Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Message to Superintendents About Your First Year Principals

As I type, I am on 5-hour flight from Los Angeles to New York City. As we are at the start of a new school year,  I've got those first year principals on my mind. There are a lot of them out there all over the country. Trust me, I know because many of them have shared the news of their appointment with me throughout the summer. But now that they are in these important positions, the question now is, "Now what?" Literally, what is the plan for them from the day of their appointment all the way to the end of quarter number one - and then from the end of quarter number one to the end of quarter number two all the way to the end of the school year?

There are new principals in schools across the U.S. with various different prior work experiences including but not limited to:

  • highly successful in the classroom and as assistant principal.
  • worked in various administrative capacities successfully such as an assistant principal, supervisor and director.
  • bad experiences as assistant principals and therefore never had exposure to the fullness of school leadership.
  • went from the classroom right into the principalship and never served as an assistant principal or other administrative positions and therefore do not know school leadership.
  • great assistant principal and served well in a #2 capacity but the jury is still out as to whether or not they can be a successful #1.
  • didn't go the traditional route and instead of starting as a teacher, started as a counselor, social worker, school psychologist etc. or came out an entirely different industry but had leadership experience.
  • appointed because the applicant pool was slim.
  • and of course, there are those who were appointed because they knew someone of influence

    Whatever their background coming into their first principalship, they are going to need mentorship and ongoing support. Within the field of education, one of the worst things we can do to students, teachers, a school and a community is to literally throw a non-experienced, first year principal into "the fire" with no ongoing, consistent support and mentorship and expect this individual to be successful in Year One. Of course, there are many who do in fact have solid years in Year One. I would like to think that I was one of them. But there are also many who do not. There are many whose first years are so challenging and overwhelming that their tenure as principals are short-lived. They either become frustrated and resign or the district relieves them of their duties. Ongoing support and mentorship could have been the game-changer for so many first year principals.

    As my mentor said to me during my admin internship and my first years of principal leadership, "The purpose of your supervision of teachers is their continued improvement in instruction." It is my contention that every first year principal appointed understands this. In fact, I am sure that they stated it in their interview. But because they understand it doesn't necessarily translate into them knowing HOW to be effective instructional leaders. That has to be trained. That has to be taught. There are a plethora of occurrences that can and will arise on any given school day that can prevent a principal from setting foot into a classroom, not to mention engaging in pre and post observation conferences. There is so much to learn and to know as a principal that have absolutely no relationship to previously being an effective classroom teacher and an effective assistant principal. This means that first year principals must once again have ongoing support and mentorship. It can't be circumvented.

    To the superintendents out there, I know you know this. This is just me "thinking out loud" on an airplane. No one within the school community can afford for a first year principal to be assigned to a school and that person is subsequently left to "figure it out" on his / her own. That would be leadership malpractice. That first year principal must be nurtured, cultivated, developed, trained, taught, "schooled," led, guided, pushed and challenged by a seasoned leader....and that seasoned leader just might be you or someone on your team.

    I have never been a superintendent and they jury is still out as to whether or not I will ever be one but be that as it may, I will say this - if I ever decide to take on the role of superintendent, with everything on my plate as a superintendent, my number one priority will be the first year principals in the district. They matter and it will be on me to make them great. When the principals are great, everyone wins.

    For further information, read my books, The Principal 50, The Aspiring Principal 50, The Assistant Principal 50 and Is My School a Better School BECAUSE I Lead It? Also, join me LIVE every Saturday morning at 10:55 EDT for the Virtual AP Leadership Academy on YouTube at my Virtual AP Leadership Academy channel.


    1. Please remember, this is for their secretaries, too! They are in need of the same nurturing. They come as a team!

    2. You're ready to move on and start making a difference at a higher level now that you've earned expertise as a manager, not to mention the time you've spent teaching. For pupils, you can observe what works and what doesn't. This is critical because being an effective mentor necessitates a thorough grasp of the kids and those you assist.

    3. They will require mentoring and continuing assistance, regardless of their prior experience, when they take on their first principalship. One of the worst things we can do to children, teachers, a school, and a community in the area of education is to essentially throw a first-year principal who lacks experience into "the fire" without any continuous, regular assistance and mentorship and expect them to succeed in Year One. Of course, a lot of people do have good years in Year One.

    4. If I ever decide to take on the role of superintendent, with everything on my plate as a superintendent, my top priority will be the first-year principals in the district. I have never been a superintendent, and it is still unclear whether or not I will ever be one.

    5. A seasoned leader—whom may very well be you or a member of your team—must nourish, cultivate, develop, teach, "school," lead, mentor, push, and challenge the first-year principle.

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