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Pawlas on PR for Principals...

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Aspiring Principals


Twenty-three students in George Pawlas's graduate educational leadership course recently interviewed experienced school administrators to learn, What two pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring administrator? Here is what they said.

Twenty-three graduate students in an educational leadership contemporary issues course I teach recently completed an action research assignment. They were required to ask six questions as they interviewed a school administrator. The last question was What two pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring administrator?

I thought the principals' responses to that question might be worth sharing. If nothing else, they serve as reminders to all school leaders of their most important roles and skills. For the purpose of this column, I have organized the elementary, middle, and high school principals' advice into four categories:

  • The Role of the Principal
  • People Skills
  • Knowledge of Curriculum
  • Other Advice


    • If you think there is something more important than the students, then think again.
    • Shadow an administrator and get hands-on experience as much as possible. You can read about it in a book, but until you see it firsthand it really means nothing. [content block]
    • Don't be afraid of hard work or to take on challenges.
    • Remember you are a servant: you work for the children and the teachers, never the other way around.
    • Know your craft well.
    • Focus on the many, not the few.
    • Remember what it was like to be a teacher.
    • Learn how to deal with parents.
    • Lead with integrity. You need to hold true to your values.
    • Never think you are better than others because of your job or title.
    • Administrators must have leadership skills, but you're only as good as your staff.
    • Learn how to prioritize.
    • Be patient in all aspects of the position -- whether you're dealing with students, parents, teachers, or other staff members.
    • Don't take things personally.
    • Communication skills, such as speaking and writing, are essential to your success.
    • Accept the fact that you cannot do everything in one day.
    • Have a good staff of assistant principals under you.
    • Always do what is in the best interest of the children.


    • Personal relationships with people are very important. "Place people first on the bus."
    • Treat people with the "Platinum Rule" -- treat them better than you would like to be treated.
    • Regardless of your strengths and weaknesses, you must work at building relationships. The principal's job is all about the interactions you have and the relationships you build.
    • Don't be afraid to spend time to build relationships; it takes time to build trust with many people.
    • Care about your staff -- care about what they bring to your school and care about them personally.
    • Always listen more than you talk. Work at developing or improving your ability to listen carefully because everyone can use improvement in that area.


    • Be sure you truly know the curriculum.
    • Be fluent in all programs and understand priorities.
    • Learn as much as you can about curriculum inside and outside your school.


    • Strive to be the best at whatever position you currently hold.
    • Always seek out new opportunities to learn.
    • The first thing you have to do is to understand the time commitment. Being a principal is a lifestyle, not a job.
    • Once you realize the job is a lifestyle, the second thing is to be sure to make time for yourself and your family.
    • Get as much administrative experience as you can before you become an administrator.
    • It is important to imagine yourself in a role; never ask someone to do something you would not do yourself.
    • Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and work on your strengths to make them outstanding.
    • Don't be afraid to ask for help.
    • Maintain your health. Try to eat as healthfully as possible, and exercise as much as possible.
    • Remember: it is always for and about the children.
    • And also remember: no matter how big they are, no matter how old they are, they are still children.
    • Take a good statistics class, because data is the name of the game.
    • Read as much as you can and know what you are getting yourself into.
    • Be able to recognize and discuss good teaching strategies with teachers and others.
    • Be proactive rather than reactive.
    • Do not be afraid to delegate; but if you want your school and its staff to go from good to great, be sure to follow-up on and monitor the work you delegate.
    • Study school law; stay current with updates and new issues in the field.
    • Keep a sense of humor: develop it, nurture it, and use it every day.
    • Have a hobby, or some other outlet for stress.
    • You need to have someone or some others in whom you can confide; at this level, the options become fewer so be sure to make appropriate choices.
    • Watch your back.

    Be sure to see other columns by George Pawlas in his article archive.

    Article by George Pawlas
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2007 Education World