Two months a principal, time for reflection

This school year I took up the position as a member of the board of principals at my school. At the end of June, I received the message that I was selected for the job I applied for. During the summer holiday me and the people around me looked forward to August 16th. Today we reached the 2 month marker and this calls for some reflection on the roller coaster ride this has been.

Every day people ask me how I am doing or if I’m still fine. A lot of times that last question is followed by an ironic smile. At the beginning of September my answer was “Ask me that again in a month”. The time has come to give that answer.

These first two months truly have been a roller coaster ride. It’s a cliché but it is the truth. The system controls your life and for a big part that is ok: so many new things come on your path that it’s sometimes very hard to determine what’s important. A lot of these important things are things I was not aware of their existence. I am blessed to be in a tremendously strong team that guides and supports me.

First there are the other members of our board of principals who have the much needed experience. The value  our supporting and coordinating staff is unmeasurable. They make our school run like a well oiled machine and keep me on track. They have the knowledge about legislation and procedures. Without them it is virtually impossible to run a school. I knew that before when I was a teacher and my respect for these people has only grown substantially. 

Our teaching staff is on that same train. Anyone on the street can complain about how much time off a teacher has during holidays but when I see the perseverance of our teachers to create challenging learning experiences inside and outside the school and how they take care of our students, I can say that I am very proud to be a part of this project. 

So how does a principals day look like? In short, it is following your calendar. Of course an agenda and calendar is not new for me, but never before my professional and personal life was so influenced by this. In my case it’s an app of course. 

It seems like it floods automatically. By now I’ve formed the habit of scheduling a lunch break too. When I don’t, I won’t have eaten by the time my working day ends.

In the morning, I schedule tasks, but during the day so many urgent things emerge that I go home with the same tasks to only complete some of them by the time I go to sleep.

Are all these things that important? Until now, not many of the things I’ve done seemed like a waste of time. Meetings, lots of them, about school management, plans for the future and reflecting what has been, extinguishing little fires and preventing an inferno. Oh and learning, learning a lot! I’m lucky these moments have also slipped into my calendar: learning opportunities are essential, but without scheduling them, they would not exist.

Thinking running a school would be a 9 to 5 job is utterly naive. For now the workload is not that unbearable. I’m still looking for an good balance between delegation and taking a task on myself. What does annoy me is being unreachable: all day you’re doing all sorts of things. You want to talk to someone but just can’t fit it in the schedule. You definitely want to speak that one student but … Oh, it’s 5 o’clock and he’s gone home now.

I almost haven’t seen my office in two weeks. I’m not that attracted to the place, but when I’m not in my office it means someone also can not find me there either. In the past, I was sometimes almost offended when I could not find someone in leadership at difficult moments or right at that moment when I needed a decision on something. 2 months ago I pledged to myself I would not make that mistake. By now I’ve realized that is an extremely different goal to reach. You might think people will call you when they really need you, but that is not true. People want to see you and have a face-to-face conversation. This realization only grows every day. Does that mean I have to schedule “office hour” or have a recurring coffee break in the staff room? Maybe. It is in these formal and informal contacts with people you will get to know them to better support and lead them. Being present for your students is on the same level. They don’t drink a coffe with you in the staff room, but knock on your door. If that knock stays unanswered too many times, this is not accommodating your leadership.

For now “family time” is not on my schedule. Coming home is very fulfilling and every day I realize more and more how much my family means too me.

Being present there is also a big focus.

“Do you still think this was a good decision?” asked a friend of mine today. He was astounded when it took some time for me to answer his question. But I answered with a very decisive “yes”. When I think about what we are trying to achieve in our school to give students from our community and far beyond to grow to become great human beings, I am very proud to be a part of that.

This post was a very good reflecting exercise to find my strong and weak points. Let’s meet again in two months: our Christmas tree will be in the house by then.

Time flies when …

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