Awards Ceremonies Are More Than Certificates and Handshakes

Congratulations! You’ve made it nearly to the end of the school year. It’s been a good one, and you’re already planning to have an even better one next year.

Before this year is in the books, there are still some things left to do. Among the most important that remain are your year-end events, ceremonies, and celebrations.  Awards night. Honors ceremonies. The academy awards of your school!
Never underestimate the importance of these commemorations.  Here are a few reasons why.
1.  Year-end events reveal the culture of your school.   What you take time to recognize, you must really value. So, the content and structure of these events display for everyone to see what you really believe is important.  Have you focused on positive behaviors this year? Now is the time to reflect that with your year-end award presentation.  If it’s citizenship that you want, make it a part of what you honor at years-end. Be intentional with your award ceremonies  to highlight the work of those who have focused on what you had hoped they would.
2.  Year-end events demonstrate the level of your expectations of excellence. Every event answers the question “who are we?” It is a reflection of you as the leader and the level of pride your school has in what it does. The intentional leader makes clear the expectations of what of it will look like at her school, and helps teachers and staff in shaping their events to meet those expectations. While it is not your role as principal to be the event planner or master of ceremonies for everything that happens at your school, you ARE responsible for setting the tone of what others will do.  Without some direction, results may vary. What do you want these events to say about your school? You certainly want them to demonstrate a high level of professionalism. You want them to run smoothly, to be advertised well in advance, to be quality events.  Don’t expect everyone to read your mind on what you are after; clarify your expectations and make sure that those who organize these events know that you want them to speak well of your school.
red carpet
3.  This is a great opportunity to show the world the good things that are happening at your school.  Take pictures. Publish in your local newspaper. Use your school’s  media sources like Facebook and Twitter to share your event. You can be posting pictures of award winners well into the summer if you want to! Again, this is an opportunity to share the work of individuals but also the beliefs of your school. Plan it in advance. Always have someone in charge of photography. Plan your follow up and coverage before the event begins.
4.  Don’t Underestimate The Value of An Award .  As a high school principal who believed in recognizing the works of our people, I can tell you story after story of appreciative parents and students who were excited beyond words to be recognized.  These things matter. This is an opportunity for us to bring families, students, and our school together in this moment of celebration. This is one of your most important acts of the entire year. Smile broadly in every picture. These are the events that you should stay late for. Don’t be in a hurry to get everyone dismissed and move onto the next thing. Let them savor it, while you savor it yourself. This is the fruit of all your labor; don’t be quick to let it go. Bask in the glow and let the positive energy fuel your next quest.
5.  This is a personal reflection on you, your beliefs, and your leadership.  Everything that happened at your school should demonstrate a subtle sense of excellence. Make sure that there are ferns on the front of the stage. Have a tablecloth with your school’s insignia drape the table where the awards await the recipients. Print and distribute programs of the event for everyone’s scrapbooks, their drawers of awesome things, and other places where such important things go. Make sure that the sound system works and that you have a back up if it doesn’t. If you don’t have a great sound system, now is a good time to find someone in your community to volunteer to bring their sound system for your award ceremony. Use all of your resources to make this a moment that will be a great memory for all those who attend. Like a lot of things, if it goes well there are lots of people to thank and to give the credit to. If it doesn’t go well, well, you know who gets the blame. There’s no substitute for the planning that you can do right now to make sure that these events meet their potential and do all of the good that they can do. Enjoy planning these events to be the wonderful once in a lifetime thing they are intended to be.

Three Things Every Principal and AP Need to Plan (Now) To Do This Summer

Hello!  It’s March and you have reached the “sprint” portion of the marathon that we call the school year.  While you’re there in the midst of the sprint, please consider what’s coming soon and what you need to do to make the most of it.

It’s summer.

OK, so this is actually about the coldest few days we’ve had in Georgia all winter long, but, yes, it’s time for you to think about summer.  More than think about it, you need to plan it.  Failing to plan is planning to fail.  It won’t be enough later to say, “but I was busy…”  If you want next year to be as effective and efficient as it can possibly be, you need to make that happen this summer.


And, if you are going to have a productive summer, NOW is the time to design and develop your plans.  Don’t worry; we are here to remind you, and to direct you in your planning.  As a matter of fact, there are three big things you need to do this summer.  Ready?


  1.  Complete the necessary tasks to end this year/prepare for next year.  Yes, you need to get things done.  Facility work; hiring; duty rosters, scheduling; student handbooks; orienting new faculty and staff; record-keeping; data analysis; planning for student achievement.  Here’s a hint:  FOCUS
    on whatever it is that needs to be done.  Don’t get off track.  Delegate to others on your team.  Find an “undisclosed location” to get work completed.  Don’t try to be the summer office manager and do the work of the principal as well.  Don’t be lulled by a false sense of plenty of time.  Keep going at a rapid pace and get things done as well as you can as soon as you can.  No dawdling, people!  Let’s get that list of things to do made, schedule a realistic plan for accomplishing them (that you put on your calendar) and then get it done!
  2. Professional Growth.  You need to reflect on your work from this year.  What did you IMG_3493.JPGdo well?  What did you do poorly?  What do your people need from you that you aren’t supplying?  What is around the corner that you need to learn about? (STEM? STEAM? Instructional Technology?) Reflect, develop a needs assessment, and then prioritize.  Try to get better at one, two, or three things this summer.  Connect your summer professional reading to your profes
    sional growth priority.  It’s all about consolidating your resources, using your time, and staying on focus.  Don’t try to learn and get better in 15 different areas this summer.  Focus.  Focus.  Focus.
  3. Rest, Relax, Regroup, Recharge, Refresh, Recover, Renew.  Plan for your time away and take it.  If your system is working four ten-hour days in the summer, don’t come in on the fifth day “just to get a few things done.”  You NEED to process yourself this summer.  It means that you ne
    ed to sleep.  You need to rest.  You need to let that brain take a break.  Read a Danielle Steel novel or watch all five “Die Hard” movies.  Do nothing.  Go on vacation. You need to plan your time off, but you really really really need to take time off.  Let your mind have time to refresh.  With some time away, you’ll be ready to come back and do well.  Sometimes you need to be thinking about nothing to be able to get the great ideas (all those ideas that have come to people in the shower?  That’s not an accident… it’s brainspace that we don’t often allow).  Put some vaca on the calendar.  It’s equally important as the first two items mentioned here.  You need all three to be ready for next year.

So, why mention this now?  Because if you’re not careful your time will go by this summer and you’ll do a smattering of each of these but not get all (or any) done as well as you’d wanted.  It’s easy to get wound up into things other than these three things.  People who mean well but have all the time in the world drop by your office in their bermuda shorts and flip flops and hang out.  Doing work that really isn’t yours to do, often because you didn’t get other people to do it before they went to summer break.  That’s why you need to get planning now.

Failing to plan is planning to fail, and you don’t want to get an ‘F’ in Summer.  It would be a bad start to next school year.






The ‘Balance’ Series: Do You Play Well With Others?

We continue with our weekly examination of balance and the school leader, and this week we focus on your relationship with others who work at your school. 

Your job is more than just getting things accomplished.  It’s also about the manner in which you do so.  As the leader,  you set the tone for the others who work at the school.  While it may not always seem that they hear what you say, you can rest assured that they always see what you do.  Your actions can define your expectations for others at your school even more profoundly than your words.

That’s reason enough to be intentional in the types of relationships you have with the others at school.  How do you relate to your faculty?  Your staff?  To the students and their parents?  Have you ever considered how much influence you have on others?  When you interact with them, it’s not lost in a vacuum, but it stands as your position paper on how you believe others ought to interact.  The same holds true of your teachers with their students.  Ever had a teacher yelling at a student because the student isn’t being respectful?  Yep.  That’s it.  We often have no better place to begin making progress in our schools than within ourselves.  I’ve mentioned to principal and AP groups frequently through the years, the best way you can work on your school is to work on yourself first. 


Which of the following describes your model of interaction with others?

  1. Confrontational   Your interactions are based on power.  Your greatest tool in getting others to do what you want them to do is in making them do so.
  2. Collaborative   Your interactions are based on an agreed set of circumstances or goal. Your greatest tool in getting others to do what you want them to do is in leading them to a common goal.
  3. Co-existent    Your interactions are limited.  Your actions may or may not link towards a common goal, but you exert little power or influence. There is little drama or glory in these relationships.
  4. Competitive   Your interactions are based on a desire for achievement (being right, being better, being first, for example).  While you may have similar goals, you have competing efforts to obtain goals.
  5. Conjoined   Your results, your goals, your actions are linked together.  You are united with others in your pursuits.  While there is ebb and flow to this type of relationship, the difficult times result in a deeper bond rather than a separating.

So, as a leader, how do you relate to the others in your school universe?  Do you have differing types of relationships with different people?  Why is that so?  What type of relationships would be most beneficial for you to have as the leader of your school?  What keeps you from having those kind of relationships?  Do you see the relationship between how you are relating to your teachers and how they relate to the students?  What is your plan of action to become a relationship leader in your school?

OK, that’s a lot to think about in one paragraph.  But, we all talk about how relationships are always the key.  If that’s true, you as the school’s leader should be intentional in how you relate to others.   Before you can be intentional, you have to first be aware, and that will take some reflection and some conversations.

If this seems hard, and deep, well, it is.  If you want to be the most effective leader you can be, it’s not enough to tell people what to do and how to do it; you need to share with them why they should do it.  Even that only goes so far.  To truly transform an organization, you have to be a leader who helps people not only change what they do, but change who they are.   To get there requires relationships operating with a deeper level of commitment.

Time to examine yourself and how you relate to others.




This is an installment of a series of getting balance right as the school leader.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

Professional Reading Saturday: Chess, Not Checkers

All week at Principal Matters! the discussion has been about leading on a split-screen; planning for next year while leading this year. Our Professional Reading suggestion for this Saturday relates to this week’s topic.  Chess, Not Checkers  is a quick read that can help you think about the critical habit of the leader who is thinking several moves ahead.

Mark Miller, Atlanta resident and the author of Chess Not Checkers, shares a tale of the fictional Blake Brown, who arrives at a new position to find a dysfunctional organization.  He learns that the game he is playing isn’t the game that he ought to be playing.  He jumps from one thing to another and finds that a more strategic approach will help him lead the organization successfully.  Blake learns four essential strategies from the game of chess that he uses in his leadership work to stop playing checkers and instead play the right game.

It’s a very quick read, but one that can help bring clarity to you as a leader as well as members of your leadership team.  For school leaders, it’s critical to play chess; those leaders who are waiting on the reactions never get into the strategic work that helps schools, as well as other organizations, move forward successfully.

You can get Mark Miller’s Chess Not Checkers at most anywhere you usually get books!




I Know What You (Need To Do) This Summer

OK, I don’t  know what you did last summer, but I know what you need to do this summer, if you’re a principal.

Before we get to that, aren’t you amazed that people have no idea what the principal does during the summer?

I remember when someone, someone nice and well-intending would ask me at awards night, “what will you do this summer?  I guess you’re excited about having all of that time off!”  To which I would reply, with a smile, “Yes.”  (Anything else that I wanted to say would not have been productive)

Here are a few ideas for you as this school year begins to wane and the summer is indeed in sight:


  1. Don’t be lulled by a false sense of time.  This was one I learned the hard way.  Because of the frenetic pace you keep all year long, it’s easy to all of a sudden feel like you have infinite time.  You certainly have more than you usually do, but it’s very finite.  What is very easy to happen is this:  you change gears and begin to work at a slower pace.  That’s fair enough.  If you’re not careful, you can blend into a phase where your focus drifts but you’re still at work, and you reconcile it by saying “It’s the summer!  I have time for this!”  What might be a better plan is to hit it hard when you’re working, but cut down on how much you work.  The worst-case scenario is that the summer gets by and you’ve neither rested nor gotten things done, but sort of lived in an in-between world.
  2. Wax On; Wax Off.  Summer is time for you to use the on-off switch more often.  Work, and then turn work off.  Without all of the other people around who might do things away from school that would create a need for your attention, you really can turn it off during the summer. To do so, get into your calendar.  Set boundaries for work and time away from work.  Schedule time off.
  3. Summer is the time for “Re-“   This is the time for you to re-new.  Refresh.  Recover!  Re-introduce yourself to friends, family, and hobbies.  Rest.  Renew.  You need to schedule time for the “Re-” of summer.  If you end up working all summer, you’ll be back in the same tracks a year later, but you’ll be more in need of recharging and restoration.  Plan it now and work your plan when it comes around.
  4. Take Time to Plan Early.   Here’s an idea.  If you’re going to plan for the next school year during the summer, do it as soon as this year ends.  Are you going to have a leadership team meeting?  Do it at the beginning of the summer (even during post-planning days if you need to) rather than the middle or when school is about to start next year.  Things are fresh on everyone’s mind.  Get that perception data via leadership team meeting.  Plan your work then and you’ll have set your focus for the summer.  It’s natural to want to take a deep breath when post-planning days are over, and I can’t blame you for feeling that way. However, if you can keep the momentum going and get your planning sessions done early on, you can set your plan in action as the summer goes on. 
  5. Don’t Run the Office All Summer.   Hire a recent graduate.  Get an intern.  Don’t let your support staff’s summer become your new job.  Yes, the school needs to be open much of the summer, but you have the work of the principal to do.  I know of principals who get tons of time sucked away from them in the summer.  You may need to work in an undisclosed location to get your scheduling work done.  Don’t get it interrupted answering the phone and operating the front desk.  Train someone else to do those things and then get your work done.

More to come on being the principal during the summer in future posts!  This is the foundational, framework pieces that will keep you moving forward and get you ready to lead your best year yet when everyone comes back together in the fall!



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