The New Principal on the Block


summer13cover_blog (3)

Joanne Rooney, former codirector of the Midwest Principals’ Center and a mentor for principals, shares insights from her article, “For Principals: Planning the First Year,” in the Summer 2013 digital-only issue of Educational Leadership.

Are you a principal who’ll lead a school new to you this September? Here are actions you can take. Remember, YOU are the new kid on the block. Earning trust is your first order of business.

Establish relationships. Get to know and show respect for teachers—their lives, their hopes and fears. Share your stories so you are seen as human as well as the principal. Extend yourself to bus drivers, lunch room staff, and custodians. The village it takes to raise a child consists of all its citizens.

Learn the culture. Tread lightly on your new turf. Honor established customs, rituals, and practices.

Consult teachers. Ask as many teachers as you can two key questions: “What should we absolutely keep in this school?” and “What might we improve?”

Don’t change everything. Sacred cows are hidden everywhere. Dishonoring an established custom can be a major setback for the new principal.

Pick your battles carefully. Distinguish those that directly affect the welfare of kids from minor skirmishes.

Delegate. Unless you want a 70-hour week, give responsibilities to others where possible. However, “the buck stops here” applies.

Plan to stay. Using the principalship as a way to increase your monthly paychecks or as a stepping stone to “climb the ladder” is a breach of trust to those you serve as leader. If these things happen, they should be a result of sterling leadership—not a planned strategy.

Establish relationships. . . . Or, did I say this already?


  1. Joanne,
    I am just finishing up my administrative certification. Your advice is excellent and consistent to many conversations I had during my course work. I very much want to move in a leadership position, but feel lost on how best to present myself to prospective employers. What skills and experiences are districts looking for when hiring someone without prior experience as a principal? Your input would be appreciated.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here