Rooney, J. (2000, September). Survival skills for the new principal. Educational Leadership, 58 (1), 77-78.
Survival Skills for the New Principal
By Joanne Rooney
New school leaders need to identify and avoid some common pitfalls.
Each year, the work of school principals grows in complexity, and demands multiply. The job exhausts experienced principals. Beginning principals feel overwhelmed. First-year principals have been known to stare at their paychecks and exclaim, "is it really worth it?!"
All school administrators are immersed in their own work and often have little time to introduce a new principal to the culture of the schools and districts and to job expectations.
Anne Weaver Hart (1993), Provost and Dean of Faculty at Claremont Graduate University, suggests that new principal induction often consists of "the practice of sink-or-swim socialization," such as being handed a building map and a key to the office door (p. 18)1. Some new principals may hear a subtle yet distinct message: Just don't make waves.
To make the job less turbulent, we need to address first-year principals' transition and succession needs. Innocent actions can assume incredible significance, and recovering from such mistakes can set new principals reeling. Although principals' accounts of their initial blunders can later be related humorously, the events are distressing as they happen.
One zealous department chair, using money from her meager budget, surprised teachers by replacing the spring-sprung couch in the faculty room. Another enthusiastic principal replaced an old, odor-ridden refrigerator. Her motive was simple hygiene. A third principal swapped the Pepsi machine with a Coke machine to afford more beverages choices. Another removed aging and dusty school photographs that hung near a student display case. One principal (whose tenure was short-lived) dismissed the school secretary.
Teachers' responses to these actions were astoundingly similar, "It was good enough for [the former principal]. I guess she'll change everything now."' A remember the very day in May when we got that couch." "Just because SHE likes Coke!- "Those pictures have been there since MY kids went to this school!"
Similar stories abound. Every new principal can tell his or he r own tale. In each instance, after the perceived affront occurs, winning the staff s trust becomes a more arduous, task.
The Principals' Facts of Life
My work with induction and mentoring programs leads me into regular contact with first year principals. I've noted several hurdles that new principals consistently face. The ghosts of the past still rule the school. Although invisible, the image of the last principal haunts the current leader. Even though school faculty and staff noted the principal's frailties while she ran the school, they endow her with saintly virtues once she leaves. The new leader must acknowledge and respect the ghosts of his or her predecessors.
The culture of the school is deeply embedded in the practices and expectations of each staff member.. Teachers who say "we've always done it that way" are not necessarily afraid of change. Longstanding leadership offers consistency that gives meaning and security to teachers' professional lives. Insignificant material icons, such as a sofa, act as symbols. Ceremonies