In my first ever interview for an administrative position, one of the questions I asked of the interview team was “What does the typical day look like?” The members of the team briefly looked around at each other, and with a laugh, one said “There is no typical day.” I have found this to be so true.
Every day I walk into the building with a targeted to-do list. But the task of leading a school involves lots of people. And a big part of those people is the kids that walk into the building each day. And when people are involved, things happen, among our staff and students, that may require my immediate attention. So, with that knowledge, I have to recognize that my to-do list is always a moving target. Some days, I can be focused primarily on the things that are on that list, and I walk out of the building feeling like I accomplished a lot and did good work. Other times, I find that there are so many things that come up during the day that I’m unable to do any of the things on my list, and I walk out of the building at the end of the day feeling like I was run over by a truck and wondering what just happened.
What this means is that I have to work to identify my vital function. When I look at my role, the vital function that I keep coming back to is one of communication – I am the chief communicator for Fishers Elementary School. I communicate with our staff about how to best accomplish our goals while meeting the needs of our students. I communicate with our students through things like the morning announcements, times I visit the classroom, and the multitude of other times I get to interact with them. And I communicate with our families and communities to share important updates about what’s happening on the daily at our school.
On my bulletin board in my office there hangs an index card with the quote “How do we make great learning go viral?” It’s a reminder to me that I have the privilege to walk into all of the learning spaces of our school and share the amazing things that are happening to our community within our school, and the community beyond our school.
So, with an identified vital function, the next step is to narrow my focus. If it’s one of those days I referred to above where I feel like I’m being pulled in a hundred different directions, I have to be able to ask myself “what is the main thing?” that will help me to accomplish my vital function. Sometimes that question allows me to zoom from the 30,000-foot view to the 10,000-foot view. And that’s still not zoomed in enough, so I look at my new list of tasks and say, “what is the main thing here?” and can get a lot more granular.
Sometimes some things are on my initial list that still have to happen today, but they don’t fall into that more focused version of my to-do list. This is when it’s time to delegate.
Last week I had a morning meeting with our 3rd and 4th-grade team. They had concerns about their report card for quarter 1 this year (For some context depending one when you are reading this, it’s the fall of 2020. We are in the middle of Covid-19 life. Students were learning virtually for the first month of school, then we were in a 50/50 model, and just before the end of the grading period, we will be returning to school with almost all our students learning in-person, although there is still an option for virtual learning for families who want to do so. A complicated time!). As I was walking with my assistant principal to this meeting, one of our teachers came walking out of her room just in front of us. She had injured the top of her head by hitting it after bending over to pick something up. I knew we needed to check on her but also knew almost a dozen people were waiting on me for a meeting. I knew that our nurse was in the office already, so delegated – our AP walked the teacher down to the office to see the nurse while I continued to our meeting. I asked our AP to keep me informed of what was going on with the teacher because I was concerned about the health of our teacher, but when I weighed the tasks on my list, I knew that taking care of this teacher was something that could be delegated at that moment while being prepared to be the lead communicator in the room for our discussion on the report card was part of my vital function.
One of the things that I have come to realize in the past 10 months of being a building principal is that there’s always something for me to do, and sometimes there are a bunch of somethings that need to be done. And while there are things that require my attention, there are also things that I have to trust the team that’s around me to make the best call on. I’ve long believed that part of leadership is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and surrounding yourself with people who will support you in your areas of weakness. Luckily I am in a position where I have a ready-made team that is willing and able to step in and take charge in situations that fall into their areas of strength, and I’ve consistently made it clear that I trust them to make judgment calls, even in a sticky situation.
As a building principal, the leadership of our building falls on me, but I can’t do it all. And that recognition is part of what makes my leadership work for our team. For our team to be great, we all have to play our part.