Huh? I’m Responsible for That Too?!'s picture

It is an awesome responsibility to serve as a school administrator. It is your greatest opportunity to make a significant impact on a learning community and influence the growth of students, staff and parents. The role of a Principal must be accepted with tremendous grace and humility as your days are outlined with a predictable bell schedule but often filled with new challenges that have absolutely nothing to do with teaching and learning. The minute you are Board-approved to serve as a Principal it feels like you are expected to know all that encompasses the job, which can never truly be captured in a job posting or description. It is what makes the role both exciting and challenging. The key is to understand the scope of your responsibilities and prioritize your work, create a culture of accountability and learn the art of delegation to intentionally grow leaders for sustainability in your leadership role.

When you are responsible for leading the complete operations of a school, the daily scope of your job starts with the morning bus stops, all the way through the last evening event and everything in between. You have a myriad of responsibilities that include, but are not limited to, the culture and safety of the building; curriculum, teaching and learning/academic achievement; evaluation of all staff members; compliance requirements; the staff, the student body, the parents; building operations; extra-curricular opportunities; and major events (homecoming week, prom, graduation, etc.). Each category listed above has its own set of sub-categories which is why being mindful about prioritizing is critical. You will naturally gravitate towards things that you are most comfortable with. For example, if your strength is in curriculum, you may find yourself spending all of your time and energy in curriculum. Meanwhile, the building operations side of things becomes chaotic and lacks clearly defined systems and/or protocols. You must be intentional to prioritize all of the categories that are the scope of your job, not just the ones that come easy to you or get immediate recognition.

Setting clear expectations and communicating them often will make for a strong transition into the Principal seat. Leading by example and modeling accountability will give you credibility and help to build trust. With a wide range of responsibilities, you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and hold people accountable in order to make the greatest impact on student growth and development. It is impossible to hold students accountable for their academic, social and emotional growth if the adults in the building are not being held accountable to high standards. Accountability provides predictability, enhances teamwork and allows the mission, vision and goals to be attainable. If you try to lead without accountability you will dishonor your high performing rock stars by inadvertently protecting your dead weight. This can quickly create a culture of resentment and cripple growth. Be courageous, fair, transparent and lead with integrity to nurture a culture of accountability.

Learning to delegate can be a game changer. It is not uncommon for leaders to struggle with delegation, especially early on, but it is essential for a building to thrive and be successful. Look at delegation as growing and developing your staff and potential leaders. It is impossible for you to do everything well, but it is possible for you to develop a well-oiled machine that empowers employees and creates experts across the departments. Be wise about what you delegate and how you delegate. There are some things that are ultimately the Principal's responsibility, but you can engage your administrative team for input and expose them to learning opportunities. Delegation is key to creating a healthy balance of shared responsibility and collaboration. It also creates time for you to concentrate and lead the high priority needs of the building and district.

A Principal's work can be daunting at times, especially when the unexpected occurs such as water main break, a fire alarm pulled on a rainy day, a fight breaks out in the cafeteria or when students arrive to school wreaking of marijuana. These are occurrences that you will not find in a textbook, but are realistic and can derail your day quickly. It is a matter of leading your team by making a shift in your priorities for the moment, take the necessary measures to honor a culture of accountability and delegate responsibilities so that the teaching and learning is uninterrupted or restored with the least amount of distractions. You will always face new challenges but don't think you have to have all of the answers immediately. It is okay to pause, collaborate and access immediate resources that can help guide you through the wide-range of responsibilities of being a Principal.

Written by Carol Baaki Diglio, an MASSP Consultant with Consulting by Diglio. Carol is a veteran administrator who recently retired from the Novi School District. She spent many years as a High School Principal and as the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.

Interested in learning more from Carol? Attend our upcoming workshops:

Huh, I'm Responsible for That Too? (Administrator 101) - Sept. 26
Holding Staff Accountable, Not Hostage - Oct. 11
You're Filing a Grievance About What?! - Oct. 29