Recognize The Big Rocks×225.jpeg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”225″ /> cc flickr photo by Chris and Jenni

I find it intriguing that blogging has such a cathartic effect for me. There are many times that writing serves as an opportunity for me to organize thoughts, express frustrations, and admit to failures (or at least challenges) — an electronic confessional, if you will.

We are into our eighth week of the school year, and I really seem to be struggling to maintain my balance…to get into a groove. There are several district initiatives (like a new teacher evaluation system) that have undoubtedly added to the normal stresses and strains of a new school year, but I honestly try to take all of that in stride. As I have struggled to identify a cause, and right the ship, I have come to the conclusion that something is awry with my filter. As much as I want to be working with the “big rocks” — those things that have a clear and substantial impact on the well-being of our staff and students — it seems like my day’s are spent removing the “gravel” that is choking the gears of progress. It is frustrating. Sometimes it is a piece of paperwork. Sometimes an e-mail, or a request for information. And honestly, sometimes it is my perception and attitude.

As I work toward a solution, I need to be sure that I have clearly identified my “big rocks” for this school year and then systematically run the “pebbles” I encounter through this filter to help distinguish between meaningful and minutiae. So, here they are:

Effective Relationships:

I honestly believe that all other efforts to improve schools, and foster an effective learning environment, will falter if the relationship piece is not in place. This means fostering strong connections with (and among) staff members, students, and everyone involved in the school community. It requires school leaders to provide a high level of support, and appreciation, for the efforts of those with whom we work. It means acknowledging the value that each person (student and adult) brings to the table, and sometimes it means taking the extra time to seek out the small successes as a platform for greater things.

Instructional Leadership:

As a principal, I am an educator – not a manager. My instructional role has changed, but it is every bit as important as when I was in the classroom. If I do not take my role as an instructional leader serious, and give it the time and attention it deserves, my staff and students will suffer. This does not mean that I need to know everything, but I am the person who must provide support and resources to my staff, and do my best to guard their opportunities for development and collaboration. Growth and development in the area of instructional practice must be a constant priority. One reason I truly value my professional learning network is that I am never given the luxury of believing that I have “arrived.” I am constantly pushed to keep up on professional learning, collaborate with others and try new things…thus modeling the process of life-long learning. As it should be.

Climate and Environment:

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying: “All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.” I believe that quote is indicative of the attitude and effort that is required of school leaders as we work to foster a climate and environment that encourages creativity and innovation, on the part of both students and staff. We can not always control what is going on around us, but we must be vigilant to guard against the negativity that can quickly spread and infect an entire campus. School leaders must model an optimistic mentality — constantly replacing thistles with flowers.


Without a doubt, I have invested more time in my work since becoming a principal, than at any other time in my educational career. I am hopeful that no one would ever question my passion for the profession, or my commitment to our school community. However, I am quickly realizing that there is simply not enough time to do everything (thus the importance of having a good filter and separating the gravel from the big rocks). In fact, if I am consistently spending inordinate amounts of time and expending an unsustainable degree of energy, I am probably not doing anyone any favors. Not only will it take a toll on my enthusiasm, it sets an unreasonable precedent for those with whom I work. Balance is important.

This year I elected to add the following quote to the signature line on my e-mails:
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ~ Goethe
I need to do a better job of putting those words into action.

What are your big rocks for the upcoming school year? What do plan on doing to filter what is important from what is not?

(cross posted at Molehills out of Mountains)


  1. Great quote, great post. Just the words I need as the year takes shape. As a classroom teacher, one “big rock” for the school year is transforming curriculum so that goals, success criteria and coaching are more transparent and effective keeping student successful learning center stage. Another is honing my collaborative skill and communication so that I’m a positive contributor to our collegial work. I’m going to keep this post handy as I continue the year’s teaching journey. Thank you 🙂

    September 14, 2012
  2. The quote by Goethe is what it’s all about. Don’t overlook what really is important in creating exemplary schools.

    September 14, 2012
  3. Suzanne Keen said:

    Great post! I have always felt that an inordinate amount of my time is spent “putting out fires”. We should all conscious of the need to keep focused on what is really important. Thanks for helping me to reflect on this.

    September 15, 2012
  4. Another way to look at this conundrum is finding the time and resources to, “drain the swamp” while at the same time we are, “wrestling alligators”. We must find ways to do both because both are needed and necessary. We will likely be frustrated if we believe that our job is to only work on the big rock issues of our schools. It would be prudent instead to keep in mind that as school leaders, we are to grow in the wisdom to know when it is time to drain the swamp and when we are called to just get at them ‘gators.

    September 16, 2012
  5. Kris said:

    Love the big rocks and gravel analogy! Excellent post!

    September 17, 2012
  6. […] Principals by Jeff Delp I felt a little better about the blogging thing.  In the post titled Recognize the Big Rocks  he talks about finding his groove in the first eight weeks of school.  In fact, one of the […]

    September 19, 2012
  7. John Wink said:

    You have a great grasp on the big rocks of your job. I wish you the best in meeting those goals. I plan to post my big rocks on my door so I can’t leave the office without having them stare me in the eye before going to do something. I also plan to let my staff know what these rocks are so they can help me stay focused on the big rocks. This post was very helpful to me as a leader & I plan to share it with my leaders. Great job and thank you for sharing!

    September 30, 2012

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