New Principal? School Leaders Share Their Best Advice

Consider these your back-to-school mantras!

Principal skinner - advice to new principals

You know what they say—with great power, comes great responsibility. So, if you’re a new principal, feeling some (okay, a lot) of back-to-school jitters are to be expected. In fact, you should embrace them! But, if you still need a little more reassurance and motivation, we asked veteran principals on our Principal Life Facebook group  to offer just one simple thing they want new principals like yourself to know.

They had a lot of surprising, important and even whimsical advice on everything from staying visible to connecting with your teachers to squeezing in “me” time. Print these out, hang in your office or click whenever you need a boost or need to keep your priorities in check! Good luck!

Stay in the trenches

“Go and teach with your teachers. Never lose sight of why you became an educator and be the principal you wanted as a teacher.” —Miseri D.
Consider giving members of your staff a “one hour of teaching” coupon, for which you will cover their class so they can prep, have a meeting with a parent or even just take a break. You’ll get major respect from your team and learn so much about your students.

Everyone is happy in denim

“Also, jeans days…. Give the people their jeans!” —Miseri D.

Whether it’s Jeans Fridays or only once a month, your staff will appreciate the occasional dress down day.

Don’t flip flop

“Be fair, be firm, and be consistent!” —Danny H.
You’ll never have the respect you need to lead well if you send mixed messages to your team. They don’t always have to like what you do or say—but they do need to trust you and your decisions.

Kids don’t taste very good

“Don’t forget to drink water and eat lunch! Take care of yourself too!” —Lesi B.
Yes, this is an all consuming job with little down time—but you can’t do it on an empty stomach. Even if you keep an emergency bag of almonds in your pocket, you’ll be much more on top of your game on those days you just couldn’t squeeze in a proper lunch.

But food? That’s glorious

“‘Feed the teachers or they’ll eat the kids.’ Wise words from a mentor, when I first began.” —Mary P.
With that said, keep emergency bags of almonds around for your staff too!

Harry Chapin is wise

“Don’t forget you have a family at home. I’ve ‘cat and the cradled’ it a few times and really regret missing some important family time.” —Miseri D.
You can never get another chance to see your daughter’s dance recital or watch your son take his first steps. Yes, it’s inevitable that you may have some late nights but that should be the exception, not the norm!

All together now, ‘Ohm!'”

“Create the calm…it’s up to us.” —Sara K.
As the leader, your mood is contagious. If you’re walking around school a panicked, disorganized mess—you can expect the same from your teachers. So stay zen and everyone will follow!

They’re watching you

“Lead by example…Inspect what you expect!” —Mary Jane P.
And as the leader, your work ethic is just as contagious as your mood. You can’t expect your staff to put their heart and soul into their projects if you’re barely paying attention to the details.

Your school is your big, extended family

“Everything goes back to relationships—build them with parents, staff, students and community. It makes the difference in everything you do. It’s the key having a positive impact on the students we serve.” —Tracy C.
You want your students to look up to you and remember the impact you made on their lives in the years to come. Connecting the community to your school is one of the most important steps.

Don’t forget to . . .

“Breathe.” —MaryEllen S.
So simple, so essential . . . yet so easy to never let out that breath and relax. Even on the most stressful day, know that feeling overwhelmed is temporary and will pass.

It’s okay to bend

“Be flexible!” —Denise C.
Good leaders know that it takes trial and error to find your groove and find what works for the team you’re leading. Sometimes the best way to get there is by asking your staff for feedback and taking their ideas and concerns to heart.

Let them see you

“Be visible.” —LaTisha E.
How can your students, teachers, parents and support staff ever really trust you or feel comfortable coming to you if they don’t know how to find you?

Find your peers

“Never forget your values and collaborate with other principals.” —Oluwaseyi I.
Your best support system comes from those who understand the challenges you face. Seek out other principals to bounce ideas, ask advice and find out what has or has not worked for them!

Empathy is key

“Relationships begin with a smile and a warm heart. Align your values, vision, and actions all to benefit all kids.” —Mary Beth K.
Remember Annie? Her motto,”You’re never fully dressed without a smile” is your new mantra!

Know the hierarchy

“Always remember: kids first, then team, and finally me.” —Martha W.
With this job, the students are your number one priority. If you know they’re taken care of, everything else falls into place.

Take lots of zinc

“Remember: When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold. (-Todd Whitaker) YOU set the tone, YOU make the impact.” —Paula J.
So in other words: eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and just be a beam of positive energy.

Set your alarm

“Be responsible, active and punctual.” —Farah A.
If you can’t even start a meeting on time or get to school way before the first bell rings, you’re going to incite major doubt in those who report to you that you’re capable of anything bigger.

Strategize

“Start identifying areas for improvement and set short and long-term goals. You can’t do it all in year one.” —Katie M.
You will lose your focus if you try to do too much. Slow and steady wins the race. It’s great if you have a plan for your school but even better if you take it piece by piece and year by year to get there.

You have great power

“Culture trumps everything. Develop and model the culture you expect.” —Karmen L.
Do you want a school of risk takers and big thinkers? One of support and nurturing? How about happiness and constant communication? Once you set in motion what you know works best, everyone else will follow suit.

But, you’re only human

“Don’t be too hard on yourself!” —Jon K.
As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal

Posted by Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal

Lauren West-Rosenthal is a senior editor at WeAreTeachers. In the fourth grade, she started writing "bonus chapters" to her favorite books. Her teacher was impressed -- and encouraging -- and a vast writing career was born!