THE TRANSITIONAL PERIOD IS REAL
Every job comes with a transitional period that can be both awkward and frustrating. Joanne Rooney addresses the reality of the situation, suggesting that a new principal should start their transition period before their first day of work to avoid any awkward transitional moments. She suggests treating the retiring principal to lunch to pick their brain about your upcoming position. Have said principal introduce you to each classroom, a symbolic passing of the torch that each student and faculty member can witness. Get to know your faculty as people before you assess them as teachers. Stage a meet and greet with small groups of parents so they can get to know you, your thoughts on education, and your disciplinary policies.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT YOUR ROLE IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM
Anticipate confronting many individuals with misconceptions about your role in the school system--parents and teachers included. The position of principal is often synonymous with discipline. In reality, principals do much more than that. Principals lead by example and encourage their faculty to do the same. They are directly involved in the planning and implementation of the school's mission and vision, while at the same time handling all of the responsibilities of a Human Resources department and both examining their faculty's skill sets and encouraging them to further their study.
Teachers are the first to see you on the front line of education, but parents may be less accessible. Take every chance possible to inform them of your role in the development of your school--write columns in the parent newsletter, attend PTA meetings, and have conversations that empower parents. Encourage them to get involved in activities at the school so they can see you in action as a principal and not just a disciplinarian.
BEING COMPARED TO PAST LEADERS
Veteran principal Jessica Bohn notes that, whether it is in a positive or negative light, you will be compared to principals of years gone by. Any decision you make in your first year will be overshadowed by historical examples. Use this to your advantage. Acknowledge those who came before you and be clear about how your policies and procedures differ from those. Help the faculty and parents build a bridge between the old and new while highlighting the distinct advantages of your ideas. Avoid being defensive while having these conversations and realize that this experience is not unique to principals; anyone in a position of authority suffers comparison to those who came before them.
THE NEGATIVE MAY OUTWEIGH THE POSITIVE
Do not be surprised if the feedback you receive from faculty and parents during your first year is tinged with a negative tone. Acknowledge that this is a period of transition for all involved, and instead of focusing on the negative be thankful that your district cares enough to offer feedback. Stick to the facts during negative conversations with faculty and parents; leave emotion out of it. Brand yourself as a problem solver who works with all parties to form resolutions.
ANTICIPATE THE MIS-MATCH
Often, first year principals find themselves in charge of grade levels they have never worked with. Understand that it will take time and effort to navigate this new landscape. Rely on your faculty to help you learn the nuances of a different grade level.
BUILDING A NEW SUPPORT NETWORK
Building a support network is a necessary component in any position of authority. This is especially important if your new job has taken you to an unfamiliar school district. Take the time to talk to your teachers not just in your office, but in their classrooms and faculty rooms. Reach out to neighboring school districts and introduce yourself. This network is not just exclusive to those in the education industry--it extends to the parents of students as well. Participate in school activities and get to know the most involved parents.
UNDERSTAND WHAT IS OFF LIMITS
Every school district has unique traditions. Some may be as complex as a friendly rivalry between another school in the district or as simple as an annual holiday celebration. While some aspects of the school year may need to change, understand that traditions like these are typically off limits, as the community would have a negative reaction. Derrick Meador suggests that, if a beloved district tradition does require a makeover, a committee of faculty, involved parents, students, and prominent community members should be formed to discuss and implement the changes. Not only does this provide you with a brainstorming network, but it takes the heat off of you if changes are implemented.
YOU CAN'T DO EVERYTHING
As a new principal, it is only natural to want to exercise your go-getter spirit by taking on more projects than you can possibly handle. Understand that this is not healthy for your work or personal life. One person, no matter how motivated, cannot handle anything. Practice your delegation skills by handing tasks that do not require your expertise to your Assistant Principal. Form committees responsible for addressing certain issues in the school, and while the committees should answer to you, you should not be a part of any of them. Not only does delegation take a number of tasks from your plate and allow you to focus on your work, it gives the faculty ownership of tasks and a stake in the success of the district.
Along with delegation, make sure to set firm boundaries. For example, any issue occurring in the classroom should start and end there. Make it clear to both teachers and parents that, while you are there if needed, they should make every effort to work toward a solution together before consulting you.
CHANGE DOESN'T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT
If you are lucky, you will inherit a functional school with happy faculty. In reality, though, you are probably going to inherit at least a few problems. Whether it is student dress code violations or a staff that considers gossip and slander an acceptable form of communication, understand that the changes that need to happen will not happen overnight. Prepare yourself for months of planning, committee assembling, and educational in services.
As the new school principal, you will be taking on more responsibility than you imagined. However, being organized, prepared, and informed will help you navigate the possibly choppy waters of your first year and--while it may take longer than you like--execute positive changes in your school district.