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Decisions, Decisions
A Week in the Life of a Principal

Day Four


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 3
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 3."

Day 4: 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"

8:05: Two students reported to me that they found a large-denomination bill on their way to school. I was unable to ascertain whether it was real. I held the money and told them I'd get back to them.

8:25: Distributed state tests.

8:45: Had PTA executive board meeting. Presented the instructional items requested by teachers that the PTA might purchase.

9:30: Finally got into a classroom to observe and was paged because the Department of Human Services dropped by in response to the call I made on Tuesday. Got to observe for only ten minutes.

10:05: Delivery truck just arrived. Had to make a decision about where to store the 42 new iMac computers. I've more or less decided to distribute the computers so that each classroom has a total of five. Any leftovers will be added to the school computer lab.

10:10: Parent called to find out about the second-grade boy who threatened to shoot. Couldn't discuss because of confidentiality.

10:20: Called a parent to pick up student who was having a bad day.

10:25: It's actually snowing out! Do we keep kids in for school recess? There's just a half-inch on the ground, and it doesn't seem too slippery out there. I give the go-ahead for outdoor recess.

10:30: Collected state tests. Yahoo! -- testing is done for the year -- almost!

10:40: Jumped into the car to drive to the bank. The bill the students found was real.

10:50: Should I throw a temper tantrum with a lazy teacher? It's so hard to watch this man, who is surrounded by others who are busting their butts to get kids actively involved in learning. He's not a bad teacher, and the kids like him, but it drives me nuts to see him sitting at his desk while other teachers are in there working with their kids in small groups or one-on-one. I suppose I should just let it go. Why does my blood boil every time I see him there with his feet up on his desk?

10:55: Parent stopped by to put in a special request for a specific teacher for her child for next school year. Is that starting already? Sent her off with a copy of our school's policy. She'll have to put her request in writing. In the end, we'll do all we can to accommodate parent requests, but other placement considerations will take priority.

11:00: Began doing entries on the computer database. I have to post all discipline referrals. I hate being late in posting.

12:05: Saw one of the students who found the money and told him that the bank says it's real. I will hold the money until the end of the day on Friday to see if anyone reports the lost sum.

12:10: Loaned another student $2 for lunch!

12:15: Gave my fifth-grade teachers a candlelight luncheon and home cooked meal to celebrate the end of testing. Boy, were they stressed out!

1:15: Met with two students who had a fight on the playground after lunch. Will call the parents this evening. Warned students that the punishment will be more severe if this happens again. Convinced it won't.

1:25: Disgruntled parent shows up to complain about the way a second-grade teacher handled a situation on the playground. Promised to look into it.

1:40: Started placing calls to parents of chronically absent students (five of them); had to advise parents about policies and that students were in danger of being held back because of attendance.

2:00: Principal and counselor from neighboring school dropped off files and discussed a student who is transferring to my school because of discipline issues.

2:15: Monitored a surprise tornado drill. Students responded quickly and in good form. Let's hope we never have to do this for real.

2:20: Met with guidance counselor and third-grade teacher to fill out referral paperwork for state's Department of Human Resources re: a suspected child abuse situation.

2:45: Did bus duty, then stopped by to talk with the second-grade teacher about the parent complaint. She will call the parent and try to explain a situation that's been blown out of control by the child. If necessary, she will set up a conference for the three of us next week.

3:05: Settled down to review schedule of exploratory classes grades 6 through 8 teachers will offer in 2000-2001. Passed along to secretary so she can create choice forms for students.

3:30: Interviewed another candidate for the instructional aide opening. This person would make a great addition to our staff. Is fully certified too, so hiring her will give us a chance to get a closer look. We have a fourth-grade opening that is coming up next fall (a retirement). This candidate might be able to move into that position. I'll offer her the job once I get the OK from the central office.

4:30: Stopped at a local funeral home to pay respects to a staff member whose father had died suddenly.

6:00: Had time to run home for a quick bite before tonight's Board of Education meeting. I have to do a presentation at the meeting. How should I dress? Are slacks and a sweater too casual?

7:30: Showed up at the town-wide Board of Education meeting. I was on the agenda. Had to give a presentation on progress re: the team-teaching program we implemented this fall.

Tomorrow: Day 5 of "Decision, Decisions: A Week in the Life of a Principal!"

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

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Originally published 05/19/2000
Updated 05/06/2003