In your role as a school administrator, you never run out of things to do. What you need is discernment though… clarity on what to do and what not to do. As the principal or assistant principal, you have almost as many opinions on what your job is as you do people whom you serve. As a caring educator your reflex may be to try to do everything. The downside to that is the sustainability factor; you simply can’t do it all for very long. Someone who tries to do everything as the school leader often fails to do anything very well.
So what do you do? The FIRST thing you should do is determine what those who supervise you want you to do. That’s where you begin, but often that still leaves you wondering what is the MOST important thing(s) that you do. (Because they want you to do a LOT of things)
In addition to what your supervisors identify as the priority, those in the building with you have their ideas too. And, they may both be right! For example, you may be directed to improve student performance, directing your energy and efforts to do so as reflected in improved test scores. Back at your school, you may learn that there is a real morale problem… that part of the reason student performance is lacking comes from an overall poor climate.
Which of those do you focus on? Both!
Where it gets complicated is when you continue to get more and more input on what you ought to be doing. Maybe it comes in the form of a parent who wants you to do something about her child being “bullied.” Might be from a teacher who wants you to do something about the students in her class that won’t comply or cooperate. It could be from a student who says his teacher is picking on him.
EVERYBODY has a particular slant to what they want from school, and as the leader YOU are the one they want to deliver for them. So many interests, so many priorities, so little time. What do you choose to do?
Each school has its own set of circumstances, it’s own context and on top of that things are constantly in motion. Rather than offer a discrete set of things to do, perhaps a more effective way to approach your job can be thinking about WHERE your job is. For your consideration, we’ve broken it down into five areas and represented it as a pyramid.
Classrooms; You should spend MORE time in classrooms than any other location. It’s where the core of our work takes place. It’s like the field or court… it’s where the action happens. If you were coaching a team, could you imagine them practicing and you not being there? Your mere presence heightens the focus of teachers and students alike. You being in classrooms improves student behavior. Whatever part of your job you’re focusing on, your classrooms are the place to be.
Common Areas; After classrooms, the next most significant place for the school administrator are common areas. The hallways, cafeteria, car-rider line, bus drop-off; and after school sporting events, chorus performances, academic bowl. Why? You are the walking, talking, representative of the mission, vision, and values of the school. Everywhere you go presents an opportunity to engage in one of the 10,000+ conversations needed to build a sustainable culture of success.
On-Campus Collaboration; Your participation in on-campus collaboration can be in the form of a quiet listener at a grade-level PLC meeting; an active member of an IEP meeting; the person who calls a planning meeting for the upcoming awards ceremonies. You + Others= Leadership. You + Tasks= Service. Service isn’t bad but they hired you to lead. Be with your people doing the work of the school together.
Off-Campus Collaboration; On occasion you leave the compound. Part of your time is spent at school system events, including principal or curriculum meetings. You also are a part of local civic groups, spend time on community-wide projects, and also leave campus for your own professional learning. This is a place where your job takes you for a portion of your work time.
Your Office; Last, and least. In short, you shouldn’t be here. You can connect with people better out in the mix as the pyramid shows. Ironically enough, you have less control of your time IN your office than you do OUT of it. You have to accept walk-ins if you’re in your office; if you’re on your feet, you can control when conversations occur. (and how long they last!) OF COURSE you need to coordinate your strategy of where you are (and aren’t) with the people at central office, your office people, and your faculty and staff. You don’t leave your office to be inaccessible; quite the opposite. You always make sure that people can reach you when they need to but you build a functioning office staff and then leave the office to be amongst your people.
You might ask, “OK, so when do I get my work done?” To which I would reply, “exactly.”
You have a laptop and a bookbag… you are now the portable principal… the school is your office and the world is the classroom. You are not confined by the trappings of an office. You are confident in your purpose in this position, that it is about influence and that to be the influencer you have to reach the people. And you can reach the people. Budget your time as stingily as Scrooge (first act, that is). Schedule your self so that over the course of the week, and when possible over the course of EACH day, your location becomes your guide to doing the right work. Here’s a challenge… including percentages and actual numbers of hours (based on an 8-4 M-F school day schedule)
- Classrooms: at least 50%; (20 hours/wk)
- Common Areas: 20 %; (8 hours/wk)
- (On-Campus) : 20% (8 hours/wk)
- (Off-Campus): (this is seasonal with some weeks requiring little or no time to others requiring a lot. Even at that, we want to acknowledge that it is a big item on your time budget. For the purposes of this model, it replaces time from the four other areas when it occurs.)
- (On-Campus) : 20% (8 hours/wk)
- Office: 10 % (4 hours/wk)
If you look at that breakdown and say, “whew! He doesn’t know my school,” I would ask you this… ‘would your school operate more effectively if you were able to allot your time in this way? ‘ So if it looks daunting, don’t run away from it… if you’re way off from this now, make this a goal for the future and staircase your way to success. Just getting 10% of your time in classrooms now? Move it to 15%. Then up to 25… etc…
At this point in time, EVERYBODY is working hard, but not everybody is working hard AT THE RIGHT THINGS. If you aren’t helping others get better at what they do, inspiring them with a vision, encouraging them with the mission and regularly using real-life examples to reinforce your school’s core values, you may be a great administrator, and even an excellent organizer, but you AREN’T being a transformative leader. To help you get to there, a simple test: look at your feet. Where are they? Does your time allotment align with the pyramid? What do you do to celebrate getting it right? What do you to correct if if you’re getting it wrong.
Your feet tell the truth. Be about the good work by being where it is.