first year pitfalls

Pitfalls to Avoid as a New Principal

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The new school year is about to begin, and there are many veterans out there that are going to start a new position as an administrator. Research shows that most school principals only remain in their positions for 3 years. The first year is the key factor to ensuring that their tenure at a school goes smoothly. First impressions are everything. That is true in every level of education, especially in an administrative position. In this article, I will share several ways to avoid self-sabotaging your first year.

When the teachers enter the building for the first time with a new principal, they start judging how they think the year will go. They look for changes that were made over the summer and try to analyze how they will affect them. They listen for the opinions of those who have come in contact with the new administrator to gauge his or her personality. The doubts and fears are real and must be addressed positively. What I am sharing today are the things NOT to do in the first year. These things are pitfalls that can easily be avoided and by doing so, will help you make a great first impression.

Make Unnecessary Changes in Procedures in the First Year

First-year principals are excited to make their mark on the building. They are ready to do things their way. Making sweeping changes to procedures can cause stresses that can be avoided. In the first year, take the time to understand the procedures that are in place, and why they happen the way that they do. Being new to a building is a lot to take in. It takes time to observe the entirety of the procedures. There is a multitude of procedures in a school that happens a certain way to address needs that may not be obvious.
In your first year avoid making unnecessary changes to those procedures that you have limited experience with or that do not require change due to policy or schedule changes. Take your first year to observe all aspects of the inner workings of your new building. Ask the people involved in the procedure about what they like and dislike about the way things are going. Try to see the procedure from multiple perspectives and understand, not only the how, but the why a procedure is done the way it is done. Some procedures may need to be overhauled, and change may even be welcomed, but without a full understanding of the needs of the building, a knee-jerk reaction is not the best course of action.

Move Teachers into New Positions or Rooms

Some moves have to be done and the principal has no choice but to make a move. There were times when I was told the day of our Meet the Teacher evening that I had to move a teacher from one grade to another. Those are not the moves I am talking about. A new principal will sometimes move a teacher to a different grade level or subject area based on faulty information. Many teachers have reputations in the community related to their classroom management style or attitudes. Some outgoing principals voice their concerns to the incoming principal. But you cannot be sure of where those statements or opinions are coming from, like a personality conflict or differences in educational approaches.
Moving teachers based on outside opinions can kill morale. In your first year, take the time to truly understand each teacher’s strengths and weaknesses. Personality conflicts and public opinions should not be the basis for your decisions. Have conversations with the teachers about their approach to classroom management and lesson planning. Observe them teaching and interacting with the students. Take the time to understand the group dynamics.
Teachers aren’t the only people who get moved around in a building. Paraprofessionals have strengths and weaknesses too. Not everyone is cut out to work in every grade level or subject area. In my previous school, I had students who range in age from 5 to 12. My paraprofessionals who work in kindergarten would not do a good job in sixth-grade math. A new principal needs to consider all employees when making those decisions about moving people or classrooms.

Ignore Stakeholders

The number of people involved in the success or failure of a school includes far more people than the teachers and the paraprofessionals. A new principal has a long list of stakeholders to get familiar with within the first year. Within the building, the students are a stakeholder that is sometimes overlooked when it comes to making decisions. A principal’s decision about teachers, paraprofessionals, duty schedules, hallway procedures, building schedules, ALL affect the students; therefore, they should be considered when making decisions.
Within the building, there are still other stakeholders who are sometimes overlooked. Custodians and cafeteria staff are affected by the principal’s decisions, too. Custodians and cafeteria staff are an extremely important part of the school. They interact with the students and teachers in a way that is completely different from the way you will interact with them. If you are looking for a different perspective, these are the people to who a new principal can go. A basic day for each stakeholder is different and changes affect them differently.
Parents are another group who cannot be ignored if a new principal will have a successful first year. They have the pulse of the entire school community at their fingertips. Decisions about morning drop-off or afternoon pick-up affect them directly. Changes in the building schedule, dress code, or after-school activities all have a direct impact on them and their children. It is important to get their perspective on your new school. The school is not new to them. They know what people complain about and what they like best. Community support is one of the most important things a new principal can have in their first year.

The final group of stakeholders I want to focus on is the Central Office personnel. It is important to keep them in the loop and they are an excellent source of information. In all probability, they have an understanding of the building and can give you insights that can be valuable in the decision-making process. In the first year, there will be problems that are a continuation from the previous year and they may have background information that will help you fix the problem. Of course, having your supervisors on your side is always a good choice.

Final Piece of Advice

In conclusion, the best advice I can give a first-year principal is to take the first year as a learning and planning year. Make the observations necessary to have a full understanding of all aspects of your new school. Talk to all stakeholders regularly. You will have to strive to understand all of the different perspectives necessary to make the best decisions possible. It is also the opportunity to make a five-year plan. Making a five-year plan and avoiding these pitfalls in the first year will increase your chances of lasting more than the average 3 years that many principals last.

EDGEucating offers a course on Leading Organizational Change. This course was created with the new principal in mind. Change can be a challenge in any organization, and being the leader of that change is even more challenging. Leading Organizational Change is an online course for school administrators and is focused on the process of developing a detailed action plan for implementing changes within a school. This course consists of short video presentations and independent assignments with the goal of addressing the three phases of change. As the learner completes the lessons, an action plan is developed that is specific to their needs and the needs of their school. By the end of the course, the learner will be prepared to implement the first stage of their plan and will be prepared to determine the timeline for additional changes.

To make your life easier, make connections with other educational leaders. Find out what they are doing that is working for them. These types of network connections are invaluable to anyone who is starting their tenure as a new administrator. If you follow my advice, the changes you make in your school will be purposeful and positive. Everyone will benefit from the changes you make and success will be easier to achieve. Your first step to creating a great network would be to follow EDGEucating on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

About the Author: Alicia Verweij

Alicia is a seasoned educator that is passionate about teaching children to think critically, problem-solve, and function in an ever-changing digital world so that they will be prepared for future careers. She’s an active supporter of new educators and is known as an innovator in STEAM education. As a teaching veteran of more than 12 years, she holds a Master of Education in Educational Leadership, a B.S. in Business Management, an Alternate Route Education Certification, and an endorsement in Gifted Education. She is an educational influencer, founder, and consultant at EDGEucating LLC.

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