5 Tips for New Principals

As of July 1, I am officially not the principal of Quincy Elementary anymore. I’d like to say that my tears are all cried out, but I seem to keep finding more. The future of our school is on my mind, and I know that it is in the hands of an incredible team and great leader. If I could give the new principal of Quincy five pieces of advice, here is what I would say:

  1. Don’t make any changes until you learn at least one strength of every staff member. I learned this from George Couros (@gcouros) and it is excellent advice for several reasons. First, it will force you to s-l-o-w down and learn about the staff before you try to initiate anything new. Many times leaders come in with spectacular new ideas that flop because they didn’t learn enough about the staff and school before they implemented them. Second, it will help you build relationships with staff because they will see that you value them as individuals. Make sure they know the strengths you see in them. Third, you will learn who are the leaders in your building, who should be leaders, and who might be better off in a backseat at this time. That information is so valuable as you move forward.
  2. Spend as little time in your office as possible. I learned that whenever I am not in my office, I am in the right place at the right time. Get yourself a desk on wheels and do your computer work in the hallways. My favorite place to get a paperwork task done was in the middle of the rotunda where I could see every student and every staff member at some point. Did it take 3x as long to get the task completed? Yes! Did I accomplish about a bazillion things instead of just that one task? Yup! I was always worried about spending school funds on myself, so I purchased an inexpensive rolling desk like this. Before purchasing it, I used a standing desk I found in storage and put casters on it.
  3. Share your core values with your staff ASAP. I love the song “Something to Talk About” by Bonnie Raitt because it is SO true…people are talking, they always will talk, so give them something to talk about. Sharing your core values with your staff reveals so much about your why–why you do what you do, why you make the decisions you make, why you prioritize things a certain way, etc. In “Dare to Lead” Brené Brown writes about a core values exercise that you can do personally and then with your staff. I created a version of this exercise for our first staff collaboration time last year, feel free to use it to help you identify your own core values and then help your staff do the same. Here is a link to the slideshow I used with staff, and here is a link to a blogpost describing it.
  4. Make “I will always help you” your mantra. Repeat these words as often as possible, and, more importantly, fulfill them. Repeat them when a child is in crisis. Repeat them when a teacher is overwhelmed. Repeat them when a parent comes into the office raving mad. If our focus is always on helping, we tend to stay out of our own way. There is always something we can do to help, even if it is just to provide a listening ear and an opportunity to help someone change their perspective. You can read more about this mantra by following this link.
  5. Stay out of competition with the old principal. I have seen new leaders build their platforms on the faults of the old leader and those leaders never lasted long. The leader you are replacing was not perfect, and neither are you. There may be somethings you disagree with right now that later you implement yourself because you finally understand why the old leader made that decision. Stay away from judgement and move forward focusing on what the students, staff, and families need from you right now. Never let self-doubt cause you to live outside your values. Teachers are not looking for you to be their hero, they are looking for you to bring out the hero in them.

After spending 19 years as a principal of all levels, I truly believe that there is no greater job than leading a school. It is hard work, but when you are called to lead, most of the time it is so fulfilling that you don’t notice the long hours. Veteran leaders, what tips would you add to this list? Post on #SerendipityEDU or leave your tips in the comments. If you are a new leader or if you are making a leadership change, best wishes in your new position! I know you are going to KILL IT!!! I am here for you, as is a community of leaders across the country cheering you on. You are not alone, we gotchu!

Let’s sign off with two great quotes to lead by:

To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Earn your leadership everyday.

-Michael Jordan

Living life with a “Serendipity Mindset” does not mean pretending that everything is a happy accident. It means knowing that everything we go through, from our highest of highs to our lowest of lows, offers us beautiful gifts–IF we look for them. You can check out the #SerendipityEDU books out on Amazon by clicking HERE. Each book is filled with inspiration to help us discover the gifts in along life’s journey. With the addition of my newest book, a middle-grades chapter book called The Serendipity Journal, there is a book for every age level. There is no better time to start looking for happy accidents.

9 thoughts on “5 Tips for New Principals”

  1. I know I’m not a principal; but as a Kids Hope Director at Qiincy there are things that stood out to me as well. One comment that stood out for me was “I will always help you”. I want to keep this in the forefront during the coming year with each person/student that I encounter.
    The quote by Eleanor Roosevelt “to handle yourself use your head Tp handle others use your heart”.
    Thank you!! FYI, Norma Jongsma is joining me as the Kids Hope Co-Director😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tips Allyson! Have you presented these at the new and aspiring principals conference? If not, you definitely should!! Or maybe write a book aimed specifically at new principals!! Just a thought!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Allyson, great post . I love the part about being out of the office ans out among the kids. Visibility is huge. I loved that I could solve problems or answer questions in the hall or in a teacher’s room, before the problem became big enough or stressful enough to make it down to the office.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Serendipity” perfectly describes me happening upon this post at the end of the Principalship class I taught last night at the University of Arkansas. This morning I shared it with the aspiring principals who are taking their first class toward principal licensure. Your five suggestions are spot-on guidance for new leaders.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s