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Career Story: Principal At An Elementary School

Principal At An Elementary School

Job Title: Principal Of An Elementary School

Education: BA in Sociology, Swarthmore College •• MA in Education, UC Berkeley •• Masters in Education in School Leadership, Harvard University

Previous Experience: I was a teacher for ten years prior to becoming a principal. I was also a part-time literacy coach for the 3 years prior to becoming a principal.

Job Tasks: An elementary principal is the instructional leader of a school, as well as the day-to-day manager of the school.

It is very difficult to describe a typical day on the job because every day is so different. I tend to start my days at about 7:15 am, informally checking in with teachers, some of whom have been at school since 6:30 am. At 8:00 am, I head down to the lobby to greet the students who come to school early, and supervise them so they are not left alone. By 8:30, I head back to my office.

I try to spend at least an hour each day in classrooms. I visit classrooms to check up on students, and to see how their learning is going. If I see things that could be improved in the instruction, I try to find a way to talk to the teacher about it, or send an email. When I am not in classrooms, I am often having meetings. What might these meetings be about? It could be about finding a new photographer for school pictures, helping a family whose house burned down, or discussing how we can provide extra support for students as they get ready for the MCAS test.

Inevitably, in the midst of the things I have planned for the day, there are small emergency situations - a student who needs to visit the principal because of misbehavior, checking on the playground to see if kids can go outside for recess, and getting papers signed. Some days I have meetings with the other principals in the district. Because I am a new principal, I also have meetings with my mentor who helps me learn the ropes.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of the job are when I feel like I am really making a difference for children, families and teachers. When I have a conversation with someone and they are able to see something in a new way, that makes the job worth it. I really like talking with teachers about how kids learn. I also love talking to kids about how they learn best. So anything that has to do with that is great.

The worst part of the job is that sometimes I feel like no matter what decision I make, people are not going to like it because I am the principal. They assume I have negative intentions, or that I don't understand. And this is merely because of the role that I hold, not anything I have actually done. Sometimes it also drives me crazy that I can't just have a good idea and go ahead and DO it. I have to get everyone to see what a great idea it is so that they will want to do it.

Job Tips:
1. It is very important to spend a significant amount of time teaching first. I think it is impossible for a principal to be an instructional leader if he or she has not been a teacher of an academic subject.

2. Take your time getting to know the community; show them that you are really there to listen, before you start making any changes.

3. If you think you want to do this job, you should go for it, because a lot of people don't, so there aren't always a lot of great candidates for the jobs that are available.

Additional Thoughts: I am in my first year, and I am still not always sure that I want to do this job - and many people have told me that that is ok, so I will pass along that advice as well.

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