suggest an idea, and you respond, "I'll check into that and get back to you," you've allowed their monkey to leap off their back and onto yours. Then you have to make the next move, make the follow-up phone call, or plan the next meeting. Meanwhile, they're sipping gin at Rhino Mac's and comparing hairdos. Instead, fire right back. Say, "Why don't you call so-and-so and find out how much that will cost, then get back to me?" Your monkey shield will protect you from absorbing a dozen extra tasks and free you up to handle the important stuff.
Consider the task. Does the request in question really fall under your jurisdiction? What could you be doing instead? Could this be someone else's responsibility? If so, snap out of it -- let the right person do the job. Yes, it sends a strong signal about your dedication if you are willing to do anything to help the school, but it also raises a red flag about a potential weakness if you try to do everything yourself. It's your job to make sure everything is done, done right, and done on time. So make sure the right people are on the case.
When it comes to prioritization, we make a slight shift in urgency. Rather than asking What could I be doing? we ask ourselves instead What should I be doing? That query probes to the deepest, darkest part of our inner selves. To the cockles of our heart. Maybe even below the cockles, in the sub-cockle region. There we will find the driving force that generates all our professional actions, dreams, goals, and motivation.
For most of us, that driving force is the continuous improvement of the educational process to benefit hordes of individual children, so they might one day become productive, healthy, contributing members of a greater society. (For the others among us, they should lay asphalt.) Our actions indicate our priorities and preferences; they make clear what we deem important and what ends up becoming a coat rack standing in the corner collecting dust and umbrellas.
The question What should I be doing? really begs a follow-up question: What do I really prioritize?
With student achievement, professional growth, and healthy development as cornerstones of our professional work, the issue of prioritization is of utmost importance. Last month, in my column about the walk-through process, I wrote, "You cannot conduct walk-throughs after school, but you can answer e-mails." That certainly speaks to the value and importance of setting aside chunks of time to engage in active instructional leadership. But what else is a whisper in your veins that sounds with every beat of your heart, rather than a post-it note on the side of your desktop calendar? And how can you massage those priorities into your daily routines?
Qudrantize* your work. Think of every decision you have to make and every task you have to complete on a 2-by-2 grid with Urgency on the x-axis and Importance on the y-axis.
As principals, we need to spend as much time in quadrant II as we can. We need to make it a point to do that every day.
Determine levels of controllability. What can you control? Are you working to solve problems beyond your realm of influence? Get back on track. Some characteristics of our profession are impossible to conquer. Reducing student mobility, hassling with contractual issues, battling district-supplied textbooks -- you have a better chance of playing pick-up-sticks with your pinky toe than climbing up those sheer rock faces.
Instead, focus your time and energy on teaching skills, professional development, behavioral management, teacher motivation, parent communication, and community awareness. Those beasts you can tame, so don't wrangle with the wild ones.
Now that you're doing a better job of delegating and prioritizing, step back for a quiet moment. Imagine yourself invisible If you weren't there, how would your school suffer? Student discipline? Teacher discipline? Morale? Would your office chair blow away? If your school would have irreconcilable issues when you are stuck in Wichita during a snowstorm for a week, what would those issues be? Are they important ones?
Learn the art of delegation to empower others within the school community.
Prioritize your own activities so your time is well spent and benefits the greatest number of individuals.
Your school will thank you.
Always strive to be a better you,
* I borrowed the concept of "quandrantizing" from a fellow principal, who borrowed the idea from the work of Stephen Covey. The "monkeys" concept I refer to is derived from the work of Kenneth Blanchard.
Article by Pete Hall
Copyright © 2006 Education World