A Day in the Life of a School Principal
I read the news today, oh boy,
About a lucky man who made the grade.
-”A Day in the Life” by the Beatles
When I think about the iconic song from the Beatles legendary album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, that opening line has always stuck in my mind. Of course, as I approach writing about “a day in the life” of a school principal, the lyrics seem especially apropos considering the part about “made the grade.” What do school principals do but make the grade, go beyond the grade, and live for the grade?
Being a school principal is a twenty-four hour job because the school is constantly in your thoughts. It has to be because, as the leader, you are responsible for faculty, staff and, most importantly, the students. Sometimes you lay awake at night thinking through a difficult problem; other times something prevents you from sleeping well or enters your dreams.
In many ways you are always “on the job” even when you are off or away on vacation, but to maintain your sanity and a healthy family life you must make every effort to draw a line in the sand, delineate work from home, and make time for your family, especially doing things to let your own children know that they are just as important (and hopefully more important) than those kids at school.
Wake up time. Take a brisk, quick shower. I bring in the morning paper and eat breakfast. This will be the last “me” time of the day. It gives me a chance to read about the news, to check out the sports page, and fuel myself because breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day for principals too. I get dressed, check in to see my kids sleeping, and give them each a kiss before I leave for a long day.
Get in the car and drive to work. This is not time for me to listen to the radio. On the hour drive I think through everything that is happening in the day ahead. I reflect on events of yesterday and maybe the day before and their impact on today’s schedule. I think about the days ahead as well. Do I have any meetings this week? Do I have to be out of the building? I have me cellular phone on and the hands-free device plugged in. Sometimes my secretary calls me during this ride, so I am prepared. The phone rings and I get a call from home. My daughter tells me to have a nice day and now, no matter what happens, I will have one.
I arrive at the school. I would like to go into my office to get settled before the day begins, but usually the head custodian comes running down the hallway with something “urgent“ for my attention. I make certain to deal with this in the hallway, as to not encourage a lengthy discussion in the office. Finally, I go into the office where I can take off my coat, turn on the computer, and check e-mail.
My phone will no doubt have a red light blinking on it which means I have messages. Sometimes my secretary has left written messages on my desk too. I prioritize based on which messages are received first and will return calls in that order.
By this time teachers have arrived (although some teachers get there even before 7 to do work), secretaries are coming in and getting ready, and some parents could be ringing the bell for appointments with teachers. Sometimes I schedule early appointments at this time too for parents. It is a hectic time when teachers are using the copy machine, phones are ringing, and ostensibly the day has begun.
By now several teachers have knocked on my door to see me. On normal days I leave the door open and they can come in as they please. The door will be closed if I have a meeting or am handling something that needs to be done right away. Sometimes the teachers have problems; other times it is more a chance for them to vent or just share something. Students will also come by during this time. I always encourage students to “stop in and see me,” and I do mean it and am happiest when I hear a knock and look up to see one of them standing there.
On certain days I throw on my coat, take my walkie-talkie, and go outside to the parking lot. I make certain that cars are not double-parked, illegally parked, etc. This role as “traffic cop” is more a deterrent than anything else. I figure if parents see the principal in the lot, they will slow down, park more carefully, and remember the rules. I cannot do this every day, but I do it whenever I can.