My first year as a school administrator, I was determined to be a leader who followed through on requests from teachers.
What I didn’t anticipate was how many requests I would receive in a day. After a while, I began to learn to some habits that helped manage requests more wisely. So, here are some suggestions on how to prioritize so many competing demands:
1. Give up Your’Savior’Complex
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can find the solution to every problem in your building.
During my first year, in a typical hour as I walked through hallways and classrooms, I would often be stopped two or three times with requests. I would write down each request on a legal pad I carried with me. By the end of the day, I had pages of notes. Then I would sit down that evening or the next morning to follow-up on them.
What I discovered was that my list grew every day. I found myself spending hours of work just on follow-up requests. What I didn’t know then was how poorly I was modeling leadership for my teachers.
As a leader, I still needed to be consistent in communicating back to my teachers and staff, but my system was not helping me prioritize nor was I teaching them how to become problem solvers.
I was also constantly “putting out fires” instead of focusing on the most important goals for our school. Something had to change, and it began when I admitted I was not the end-all for every problem.
2. If It’s Important, Have Them Write It Down
It took me a long time to learn, but eventually I decided on more practical steps.
First, I stopped carrying a legal pad. When a team member stopped me with a concern or request, I would first decide if this was something I could coach them to handle on their own. I could tell them who to see for resources or how to talk to a parent about a struggling student, etc.
Sometimes I needed to provide immediate follow-up or support. If that was the case, I needed to help find a solution; that’s my responsibility.
If it was something that might take further consideration and was not an immediate need, I would say, “Thank you for letting me know that. If that is important to you, please follow up to me with an email about it.”
Sometimes just listening to others is what they really want. I have learned to suggest someone email me if the situation or issue is still a priority to them after our conversation. We often find solutions in the moment. With these steps, I found my to-do list of follow-up requests significantly decreasing.
3. Learn To Teach Others How to Find Their Own Solutions
It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of delegation. Here are a couple of analogies I have heard about learning to delegate or coach other to find their own soluations:
One, a coach never puts on the helmet and pads to jump in the game for his players. He coaches them. School leaders must do the same; it is not our job to jump into every crisis and create a solution; it is more important to train and coach your team members into becoming problem solvers.
Another analogy is one I have heard from Dave Ramsey called the “monkey on the shoulder” practice. When someone comes to you with a problem that jumps off his/her shoulders onto yours, expect the person to become a part of the solution; make sure he takes his monkey with him when he leaves.
As a high school principal, I find I am having to learn many of these lessons again and again. Prioritizing time and requests is ultimately about creating a school climate where students are served well. If we are unable to manage our time, students will ultimately be the ones who suffer the consequences.
So, don’t forget to give up your savior complex, encourage others to write down their requests, and learn to help others find their own solutions where possible. In the end, your teachers and students will reap the benefits.
What are some ways you have learned to manage time or requests? Do you have a favorite resource for time management? Share yours with the rest of us!