Looking Back on 3 Bad New Principal Assumptions

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Image Credit: http://upfront.ngsgenealogy.org


A little over 5 years ago, I arrived at Knapp Elementary School as a brand new 29 year-old principal. The leader I replaced was very active in the community and had spent much of his career at the school. There was a certain culture that I was entering, and understanding and adapting to this was my first task as principal. Reflecting back, I can now see some glaring blindspots I missed during those first couple of years.

The biggest “swing and misses” I took during those early days were following through on assumptions “I thought” were good for my learning community.

Assumption #1: The principal is at the top of the chain of command. He or she need not be accessed unless everyone else has been exhausted.

Fact: When working with students, staff & families, the principal is in fact the person who can put the child in the best place to take advantage of all available resources and knowledge. Being on a team means it’s all hands on deck at all times.

5 Years Later: I’ve moved my office out to the front lobby hallway and walk-ins are always welcome – students, staff or families. I’m not the President and therefore I do not need the “Oval Office” security and access restrictions that go along with it.


Assumption #2: The principal doesn’t need to attend all of the events. Getting to one per month is sufficient.

Fact: Students, staff & families need to connect with us in and out of school to build true relationships and hone-school partnership. Yes we’re tired after working 10 hours before the night event even starts, but it is these very investments we make in our schools that helps everyone around us raise their game for the kids.

5 Years Later: I attend every event I am physically able to. I miss only if I am somewhere learning in support of our school goals. I walk the building daily tweeting recognitions of students, staff & families from our @KnappElementary Twitter account as well as highlighting this work in newsletters, announcements and other communication mediums. These events require a great deal of planning and orchestration. We need to welcome, honor & respect them as such.

Assumption #3: It is my job to know all the right answers and make decisive decisions in the best interests of my students, staff & families

Fact: The school does not belong to me. The school belongs to the students, staff & families. I am the lead learner and collaborator. It is my job to make sure that as we move forward, we do so in a collaborative and transparent way. One of the reasons social media has been successful in our school is because these tools compliment our core values in being a transparent and collaborative learning community. It is the face to face conversations and relationships that we build amongst all stakeholders that truly matter.

5 Years Later: Two-way communications have become the default. We rarely broadcast information out without expecting and encouraging a response. Use of polls, leadership teams, student voice, surveys, tweets, forms, forums, fishbowl conversations are used to allow conversational opportunities with the intention of rowing together in the same direction.

Don’t assume anything but… you are in the most important position to support the social, emotional, academic needs of students, staff & families in your role as school principal. What are the highlights of what you’ve learned during the first 3-5 years on the job?


  1. Tim Slack said:

    What a great post! I can safely say that pretty much the entire post rang true with me. There is such a learning curve and the experiences we gain every single day do wonders to improve our schools and our leadership. Just checked out your Twitter account and will be interested to see how you use it within your school. Always looking for ideas @stritaottawa!

    October 22, 2012
    • Joe said:

      Thanks, Tim. Agree – big learning curve but being open to change is so important. Teachers, parents, leaders & students.

      October 23, 2012
  2. Joni Samples said:

    Hi Joe, This was a great post. I agree with the previous commenter. I so appreciate your awareness of what the role of principal is. You are the lead, but not the president. You are the facilitator and connector for students, parents, and staff. Thank you for your insight, and look I’m on Twitter!!

    October 22, 2012
    • Joe said:

      Hi Joni! Great to see you on Twitter. The role has certainly evolved as have the needs of my stakeholders. It’s up to me to change according to their needs, and for our superiors to do the same for people like us.

      October 23, 2012
  3. Zac Cousins said:

    Hey Joe! I have caught on to some of your pieces through EdWeb today and I am just inspired. I am an AP at an Intermediate School in VA and I meeting with my principal this afternoon about getting and app started and utilizing twitter! Great stuff! Thanks.

    November 1, 2012
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