Short On Time? How To Make Time To Lead And Learn As Principal


By William Sterrett

ASCD’s Conference on Educational Leadership is right around the corner and we are here to provide you with a sneak peek into the conference schedule. The conference promises to give school leaders like you new ideas for your leadership knowledge base, help you focus on what matters most in leadership, and connect you with global educational leaders.

“Where did the time go?” This question is often on principals’ minds at the beginning of a busy school year. Strategic school-improvement planning can be easily overtaken by daily fires that need to be put out, impromptu meetings with unexpected visitors, or troubleshooting sudden crises. It’s important, however, that principals make time to learn, share, and collaboratively lead to keep the school moving forward. In Short on Time: How do I make time to lead and learn as a principal?, the importance of mastering your own calendar, maximizing meetings, and innovating on the job are discussed through narratives from the field, helpful strategies, and action steps. Here are a few examples:Conference on Educational Leadership

  1. Carve out time to listen—Before assuming the role of principal, take time to listen to staff, parents, and students about what’s working with the school (because you shouldn’t immediately try to change everything), what needs improvement, and anything else on their minds. It’s important to build relationships by understanding the insights of the school community.
  2. Strengthen your volunteer base—At the beginning of the year, host a short volunteer orientation (offer several sessions at varied times to maximize attendance) in which you share a short slideshow of needs within the school (highlight school grounds or potential projects in classrooms). People will respond when they realize they can meet a specific need. Log the hours of volunteers and find ways to affirm their work and say thank you. At the end of the year, host a volunteer brunch to highlight successes and key efforts.
  3. Get out in the community—Set aside time to ride an afternoon bus (even if it’s just once a week) to spend time with students and the bus driver and become better acquainted with the school community. Wave to parents and greet people at each stop. Also, find time to connect with businesses to thank them for supporting your school (perhaps by providing small gift cards for students of the week or staff highlights) and invite them to visit your school.
  4. Highlight successes—Pictures are powerful. In your office or entry foyer, keep a rotating slideshow (or Twitter feed) of pictures highlighting engaged learning, fun field trips, or volunteer efforts. When they come to take your picture, show yourself as engaged (interacting with students, teachers, or parents) rather than merely sitting at your computer getting caught up on your hundreds of e-mails.
  5. Make learning the center of every meeting—Open each faculty meeting with a highlight from within your own school building (such as a brief instructional clip captured during a walk-through or even a short mini-teaching lesson from a faculty member) and support teacher-led discussion. Affirm innovation (healthy risk-taking) and find ways to “connect silos” within the school.

We all have limited time, and how we choose to spend each minute as a school leader can greatly affect our school, our students, and our staff. Let us prioritize our important role in leading and learning—it’s about time!


William Sterrett is a former teacher and principal who now serves on the educational leadership faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He is the author of Insights into Action (ASCD, 2011) and Short on Time (ASCD Arias, 2013).


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