The question I'm most often asked by my community members and onlookers is how I, as the site administrator, manage to get everything done during the work day. Inside, I usually laugh a little bit as I don't think I've ever had a day where I feel like "everything is done." In replying to their question, I often smile and say something along the lines of "it's a team effort" or "we just do our best." These are truthful responses but the real answer goes a bit deeper into what my day looks like. So how do we get everything done every day? It's as simple as this:
1) Hire a great staff and provide opportunities for growth for your veteran staff members.
I feel like our school has been very blessed to have hired some amazing talented educators over the past few years. Four of our five 7th and 8th grade ELA and three of our five 7th and 8th SST teachers are new to our school during this time. We have also recently been joined by an accomplished assistant principal and front office administrative assistant. These are key hires: a poor decision at one of these leadership positions can bring a very challenging year. I've worked very closely with our district office staff on selecting only the best possible candidates for our school. After all, our students deserve the best. Our veteran teachers continue to serve on key committees for the transition to common core, our curriculum council, and team leaders. Four of the seven staff members who attended the recent ACSA conference were veteran teachers, excited about the opportunity to professional grow as educators. Our staff members handle most of the daily issues that would normally make it to a principal's desk. This does take a good bit of trust among your colleagues but it's worth the risk if you have a staff you can depend on.
2) Your students' free time is your supervision time.
As I've previously blogged, my favorite time of the day is the morning drop off and the afternoon pick up. I spend most of my time at the crosswalk, helping parents progress through the parking lot and escorting students to and from their cars. While I"m assisting students arrive and depart for the day, I'm always keeping an eye on the other happenings on our campus. These are moments to let students know that you're present and paying attention. Just a simple look and passing conversation with a student waiting to be picked up for the day goes a long way. Brunch and lunch is my time to walk the campus and check in with specific students as well as the general student body. I try to circle the campus at least once and stop by the games room, the u-turn room, the library, and a few teachers' classrooms. On a good day, I'll also walk the campus during passing periods. The location of the office makes it a challenge to have an effective four minute walk during this time, but I'll intentionally schedule classroom visits before and after these passing periods to lengthen the walk time. Often, these are the best moments of my day.
3) Systems are the key.
I've been very fortunate to follow a principal who left oodles of documents and schedules in place for my first year as site administrator. Now, during year two, I've begun to update and alter these files to best serve our staff's and students' needs. That said, the library of documents, memos, and templates were crucial for survival during my first year as the site principal. These are documents that I'll carry with me to my next administrative position and also what I'll leave for my eventual successor. Many of the documents I've added have been "liberated" from other colleagues at various school sites (with their permission, of course). For instance, we are looking at updating our report card format to mirror our nearby (and some would say rival) middle school from another school district. Part of being a connected educational community allows for a higher level of sharing between fellow administrators.
4) Prioritize what you need to do and then continuously re-prioritize it throughout the day
Almost minutes within waking up each morning, I take a look at my day's calendar and look at what the day is scheduled to bring. How many meetings do I have? Are there any gaps in my schedule that I can add in classroom visits right now before they're filled? What are my essential activities today to complete? After a quick review and beginning to move through my day, I again check in with my calendar to see if anything's been added or overlooked. If there are urgent, without warning student, teacher, parent, or district issues, figure out what on my calendar can be moved to a later appointment slot. There will always be an emergency in our office and/or on our campus that disrupts the school day; today, for instance, there was an impromptu fire drill during passing period -- fortunately, it was just the steam from the dryer! These interruptions occur frequently throughout our day and you have to be ready to adjust at a moment's notice.
5) Schedule free time and lots of it.
There are days in my calendar that have appointments blocked out with a "Do Not Schedule" message. These are opportunities for me to take a moment to breathe, check in with our front office staff, and attend a few classroom lessons that I've been invited to join. The most important part of my day is the time where we catch our breath, laugh a little bit, possibly have a quick bite, and then get ready for the next appointment or emergency. Perhaps the best part about scheduling these moments of free time into your calendar is that you always have the option to change your mind and add in an appointment. Obviously, it rarely works in the other direction.
There are so many more facets to our work day and to running a middle school. I would be remiss to not mention our amazing parent community, many of whom are on our campus each and every day as volunteers. Our leadership program and elective offerings help create a positive school climate and prevent possible future issues from reaching our desks. It's also spending time with our students, parents, and staff, listening to their concerns and trying your best to reach a common ground and hopefully solutions where possible. Truthfully, we don't get everything done every day, but most days we get pretty close.