If you ask an educator to think back to their first year of teaching, you will probably get a wide range of reactions, but the general consensus will likely be that it was a difficult year.
This year, I began my first year as a principal at Springfield Prep, a growing charter school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Seven years into my education career, I thought my ride on the roller coaster of year one had long passed, but as this school year got underway, I found myself buckled in for the ride all over again. I quickly realized that being a new principal means going through a familiar, yet different set of first-year phases.
Somewhere between the routines and re-do’s of week one and the cold reality of indoor recess setting in, I’ve learned a few important and humbling lessons.
Being Effective Out of the Classroom Means Being Back in the Classroom
Teachers need to see you do the work you’re asking them to do. Observation and feedback cycles are a great tool, but I see the highest impact when I volunteer to get in the teacher’s classroom and teach a lesson myself. It creates an opportunity for teachers to see strategies in action with their students. It also allows teachers to see that I do things imperfectly, too, and that there are countless moments that I’d want to re-do if I could.
Most importantly, it communicates to my team that teaching is not something I left behind, and it’s not something I’m above doing. I am thrilled when teachers accept my offer to teach a lesson, intellectually challenged while teaching, and re-energized once I leave the classroom. Teaching is where it’s at, and teachers need to know their leaders truly believe that.
Families Are Already Invested in Their Student
As school leaders, we need to be especially thoughtful about the way we talk about investing in families. Too often, we focus on increasing “family investment,” but that’s often code for “I want families to do more of what I think matters.” The truth is, families are already invested. There is nothing more important to a parent than their child, and they don’t need to be convinced that helping their child succeed is a worthy venture.
Instead, it’s about giving families the opportunities they’re already seeking to be actively involved in their children’s growth. As a leader, I’ve learned that I need to be more deliberate and intentional about providing these avenues and purposefully inviting the partnership. In my experience, whenever we do this, we build common ground, support each other, and help our kids achieve what’s possible, all at the same time.
The Things That Distract From the Work Are the Work
Early on, I wasted a lot of time and energy lamenting about all of the unexpected issues and challenges that distracted me from the work. As it turns out, those distractions are the work—the unglamorous and nonetheless crucial parts of the work. Sure, the unexpected issues don’t get a coveted spot in my Google calendar, and addressing them might not result in an important project’s completion or a new curriculum initiative.
And if I’m being honest, more often than not, those minor but urgent distractions are not particularly fun to deal with. But whatever the challenge is, if it’s on my to-do list and off a teacher’s plate, that means they can focus on serving the students in front of them—and that’s the real work.
For teachers and principals alike, the first year is a journey full of peaks and valleys. As we head into a new year, I’ve already got my resolution: more learning, more growing, and more joy, for my students, my staff, and myself.