Principal: Where Does the Day Go?

It’s small crisis, after big crisis, after small crisis…

Where Does the Principal's Day Go?

I don’t know how I thought administrators spent their days before I became one myself. Meetings, maybe?

Now, I check my watch in the morning and it’s a quarter to seven and then, like, four minutes later, the busses are pulling out of the parking lot.

As a new administrator, without a full slate of classes, I didn’t know what else I would do. I did teach one class, which is still one of the best parts of my job. When I started, I made the false assumption that if I was only teaching one section, I could easily get the planning done.

Not only did I find that I absolutely had no time to plan or grade, but it turns out that class time is the only time in my entire day when no one is knocking on my door, crying on my couch, or asking me to help manage a crisis. When I arrive in the morning, I have no idea what will unfold during the day.

And then there’s my email. Using the Gmail Meter, I found out that I received 317 messages in September. I was not happy to learn that my average response time is 3 hours and 22 minutes. Given the number of meetings I attend and unforeseen issues that crop up, it’s no surprise.


But here’s the thing––being an administrator is not just about answering emails and going to meetings. Administrators are culture-makers and thought-leaders that need to inspire students and teachers to take risks and strive to move out of their comfort zones. That cannot happen if we only respond to what demands our immediate attention.

If we don’t want the day to just happen to us, administrators need to make sure that we focus on both the urgent and the aspirational on a daily basis.  In other words, you must go high and low with your skills all day long and be comfortable being nimble. Here are a few tips to address both ends of the spectrum of your duties:

Prioritize around relationships first

You already know you must prioritize, but that’s not always easy. Any duty, task, or responsibility that is about the care of my relationships with students, faculty and parents comes first. Paperwork and emails can wait, but relationships cannot.

Have a hideout

I’m lucky. My office is beautiful and spacious. It has two enormous 8-foot windows that flood the space with natural light. My couch is extremely comfortable, and my kindergartner’s art makes the space kid-friendly. I love it…and so does everyone else. On a rough day, that translates into many visits by colleagues and students throughout the day, which leads to essential tasks not being completed. Once a day, I do a thirty minute stretch of uninterrupted work in the library. Sometimes I also use that quiet book haven if I need to make calls. It’s better to be seen out of my office than in.

Have a gratitude plan

It’s very easy to fall in a rabbit hole of drama, tension, and hard conversations when you work in a school. To stay joyful, I send at least two to three positive emails to students and teachers each day. These emails are not responses, instead they are surprises. In these emails, I compliment kids on their citizenship and their progress. I also use them to reach out to adults in appreciation for their work with students. Many people have written about the benefits of having a gratitude practice, and mine is key to my sense of joy in my work.

Use your team

Delegation is an important skill, but probably not for the reasons you think. Yes, it’s important to share the work and to accept that you can’t do everything yourself. However, more importantly, good delegation builds relationships and builds capacity. When you delegate, you show trust. If you are working on a healthy team, then you will feel comfortable asking for and receiving help. When you can’t stand asking for help, be aware that you are sending potentially toxic messages to your team. By not asking for help, you make it harder for them to tell YOU when they need help.

Have a quick coffee routine

I love the idea of the walking meeting, but those don’t work for me, because I need to write to process ideas. In order to take good care of myself, I need 10 minutes to connect with the people I work closest to. I make it a priority to make a quick coffee run at least once a week with a different person. Not only do I get to spend some one-on-one time with a colleague, but we also get a much needed 2 PM pick-me-up. And that’s time I’ll never give up!

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