Principals Share: The One Thing I Do Every Day Before I Leave School

And it’s not with heads on their desks.

successful principals

You know it: Sometimes being a principal is like drinking water from a fire hose. Despite the constant demands on your time and energy, there are things you can do every day to stay centered. Here, six successful principals share the end-of-day tasks they always prioritize.

1. Return those missed calls and emails. You’ll be glad you did.

Return missed calls

It might seem like a no-brainer, but volleying emails and phone calls back into the sender’s court is a great way to wrap up the day. Added bonus: it might nip developing problems in the bud. Stacy Ward, principal of East Hill Elementary School in Canajoharie, New York says, “I miss calls during the day sometimes if I’m not in my office, but I make sure to follow up with everyone before the day is done.” Principal Stephen Imbusch of Walpole High School in Massachusetts agrees. “I always feel better going home if I have made some effort to respond,” he says.

2. Walk the halls and send them off with a smile.

Walking through the halls

Be present, it’s a great way to show you care about school members. “I like to be visible in and around the school as classes dismiss,” says Matt Renwick, elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, “Parents are greeted, students can get a high five or a hug as needed, and staff can ask any pertinent questions before the day ends.”

3. Eat snacks with the kids. Why not?

Eating snacks

Sharing a meal with students is a great way to snap up some candid truths about how things are going. At the residential Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Colorado, principal Jeff Liddle loves to sit down with the kids at dinner and chat them up.

“They share big accomplishments and struggles. They’ll give me a heads up on things I should follow up on and I usually end up doing a little life coaching as well,” he says, “Those conversations kee[ me grounded in the students’ world and connected to what’s most important.” Even if you’re not at a residential school, lunch hour in the cafeteria is a neat way to get kids to spill the beans.

4. Make tomorrow’s to-do list.


To do list

Fire-fighting is no fun, so it’s a good idea to put out a spark before it becomes a flame. Stay on top of storms brewing with a quick check-in with school staff. Jennifer Schwanke, elementary school principal in Dublin, Ohio, checks in with the assistant principal and guidance counselor to “make sure we don’t have any worrisome student issues that we need to address together.” Dr. Priscilla Sands, head of the Marlborough School in Los Angeles, meets with the school’s senior advisees every morning. As she wraps up her day, she reflects on those conversations to find out exciting and challenging, and what motivates staff.

5. Conquer the clutter

Clutter mess!

Stay on top of the endless stream of paperwork—things can quickly get out of hand otherwise. Schwanke says, “I wouldn’t dream of ending the day without cleaning up the clutter on my desk so I don’t start the next day overwhelmed and disorganized.”

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