Lessons from a principalship

After spending the last two years at Forest Green School and Connections for Learning as principal, I learned an amazing amount both through my success and failures.  The idea of Connected Principals is to share our learning openly with other administrators and educators so we can not only better ourselves, but these lessons will help others move forward in their roles.  I would be remiss to not share some of the things that I learned from my time at an amazing school with an highly dedicated group of professionals.

Here goes…

  1. It is always about the kids. I knew this before I walked into the school because I had amazing mentorship from both my partner from when I was an Assistant Principal, and also from our central office.  I learned to avoid many conflicts with others by always starting with this end in mind.  In many meetings, the conversation would start with, “I am here to do what is best for your child, and you are here to do what is best for your child.  If we work towards that together, then we should be able to find a great solution.”  I know that I could sleep easy at night when decisions were based upon that one statement.
  2. Is the change you are trying to implement worth the results you will see? Change is a big buzzword in education right now; many people know that some things have to change, but are not sure what.  When you are bringing something new into school, it is important to be visionary about what it will actually produce.  As we moved away from traditional award ceremonies in our school and tried focusing more on our every day culture, I knew that there would be some tough conversations.  From what we know about human motivation though, we see the research points that in the long term there will be more focus on learning by students.  That is change worth implementing.
  3. Building a great school means building a great family. The first day that I met with my new staff, I talked about the importance of school being family.  On the last day that I was at the school, I ensured that I restated that.  Families are close and often will do whatever they need to help each other.  This does not mean that we will always agree with one another, but it does mean that we will always care.  Isn’t that the kind of environment we want our students to be a part of?
  4. If you do not screw up, you are not trying hard enough.If you are trying to really push things and  ensure that your school is continuously improving you are bound to make mistakes.  This is part of the learning process both with students, and it should be with ourselves.  However, when you do screw up, it is imperative that you openly admit your mistake, and how you are going to move forward.  This does not only promote your own learning, but it builds trust amongst your school community.  There is no weakness in mistakes, there is only weakness when you are not able to admit them.
  5. Learning must be open and transparent. I am not sure how many of my staff, parents, or even students read my blog throughout the year, but I do know it was always there for them to look at.  When I write, I wanted to be very open and share what we were trying to do at our school, and most importantly why we were going in that direction.  This again not only helps to build trust within your school community, it also helps others to understand the journey.
  6. Clearly state your vision and beliefs, then repeat. My staff probably heard ad nauseam about the importance of relationships and that everyone needs to be a leader and pursue their passion.  I always wanted this to be very clear to everyone, including my students.  It is not only important that your vision is clearly stated, but that you continuously use evidence to support this as well.  When I ask a teacher, “what is the vision/beliefs of your principal?”, and they are unable to tell me, there is a problem.
  7. A bunch of great teachers does not always make a great school; bring everything together. There are so many great teachers out there, and many of them are in the same school, but that does not make the school great; it only means that there are pockets of excellence.  As with any team, if you are not able to bring the talent together towards a common goal, there is less chance of organizational success (Miami Heat anyone?).  Autonomy is essential to successful teacher practice, but so is purpose.  It is so important that educational leaders bring their staff together to create an environment where school teachers flourish.
  8. Passion is everything. Part of the reason that I was so adamant about this statement is that I found my passion and it made all the difference. My life changed found when I had the chance to find and pursue my passion.  Simply, it has made all the difference.
    “The real point of doing anything is to be happy, so do only what makes you happy.” Derek Sivers
  9. It is all(ways) about relationships. This is probably something that has been said in different ways throughout this post, but I cannot state it enough.  The relationships that we build with our staff, our community, and especially our students are the foundation of a successful school.  With all of the reform in education and the advancement of technologies, this is the main quality of a great school that must continue to thrive.  Without strong relationships, our schools would (and should) become irrelevant.  Get to know those you serve and ensure that they know you care about them as people.  Nothing can replace this.

My learning curve was huge in the last two years and I did my best to not only serve our school community, but to continuously push it forward.  With that being said, I truly immersed myself in the learning and I would not trade the last two years of my life for anything.

I would love to hear your thoughts on anything I wrote or that you have learned in your roles at your school.




  1. This was great to read as I just recently completed my M. Ed and took the principal’s test here in Texas. All of your thoughts correspond with the domains/competencies covered on the test and confirms all the thoughts I’ve been taught by my mentors.

    July 5, 2011
  2. Stephen Geyer said:

    I am fortunate enough to work within an esteemed graduate program in ed leadership, one that works to prepare our future school administrators. One of the courses that I teach is entitled K-12 Principalship. These nine “lessons” speak to everything I believe as a school leader – and everything I practiced during my eleven years as an elementary principal.

    July 21, 2011
  3. Karen Scott said:

    These are great leadership tidbits to remind myself of everyday. Especially why I entered the educational leadership field to begin with- for the kids. # 3 is the most challenging in the world today. The economy and other factors resulting in RIFs, furlough days, etc have made it nearly impossible to focus to the greater goal when people are worried about day to day living.

    July 21, 2011
  4. I whole-heartedly agree with relationships being key to success. As a teacher, I built relationships with my students. I wanted them to know that my care for them was multi-facted: academic, social, emotional. As an administrator, I build relationships with my teachers. Fostering relationships builds trust. Trust builds families. Families provide support for success. Thank you for the great thoughts!

    July 21, 2011

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