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Monday, May 22, 2006

A "Typical Day" in the Life of a Principal

During nine years as an elementary principal, the typical day is anything but typical. I come to school armed with a well-defined list of the tasks to accomplish over the course of the next week so that I can use any discretionary moment to move a step closer to accomplishing a goal. At the same time, I fully realize that one event may totally re-shape the focus for the day. Flexibility is the name of the game, and flexibility requires organization.

When I checked my e-mail on the afternoon of March 14, it included an e-mail inviting me to describe a typical day for the readers of Principal. I knew immediately the day I would choose would be the day I was living. The majority of the day had already passed, and therefore could not be contrived. Thinking back on the day to that point, it had included the elements of a “typical” day: the “checking off” of small tasks that lead to major accomplishments, opportunities for our students, unexpected annoyances, and equally unexpected good news.

This day begins at 4:30, and the first hour is spent getting me ready for school and getting two Shelties ready for their day at home. Mid-way through my 23-minute drive to work, I stop for breakfast at “DJ’s,” the Mom & Pop restaurant that is home to some of the best home-made biscuits I have ever put in my mouth.

One of our custodians normally opens the building, but he has arranged with me to be out today. After arriving at 6:30, and assuming the duties of unlocking the outside entrances and turning on a few lights, I greet a substitute custodian and give our guest a schedule of duties for the day. Handling e-mail and organizing the papers in today’s tickler file consume the remaining time before students start to arrive.

I visit the cafeteria where our very active breakfast program is in full swing. One of the teachers handling breakfast duty this week is an aspiring administer, and she is going to be an excellent principal. We visit regarding questions she has about the world of school administration.

The morning intercom announcements give me an opportunity to celebrate the good that needs to be recognized and share stories which motivate kids and present to them a picture of the kind of persons they can aspire to be. This month is both “Youth Art Month” and “Music in Our Schools Month.” Through the month, we display in our foyer works of art created by people our students know. Today, I point out that today’s painting is the work of custodian Bobby Givens. He has a work ethic that is every principal’s dream, and his artwork is truly an inspiration for everyone in our building. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, our entire student body sings the “Star-Spangled Banner” with accompaniment piped over the intercom. We have been doing this every morning during “Music in Our Schools Month.” The students do not know it yet, but each morning for the remainder of the school year, we will make the singing of patriotic songs a part of how we start our day.

The morning proves to be surprisingly free of interruptions, and I am able to move forward each of about a dozen projects. I call to my office one student who has been extremely lax in getting his work done. The brief talk is concluded with a stern statement that I will be checking with his teacher to see if there have been any more problems. Somehow, when students know the principal is going to be following up, the problem goes away.

Just when I am sure this day will be a quiet one, I learn that a first grade class has just been taken over by a swarm of termites! Who would have known that the “typical day” would include a frantic call to our pest control provider?

I accompany a student group to a performance of “America, We the People” at the Ritz Theater in downtown Talladega. While the very mention of our town makes most people think of the semi-annual NASCAR events, the staff at the Ritz never ceases to amaze me with the quality performances they bring to this town.

When I arrive back at school, I am greeted with a message that Honda has called and is donating $1,500 towards our “Young Author’s Day” project. This unexpected good news makes up for the termites! Since their arrival in northern Talladega County several years ago, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama has been a great supporter of our school.

I turn to check the latest e-mail messages and see one from NAESP with an invitation to write the account you are reading right now. I begin to jot down the major happenings to this point in the day and continue to do so for the remainder of the day.

My calendar includes viewing a webinar on the subject of using data. As I view the presentation, I use the time to sign a batch of checks and handle other miscellaneous paperwork. As the webinar ends, I take a call from Mark Rasco, a very supportive and visionary parent. He is heading up a brick project, allowing supporters of the school to purchase engraved bricks which will replace a portion of the sidewalk leading up to the school entrance. He and I discuss some of the details of the project.

The workday ends at 5:00, and tonight my wife and I enjoy a meal at the local Mexican restaurant. Tomorrow, another aspiring principal will be interviewing me for an administrative class project. I spend some time making notes to prepare for that interview while watching television and petting Shelties.

This day was a good one, and to be honest, most of them are. Our school has some of the best kids, best teachers, best parents you will find anywhere—and so does yours.


At 8:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this post after googling 'The life of a School Principal'. I am finishing my bachelors degree in Elementary Education, and am very interested in pursuing a career in Education Administration. Reading this post made me realize that this is definitely what I want to do.

At 8:48 PM, Blogger Dr. Frank Buck said...

I always enjoyed being a principal, and after having served at various levels, I truly believe the principalship to be the most influential position in education. Thanks for leaving this comment. It means so much to know that what I wrote several years ago makes a difference today and is helping someone else shape their own tomorrows.

At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Larisa said...

Thank you so much! I am pursuing a double degree in music education and business administration, and I am thinking of doing education administration in graduate school. This post is very inspiring, and it seems indeed that the life of a school principal is filled with rewarding challenges. It is clearly not a routine job!

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Dr. Frank Buck said...


Thanks for the comments. I enjoyed my days as a principal. It comes with its challenges and many rewards. My background is also in music education. The first 12 years of my career were spent as a junior high and middle school band director.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Buck
Thank you for this article, it was very informative. I am graduating college with a degree in Business Management. However, I have been bitten by the teaching bug. It is what I am passionate about. I am looking into alternative teacher certification. As a principal, would you considering someone with my background (Business degree and alt. teacher cert.)? I'm having trouble finding out how legitimate the ATC route is. Thank you so much. I look forward to hearing back from you!

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Dr. Frank Buck said...

I would encourage you to pursue this route. Many fine teachers started out interested in another field, but then found teaching as their passion. The success of each for America is a shining example that outstanding teachers don't have to come through the traditional route. The "5th year program," as it is known in my area would allow you achieve certification in education at the Masters level. From experience, this route seems to be more respected at the secondary level. I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to contact me personally if I can be of more help. Best contact is on Twitter (@DrFrankBuck) or my company Facebook page (FB.com/DrFrankBuck).

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your quick response! That is very helpful information. I will research the 5th year program and get back to you with any questions. Thank you again!

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Katie Quinn said...

I have a BS in Health and minor in Art History. After delaying med school, I "fell" into teaching and discovered that I loved it. I want to advance my career by moving into administration but I am having trouble deciding on a masters program. What would you look for? School Counseling, Educational Leadership?? I'd love your feedback.

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Dr. Frank Buck said...


I moved from the principalship here six years ago, and although the blog was not continued after I left, comments left still come to my e-mail for moderation.

Yours is a tough question to answer outright since I do not know your background or strengths, and I am unfamiliar with certification requirements in Florida.

What I can suggest is to get a mentor in your area. It may be your headmaster or an administrator in a nearby school. A mentor can help you choose the best certification path. More importantly, having someone who is your advocate and will spread your name around as a good candidate is worth its weight in gold.

Come on over to the my personal blog: http://FrankBuck.blogspot.com. I recently did a post on great books for principals to read. You will also find tons of info there to help you organize your surroundings and manage your time, critical components for principals (or anyone in any profession.)


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