ritualize and celebrate that meaning. Treading on a custom threatens the meaning that people seek in their lives. New principals need to team and respect their school's culture.
Once you walk across the principals threshold, all relationships change. The new principal may look the same, hold identical beliefs, and express him or herself as clearly as when he or she was a teacher. Teachers, parents, and children, however, perceive the principal as the ultimate seat of wisdom and authority in the school. Even leaders who are promoted from within a school find their former colleagues hushing the conversation when their new "boss" walks into the lunchroom.
The principalship is a very lonely world. Although surrounded by people all day, the principal is only one person. The new principal soon learns that the buck stops with him or her. When the buses are late, the lunches cold, or the playground muddy, others hold the principal personally responsible.
The principal rarely wins a popularity contest. Decisions that principals have to make almost always displease someone. Parents are often concerned about the welfare of only their child. Teachers may not realize that the broken air conditioner in their homeroom is not the biggest issue facing the principal.
The work never gets done. New principals may work late into the evening and on the weekend to finish paperwork. By Monday afternoon, the paperwork piles up again. All school leaders experience this phenomenon, but new principals may feel overwhelmed.
Some Practical Tips
Take heart-most principals survive the first year. Veteran principals become accustomed to the workload and the loneliness, and they slowly become part of the culture even as they influence it. Principals learn that change comes slowly through strong relationships built with staff, parents, and students. As a result, remarkable leaders can develop in today's schools.
New principals might avoid some common pitfalls by reflecting on the following ideas.
Respect the past with its heroes, heroines, icons, and rituals. The school secretary is often the custodian of the culture and the heartbeat of its informal communication system. If you want to know about the school culture or history, ask the secretary. Hope that he or she likes and trusts you. Treat the secretary as a professional. You might occasionally bring flowers for his or her desk.
Meet each teacher and department chair. New leaders should consistently ask their staff and faculty two questions:
What about the school do you truly value and want to retain at all costs? What in the school needs to be discarded? These questions, phrased effectively, will elicit some valuable advice. Ask these questions on the teachers' turf-in their classrooms, not in the principal's office. Always remember that the image of you sitting behind the principal's desk conveys an image of power that needs to be used carefully.
Locate the power. Bring those with power-teachers, parents, and individuals who applied for your job and failed-into the loop of your influence. Seek their advice. Assign them leadership roles. It's better to keep powerful people on your team rather than have them plot your downfall.
Work on discovering your professional values, and hold them dear.