Principals: Are you looking ahead, in the rearview mirror, or both?

The end of the school year is an extremely busy time of the year for principals and educators alike.  Not that there isn’t a busy time at any point during the year, but in my opinion, the end of the year is probably the busiest. Some people may think that the start of the year would be the busier, however, the end of the school year requires that for principals, they live in two different worlds; the world of now, and the world of next year.

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After being an administrator for 18 years and seeing lots of social media posts and tweets talking about the end of the year, I began to think about the opportunities that present themselves at the close of each year. Again, these opportunities present themselves in both past and future work.  So, you may ask, where do you place your greatest focus, on the past work, or the future work?  My response would be, both.

The end of the school year always presents principals the opportunity to look back upon the year and think about how the year played out. First and foremost, you should ask yourself if you worked with others and collaborated to create conditions for students to grow and achieve both academically and socially/emotionally. Notice I did not say pass state tests or achieve every grade level standard.  Do I want students to achieve grade level standards and do well on state tests? Absolutely!  However, those “achievements” are based on so many other things and are one small part of the work we do as principals.  Some other questions to ask yourself may be:

  1. Did I grow professionally and improve myself for the benefit of the school community and my profession?
  2. Was I able to create and develop the right relationships with students, teachers, parents and the greater school community?
  3. Were teachers supported in meaningful ways that helped them meet the needs of students?
  4. Did I promote creativity and innovation, model risk taking, and show my own curiosity as a learner?
  5. During the course of my work, was I able to find efficiencies that allowed me to focus on “the right things” that make a difference in the lives of students?

There are MANY other questions you could ask as a principal as you look back upon your school year and reflect on your work. The key is about being reflective and having “take aways” that enable you to think about where you want to grow and improve, and how you’ll do a better job helping students.

That being said however, you not only have to reflect on the work that you’ve done, you must also live in your future world. The two worlds can not exist on their own.  

Spring means hiring for the upcoming year, and being able to recruit and hire the best qualified people for openings in the upcoming year.  This is crucial, as those teachers carry out the mainstay of the work in our schools and do the heavy lifting of teaching and learning.  You will also find yourself “closing the books” on school improvement plans and budgets, while at the same time, using what you learned in your current school year to begin informing and planning the work you’ll need to do for next year to be ready for students.  Again, the most important question to ask yourself is, “What will I do next year to support the growth and learning for ALL students?” You’ll use what you learned this year and begin laying the foundation for your upcoming year.  Other questions you may think about as you “plan forward” may be:

  1. What types of ways will I support teachers as we begin new initiatives or work during the upcoming school year that will directly impact students?
  2. Am I making sure that I’ve hired the very best educators to work with our students and how do I best support their growth and success for the benefit of students?
  3. What things did we do this year or in past years that maybe have changed and we either no longer need to do OR that we can do more efficiently?
  4. Based on my own actions, beliefs and values, how did I perform last year and where can I grow and do better for the upcoming year?
  5. Did I collaborate with colleagues in meaningful ways to support the work of my students, teachers, school community, district and PLN?

Again, in thinking about your “future work”, there are many other questions you could ask.  The goal in mind being that you will be ready for the new school year and be as prepared as possible to create conditions for success.

Some will debate about how much time you devote to looking “down the road” and some will debate as to how much time you devote to looking “in the rearview mirror”. I think you should spend equal time looking at both, because really, both deserve your attention related to your growth and your ability to lead.  The bigger conundrum would be if you only looked at one or you did not look at either.

Photo by Leszek Paradowski
Photo by Leszek Paradowski

When all is said and done, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on looking forward and looking back.  While I’m not an expert on either, I do think I’ve learned a lot over the course of 18 years, and I hope that I’ve got something to contribute to colleagues as they are working during this very busy time of year.  Here are my three big ideas:



  1.  As you look forward and look back, don’t lose sight of why you got into education. You chose this profession to help students and make a difference.  That is and ALWAYS should be your main focus, no matter what. 
  2. The very best thing about looking forward and back is that you have the opportunity to learn and grow and then come back and make improvements and do things differently or better.
  3. Successes aren’t the only indicator of learning. So are mistakes. Embrace them.  You won’t necessarily travel back over bumpy roads you’ve traveled already, however, that will inform your journey forward.

As you work through the end of yet another busy school year, be sure to breathe, look ahead and look back, maintain your focus, and be realistic about what you can do and what others can do. Remember, it isn’t about how quickly you get to your next destination, it is about the trip, including what’s in your rearview mirror, and what lies ahead!