Managing Your Time as a Principal

Ambitious Strategies While Keeping it Real…

Last week we posted a quote heard from a conference, “Adopt the Empty Office Policy”. It helps redefine for those not in the profession that the role of principal has changed immensely over the past years and instead of just an “Open Door Policy,” principal’s should proudly display their “Empty Office Policy” so students, teacher and staff alike know your priority– to be with students and staff where the learning happens. There’s that classic administration quote that I have no clue where it originated that reminds us, “People work during school. Paperwork after school.” That is beyond inspirational but to be frankly honest, some days merely impossible. When starting The Modern Principal, we wanted to focus on tips and tools to become our very best and help others do that as well. But, it was also very important to us to show that life happens. A lot. And we want to bring realism to all we share with you. This all reminds me of the #pinterestfail memes. I went ahead and put myself on blast below to illustrate this point. I googled, “Christmas cookies your toddler can make” and then went to work with my tenacious two year old that prefers to work independently to create this:

Pinterest Perfect Search

Here’s our result:.


Clearly we nailed it. Yes, that’s jelly on one of the cookies. Don’t ask.

Back to time management. Each year I’ve been in education, I’ve learned a few more strategies to help me prioritize my time, but it is nowhere near perfect. This post will target the strategies to help principals manage the people focused priorities during the day, even as little fires come up. In other words, show you the pinterest perfect search results.

But this post will also target the days that the fires are everywhere you look and your google calendar turns into more a game of tetris as you keep moving each missed event…aka the #pinterestfail reality of our lives in education.

PINTEREST PERFECT: Strategies to Help You Prioritize People

1. Set your calendar in June:

Yep, that’s right, June. Months before school begins. Here are the things we’ve tried to put on the calendar before anything else can jump in:

Planning meetings with your teams to work on building goals and student needs. Some of ours include: grade level teams, student intervention teams, building lead team, content teams, instructional coach or reading interventionist or tech coach or all three meets, counselor and/or social worker check-ins.

Classroom Visits & Formal Observations

Classroom visits: Mark off time in each subject so that you can visit the same grade and see what instruction looks like horizontally in that grade in the same content. Don’t take your device (you know everyone gets nervous when they see a laptop come out), but just jot noticings or better yet, jump in and support students! I try to schedule this time for each grade monthly at minimum. It’s guaranteed quality time in the classrooms.Formal Observations: I finally tried this in my fifth year and I love it. A colleague and I sat down in June with our formal evaluation system (ours is called TalentEd) and wrote out how many formal observations we would need for each staff member. Then we plugged those AND the follow up conversation (post-observation conference) into our calendar. It’s amazing how much ‘work’ it’s saved me instead of scheduling them week to week!

Staff Morale Days & Student Celebration Days:All of those random Sonic Drink Days or surprise recess coverage days, put them in! All of those student dance parties for reaching goals, put them in! That’s the best way to ensure they happen.

2. Schedule “Empty Office Days”:

This one came straight from my mentor. She coined them Learning Days and the purpose was to spend your entire day in the hallways and classrooms about once a month. No emails. No paperwork. No phone calls. Just people. Tell your secretary your purpose so she can let parents and visitors know you’re not reachable for the day. But the more important thing for her or him to share is why you aren’t reachable. You are with their kids for the day. Who wouldn’t support that? Share this with staff also so they are prepared for you to go rogue for the day.

I typically just take paper and my phone with me so I can tweet out the great things I’m seeing and capture special moments that are sometimes missed in the day to day rush of our job. I like to focus on how the building feels–are we moving closer towards our goals? Are we aligned in our culture and the language we use with kids? Do kids really have ownership at our school? Hop into the teacher’s lounge or stop by on their plan and just visit with teachers and staff. It’s also a great day to be in the lunchroom and at recess just to build even stronger relationships with the kids. Plus, a lot less issues seem to arise when the principal is present in those less structured environments. Funny how that happens! It’s also amazing how when you open your laptop at the end of the day and see 1,257 unread emails you aren’t quite as stressed because your cup is full of the people time

3. Schedule one “Shadow a Student for a Day Challenge”:

Last year, I was a part of this amazing cohort called School Retool. Through that cohort, I learned about this nationwide challenge (read more here). The purpose is for you to immerse yourself in the life of one student for a day and develop deep empathy for what it feels like to be a student in your school. From start of the day (riding the bus or walking from their house) to going to specials, lunch and recess with them, only using the bathroom when they do, taking any test they do, etc, you are their shadow! It’s important to read more about the challenge before starting so that you can observe honestly and make important changes based on reflection. Visit back to our blog to learn more about my experiences and reflections from completing the challenge this year!

4. Schedule “Work Time”:

Bet you thought I was going to say schedule this after hours, right? Dude, work life balance, remember? It’s part of you JOB to manage the budget, to hire quality people, to plan for professional development and review timely data to evaluate your goals. Feel empowered to do that during the day in these scheduled chunks. If you balance it with the other pieces scheduled above, it will remove the “should I be in my office right now?” feeling because you know you are in the classrooms more. GIve yourself the grace to work on the other facets of your job during work hours, too. Make a mobile desk and work from the halls or take your laptop to a classroom and work from there. It will help you feel connected!

THE PINTEREST FAIL: Strategies to Help You Get Back on Track

You go into the month of July riding the wave of productivity. Your entire calendar is set around the priority of being with students and teachers and truly measuring the impact in your building. Then…September hits. Behaviors start to pop up, parent meetings get scheduled, new meetings from Central Office get scheduled, causing you to be in and out of the building, and all of a sudden, you feel like a firefighter again, rather that a people prioritizer. Here are the steps we use to realign when the unplanned emerges. Because it will. It always does!

1. Stop and Breathe:

This is part of your job, too. Determine if the ‘emergency’ truly is an emergency or if you can get to it after what is scheduled. It’s okay to say, “I’ll check back with you in a half hour,” or “Let’s make an appointment to talk about this further when I can give you my full attention”. It’s also okay to delegate. As the Modern Principal, you know the strengths of your teammates, so send someone else who is just as capable as you are to the fire.

2. Dodge and Weave:

God Bless Google! Moving things on your calendar is as simple as it gets. At the end of each day, build into your ‘closing routine’ to review your calendar and move anything you missed to another day. Boom! Fixed! That way you are still devoting the time you need to your priorities, it just isn’t in the order you envisioned.

3. Count 1, 2, 3:

I recently heard this at a conference also but modified it a bit to help fit my needs. In addition to adjusting your google calendar at the end of the day, create a list as simple as 1,2,3.. As you reflect on your day, write down the first three staff, parents or students that you weren’t able to connect with in the way you wanted during the day. It could be because they have something big going on in their lives and you want to be a support, perhaps you had an interaction with them today that wasn’t as positive as you would like or maybe because you realize you haven’t seen that particular person in a day or so and want to check up on them. This allows me to end my day focusing on the relationships that need cultivation and allow me to start my day with purpose. I still have my other ‘to do list’ rolling, but this truly centers me back to what matters!

What tips do you have that I didn’t mention? Or how do you deal with the day to day needs that arise and get you off track? We’d love to hear, leave a comment below!

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