I can’t believe that my first year as an Assistant Principal is in the books. Recently, I was asked by my district to share some insights with the next crop of new APs at the July leadership training. I am supposed to talk with them about the transition to administration, what advice I would give, and so on. What’s funny is, as I sat down to think about what I might want to share, I couldn’t come up with any big…significant…”Here is what you must do/not do” things to share. Instead, I ended up jotting down some pretty simple, basic things. But, these simple things really helped my first year go smoothly.
Disclaimer: I’m not going to list the “learn everyone’s name” or “get to know the kids” stuff because you already know those things. These suggestions are more concrete things that basically kept my head above water and helped make the first year day to day stuff more manageable. Or at least made it appear that way 🙂
1. My “Need To Do” list.
I realized pretty quickly that there was just no way I was going to come into school and start working through a list. Too many things come up unexpectedly and, as an AP, I found that I could sum up my role like this: I am here to respond. Seriously, I am here to respond to whatever comes up, from whoever, and at whatever time. That being said, I did keep a “Need To Do” list. But, I worked on those things as my day allowed — and not the other way around. I decided early on that if I let them rule my day, I would not be an effective administrator. I let go of my need to check things off a list. Instead, I focused on being present.
2. Keep a daily journal.
I used Mead Composition Notebooks. Each day, I started with a blank page that I wrote the date on. Every phone call I made, or question that came my way, I wrote it down. Every time something came up that I needed to take care of, I wrote it down. Sticky notes or supporting papers (even if just scratch paper) got taped or stapled into that day’s pages. This was invaluable to me. It is amazing how much stuff comes at you each day and there was no way I was going to remember it all. Especially being in a new role and a new campus. I was constantly referring back to earlier pages to refresh my memory on what I did or who I talked to, or what I was told. This was probably the most crucial thing I did. It’s also pretty cool that I have a record of my first year that I can look back on!
3. Save up questions.
I was completely amazed at how many questions I had on a daily basis. Seriously. Questions about things that I didn’t even know existed. Questions that I never even imagined would come up. As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. I decided early on that instead of going to my principal with each question (which on some particularly crazy days could have been like, 10 times), I would do this instead: Every time I had a question, I wrote it down. I saved them up. When I got to, say 5, I would go in with my notebook, sit down, and say, “I’ve got 5 questions”. I did this usually at the end of the day. This accomplished several things. One, it limited interruptions for my boss. Two, it allowed me to sit down, ask the questions, and jot down information. Sometimes when you are just asking on the fly, you don’t take time to store that information in your memory, or ask follow up questions. Overall, I think this was a pretty good strategy for me in dealing with my own many questions.
4. Look Up.
You will soon see that when you stop and get on the computer to take care of that email, inventory, form, or other paperwork that has been hanging over your head, someone will walk in. It’s totally ineveitable. Sometimes it’s a question or problem, but for me, a lot of times they are just stopping by to say hello and chit-chat. It can be really tempting to just keep typing away and answer them while multi-tasking. There is just so much to do! And besides, in this job you get really good at doing many, many things at once. Or thinking about one thing while doing two others. It’s a necessity. But don’t get lured into this. Instead, make yourself stop and look up, giving your full attention. No matter how much it happens. Relationships are what your job is all about. Nothing that you do as an AP matters as much as the relationships that you build with everyone. So, no matter how fast you feel like you are going, or how much you really need to do this or that, right now…stop and look up. An AP’s job is about people.
5. Schedule Class Time
I didn’t do this until late in the year. This is something I need to improve on next year and I think the calendar scheduling will help me do that. It’s amazing how many things can slip by if not booked into your calendar. My calendar quickly fills up with 504 meetings, trainings, parent meetings, ARDs, RTI meetings, testing duties, and so on. When this happens, there is little time left to go walk classrooms. What I found is that I used that unscheduled times for other things. The result was I was not in classrooms as much as I wanted to be and should be. Classroom time needs to be a priority. It is also a great way to work some magical moments into my day—something we all need, especially new APs!
These five things were particularly helpful for me this year and I plan to continue them next year. I still can’t believe the first year is over! It was such a geat year…this is the best job in the world! If you are an experienced AP, what tips might you share?