Principal Hotline: What is My Role at the Staff Holiday Party?

You’re the principal. How much fun should you have?

Should administrators attend holiday get-togethers with staff? If so, how long should they stay? Are they able to relax, throw a few back, and let loose? 

Take a look at the question we received from a new principal:

I’m torn about maintaining a leadership presence during the happy hour and holiday party season. This is my first year as an instructional coach and many of my close personal friends are teachers at my school. I don’t want to come across as “too good for them.”

At the same time, it doesn’t seem appropriate to go to holiday parties and imbibe like many of the teachers. In fact, my principal recommended that I not attend at all because we should separate ourselves as leaders. I don’t want to throw my principal under the bus and tell people that she thinks I should skip parties. Do you think it is appropriate for me to let my hair down with my friends? How do I maintain professionalism but still keep my friendships?

The million dollar question: Do you think it is appropriate for me to let my hair down with my friends? How do I maintain professionalism but still keep my friendships?

Keep these points in mind

Navigating the waters of leadership appropriateness requires discernment and boundary setting actions.  Walt Disney’s quote helps set the tone for good decision-making. You may want to consider the following questions:

  1. Will attending a happy hour with the group of people that you lead show good judgment?
  2. Can you attend the happy hour and still display wisdom and personal appeal?
  3. Will you be able to maintain your proven competence as their leader by attending a holiday party where everyone will be letting loose? (Remember, you have to make sure you don’t “let loose,” yourself. We’ve seen situations like this where once you cross that line, it is talked about by your colleagues forever!)

If you can honestly answer “yes” to all three of these questions, then there may be a third option that you could consider. Is it possible to show up to holiday parties just to “show your face” for 30 minutes, interact with everyone, and then make a graceful, early exit? This would require you having a courageous conversation with your principal. Share your desire to maintain relationships but assure her of your well-thought-out plan to maintain professionalism, adhere to some boundaries, and make early exits.


Being in a leadership role does require a different set of standards and accountability. Hanging out with your close personal friends outside of work is one thing, but partying with the people in the organization that you lead is another. Your professional life must be professional; you are the only one who will make the decision to keep it in tact. Don’t let your guard down.

Tell us what you think about school leaders at staff gatherings. How do you wear your party hat?