Today’s principals are often quite skilled at being resourceful.
From ensuring that teachers have sufficient lab materials to providing them with the professional development opportunities they need to be successful, we have learned to make the most of the resources we have. One valuable resource we continue to struggle with, however, is time.
To be more effective collaborative leaders, we must be willing to do the heavy lifting required to move the school forward. We have to balance the proactive (planning, vision and mission, improvement, innovation efforts) with the reactive (the unexpected fire drill, classroom-management issues, a surprise visitor) without a moment’s notice—all the while ensuring that students and staff are empowered to succeed. We must model effective use of time in the way we plan, collaborate, innovate, share, empower, and celebrate.
One question I have often addressed throughout my long career as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and, now, an educational leadership faculty member is this: How should principals use their time? Principals must strive to maximize time to move teaching and learning forward.
We should thoughtfully carve out time to spend with our students and teachers in various learning environments, including outdoor classrooms, science labs, arts instruction, reading classes, and more. We need to emphasize all subjects, not just the high-stakes testing ones. We must prioritize short walk-through visits with meaningful feedback and interact with students as much as possible.
Carving out time in faculty meetings to highlight successes can also be a time saver; ask a teacher if you can share a short video clip of student engagement that is happening within his or her classroom. Some teachers might prefer to teach a short mini-lesson involving faculty participation or may even offer to host the meeting in their classroom to showcase how they facilitate their own learning environment. We need to engage the whole faculty to highlight the successful learning strategies occurring within our separate classrooms.
Principals can also leverage volunteer efforts by crafting a slide show of their top 10 needs. Perhaps some areas of the school’s courtyard garden need attention, a display case needs organization, or a playground map would benefit from a fresh coat of paint. Host several volunteer orientation sessions for parents, guardians, and community members to articulate procedures and specific needs. Log hours (make sure volunteers sign in as volunteers, not visitors), and invite them in for a celebratory, end-of-year brunch where you showcase the finished top 10 list and celebrate successes. Recognize a “Volunteer of the Year” and build an ethos of service. While all this takes time to initially plan and deliver, the benefits of volunteers investing their time in your school will have a lasting impact on the learning community.
Time is indeed a limited resource. By being proactive in prioritizing student success, supporting teachers and staff, innovating by example, and affirming successes, we can be ready to react when those unexpected events invariably arise. We can succeed as educational leaders and enjoy our job (yes, this is important), even when we are short on time.
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2017 edition of Education Week as Time Is a Principal’s Most Limited Resource