5 Common Mistakes of First-Year Principals

You’re absolutely ecstatic because you finally got that principal position you’ve been wanting for a long time! Since the moment you were named principal of your school, your mind has been racing about all the things you’re going to do, right? Well, take a deep breath. My first piece of advice is to slow down. Take a moment to think about what mistakes you don’t want to make as you begin this exciting journey as a principal.

  1. Giving Away Your Time

    As a new principal, it’s natural that you want to meet everyone who wants to see you, you want to drop whatever it is you’re doing when people walk into your office, you take every phone call that gets put through to you, etc. And of course, you need to do that, as we know visibility and building relationships is the key to being a successful principal.

    However, you do need to be in control of your time. Time will be something you will never have a lot of, so you need to manage your calendar in a way that allows you to get your job done too. I would recommend blocking certain times off in your calendar when you can concentrate and work on the actual tasks of the job. That time can be as little as 30 minutes in the morning or one hour in the afternoon. Be efficient by multitasking on some days. For example, take your laptop into the cafeteria on certain days or set up your office in the hallway with a table and your laptop, so you can be visible while still getting some work done.

  2. Trying to Do It All

    Remember when you first transitioned from being a classroom teacher to an assistant principal? Remember how different that new job was? Well, the jump from assistant principal to principal is probably even more different. As an assistant principal, many of your responsibilities were task-oriented. As a principal, you’re in charge of everything! That doesn’t mean you have to do everything—it just means you have to put effective processes and procedures in place to ensure everything gets done. Making the mistake of trying to do it all will only result in quick burn and potentially ineffective results as well on the work you’re doing. Instead, think of how to build others around you. Learn to empower those around you so they can take the lead on the work.

  3. Power Trip

    Some new principals make the mistake of assuming that since they are now in charge, they can just tell everyone what needs to get done. This is a big mistake as you walk into your new school. Don’t think that just because you’re now the big boss, you can just demand things be done your way.

    Before making any big change (such as changing the schedule, changing what teachers teach, changing how to run open house, etc.), you must earn the respect and trust of your staff. People are not going to respect you just because you have the title. You have to earn that respect, and that will happen with time.

    Spend your first few months just getting to know your staff and listening to what their perspective is on what they think needs to happen. Try to learn and appreciate the history of the school’s culture. Then, when you begin making your changes, do them together with your staff. Be patient with all the ideas you want to see implemented right away. Those ideas will be more successful if you have the backing and support of your staff to see them implemented.

  4. Oblivious of Potholes

    No matter what school you’re at, there are certain things you need to be made aware of. You need to know which parents, students, or teachers have certain stories. Knowledge is power, so make it a priority to learn as much as you can about your parents, students, and teachers.

    A common mistake principals make is saying something to someone, not knowing their history. For example, imagine having a teacher in your school who was out on extended medical leave because she was receiving chemo for her cancer. Imagine you calling her into your office to question her extensive absences—not knowing what she had been through last year. It is very difficult to recover from this kind of a mistake because that teacher will always remember.

    Also take the time to learn how people are connected—who is related to whom. (Any relations to a board member or superintendent?) On the other hand, treat everyone in your building as if they are related to a board member or to your superintendent.

  5. Ignoring Your Health

    Make no mistake about it—the principal job is difficult and stressful. There will never be enough hours in the day to do it all. However, through this very demanding job, you have to find time for you. You have to find time to destress. That could be in the form of working out, going out for a walk, reading, watching certain TV shows or movies, gardening—something. Do something that relaxes you, and ensure you find time to do it.

    The destressing time that you put aside for you will make you a better leader. A stressed-out principal will not be good for anybody in the building! And more importantly, stressed-out principals will be no good for their families. Ensure you protect your family time and always put your family first!

In conclusion, the principal job is an amazing opportunity to be able to make a difference in the lives of our students. It’s fun, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. Enjoy every minute of it, because before you know it, you’ll be starting your second year and advising other new principals on their first year! Good luck as you begin this exciting journey!

Jasmine Kullar

Jasmine Kullar, EdD, is an assistant superintendent for Cobb County School District, the second-largest school district in Georgia. She has expertise in building professional learning communities as well as school leadership.

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