Keep the central office informed. The superintendent and central office personnel can be your allies or your critics. Keep them informed of your first-year adventures and solicit their advice. However, for help with daffy concerns, call a trusted colleague.
Find friends and mentors among your colleagues. Explore the district culture. Find another principal to lead you through the minefields of your first year. Appointed mentors may or may not fill this role. Friends, however, will.
When in doubt, keep still. Listen with both ears and eyes wide open. The first year is one of personal learning. Sometimes opinions are best left unspoken until the leader has gained credibility.
Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, professionally, and spiritually. Enter a time in your planner for exercise or other activities you enjoy. Keep this time as sacred as any appointment or meeting. "No, I am busy then" covers your aerobics class as well as a scheduled staff meeting. Spend time reflecting on your leadership. You lead from within your own person, so nurture that person.
Continue to learn by reading, attending professional meetings, and conversing with professional fiends. No principal ever consults a college textbook for an answer to a problem. A call to a friend or a quick lunch with a colleague may assure you that you are not alone.
Pick your battles. Not every issue. needs to be addressed. The important ones come back a second and third time. Clearly define, in your own mind, what you stand for. What are the nonnegotiable of your administration? Fight for those. Hopefully they focus on students' needs and learning. The other stuff-the Coke or Pepsi issues-is simply not important. To know the difference is hard, especially that first year. Work on discovering your professional values, and hold them dear.
More than ever before, schools need principals and other leaders who are dedicated to working for children. Political and media agendas besiege schools. Business models with simple raise-the test-score solutions to complex problems prosper. Parents may be demanding or absent. Teachers who directly touch the lives of students are weary of criticism and often question their career choice.
Schools need principals who understand that schools are human endeavors. Despite the demands of the principal ship and the challenges of the first year, an effective leader has the power to help teachers and students learn and grow in profound ways.
A final word of advice: New principals need to become their own cheerleaders, repeating to themselves, "You can do it!" The rest of us will hope that all new leaders find within themselves courage, strength, and wisdom, in that order.
'Hart, Ann Weaver. (1993). Principal Succession: Establishing leadership in schools. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.