Search form

Always Strive to Be a Better You

Changing Addresses


Please forward this months column to any principal you know who will have a new principals office in the coming school year. This could include brand-new principals receiving their first assignment or veteran principals moving to a new school or district...

Around this time of year, school districts nationwide are deep into the planning process for the upcoming school year. Thats because theyve already confirmed the end-of-the-year administrator party and decided which hors doeuvres to serve, so theres nothing more pressing to do just now.

[content block] And if your district is anything like Generic District 44 in suburban Metropolis, its putting the finishing touches on its administrator assignments for the coming school year. More than likely, there will be a few new principals (or some principals assigned to different schools) in the mix -- and this columns for them.


If you are a new principal, Congratulations! I hope someone bought you a five-gallon tub of antibacterial hand sanitizer and a seat belt -- this is a dirty job, so buckle up! However, this is also a great job -- the principalship, I say, is the single most influential position in education today.

If youre a principal moving to a different school, Congratulations! We all need a fresh start every once in awhile. No matter what your past experiences have been, a change of locale brings a ton of new opportunities. This is a new chance to make a significant impact in the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands, of young people.

Ever since your new appointment, youve probably heard a lot of advice, some of which may include this gem: Enter slowly. Dont make any changes that first year. Well, thats hogwash! You were hired to be the principal of that school for a reason, and if that reason in any way resembles "Improve student achievement, staff morale, teacher quality, cost effectiveness, parent involvement, traffic flow, and schoolwide discipline, then youd better make some changes. Remember, change is a prerequisite of improvement.

So use your skills, knowledge, and resources to discover the changes you need to make, and make them. Youre the principal, right? I already congratulated you. You dont lay in wait and suddenly become the principal at the onset of Year 2, so be the principal starting now.


Instead of the nonsensical "Take a 10-month nap advice you may have received, Ive compiled a simple list of three things you can do to help make a positive transition in your new position:

1. Meet with every single employee of the school.

(Warning: metaphor approaching) Pick up a rock and throw it. Forget two birds, because this activity could possibly take out the whole flock! Here is your opportunity to:

  1. get to know the staff members youll be working with for the next few years.
  2. find out what some of the staff members big concerns for the school are.
  3. set some foundational work for your non-negotiables and your vision.
  4. demonstrate that individual voices matter to you and that you are approachable.
  5. gather crucial information that will help you make some initial decisions.
  6. begin to build relationships with personnel.
  7. establish yourself as the authority figure.
  8. become familiar with the faces of your staff so that first back-to-school staff meeting is more like "The Partridge Family than "The Addams Family

Thats a tall order, you say? How will you ever have time to do that? Start now, if youre within striking distance of the new school. Make yourself available before and after school. Put a schedule on the office counter so the staff can sign up. If you cant do that now (for example, if you live more than 30 miles from the new school or if a meteor strikes your automobile), set aside open-office time during the summer. If you dont take the time now, itll take you three to four times as long to accomplish the short list of benefits above. The point is this: make yourself available.

And always remember this:
you have one mouth and two ears, so talk some, but listen a lot.

2. Take everything out of the office.

Everything. Then start over. (Wait for the outgoing principal to vacate the office before you take this step -- otherwise its horrendously bad advice.) This step is as metaphorical as it is practical. The ex-principal had a certain way of doing things, and you have a certain way of doing things. Chances are they are different ways, which is healthy and perfectly fine for everyone. Once we accept that reality, we can begin to act on it.

Youve probably heard a lot of advice, some of which may include this gem: Enter slowly. Dont make any changes that first year. Well, thats hogwash!

When I say take everything out of the office, I do mean everything. Desk, file cabinets, tables, chairs, binders, cobwebs, posters, boxes, plants, bobblehead dolls, fire extinguishers everything. And when I say start over, I do mean start over. From scratch! Begin with cleaning. Scour it, scrub it down, wipe off the walls and doorknobs, paint what needs to be painted, and clean the windows. If the windows cant be cleaned because of scratches or because theyre cheap plexiglass, break em and have em replaced. This is a principals office, not a dungeon.

Once its clean, and youve persuaded the superintendent that the windows really were broken from an errant soccer ball kicked from outside the office, then you can refill that space the way you are going to use it best. After youve got your furniture and major items inside (empty file cabinets strategically placed, computer smartly located, and a clear path from your desk to an emergency exit -- you never know when an angry parent or over-eager software salesman is going to come storming in), then you can start the tedious process of going through the piles of how do you say this in English?... crap that is now piled thigh-deep in the main office.

Heres an idea: file it in the dumpster. Most of it will never be missed, and those truly essential binders are replaceable -- if theyre that important, there cant just be one in the entire district, can there? On second thought, you probably ought to go through the piles of, um, stuff more carefully than that so you can partially refill those file cabinets, but the point is simple: only place what you know you will need back into that office. Its yours, you know.

3. Walk the neighborhood.

Go for a walk around the school. Get a lay of the land. Dont be shy about taking a map with you so you can examine your zoning boundaries, because its a tremendous information-gainer to obtain a feel for where your students are coming from. Introduce yourself to the folks you meet on the street, paying special attention to being cordial and avoiding broken glass -- first impressions matter and you dont need an infection.

Feedback Wanted!

Did this column strike a cord with you? Did it get you thinking about something you've done as you "strive to be a better you"? Or did he say something to make you think he is really off his rocker?

Pete encourages you to share feedback on a special message board weve set up for just that purpose. Petes eager to hear from you!

Visit the stores and restaurants in your school zone -- maybe even pick up some gift certificates to use as rewards for staff or birthday presents for your in-laws. Its nice to support the local merchants, and it sets a positive tone for your relationships with those business owners. Perhaps some day in the not-too-distant future youll be back around looking to create some school-community partnerships. Youve already built a strong foundation.

Take this walk a couple of times, hitting different side streets and focusing on tough intersections children might have to cross to get to school. Are there parks in the neighborhood? Are children playing there? Is there graffiti painted on buildings? Is it legible? Spelled correctly? Pick up every bit of information you can -- you will probably meet more than a few of your future (I mean current) students, and they can give you all sorts of information as well. Plus youll get some fresh air and put some steps on your pedometer -- again, two (or more) birds with one stone!


Did I already congratulate you? Yes, that was on your assignment. Now Im offering my congratulations on taking three rather simple steps that can be critically important to your transition as the new principal of Wonderschool. Im sure youll be a hit at your new address. Go get em!

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World