In one day, a principal may welcome students in the morning, sit in on several classroom lessons, attend a board meeting, monitor the hallways, and greet parents at pickup.
With so many duties and hours spent on their feet moving around the school building, principals need to keep their essential tools of the job easily accessible for any situation.
In interviews with Education Week, three principals describe the things they carry around—and how they carry them—for successfully surviving each day.
A fanny pack designed for principals?
Tiffany Osei, an elementary school principal in Philadelphia, has learned to pack lightly for her workday. She carries a small notepad, pens, phone, keys, and walkie-talkie.
Osei said her cellphone is especially important because she likes to take pictures of teachers and students engaging in learning activities, which she then shares on social media with parents.
“It reinforces the expectations for what type of learning we’re doing in the classroom,” Osei said. “[It also] gives [teachers and students] a little shoutout. I’ve been in classrooms where I forgot my notebook or my cellphone and I saw something really great and realized ‘I’m missing the moment.’”
When she started as a principal four years ago, Osei carried several items with her throughout the day. Now, going into her fourth year, She’s since curated her pack of essentials to be more present in the classroom.
“When I first started out, I used to try and carry my laptop around with me,” Osei said. “What I found is that it was quicker for me to capture what I was seeing with just a pen and paper, so I ditched the laptop.”
That’s her advice for incoming principals: Keep it light.
“Whether you have a tablet or pen and paper, [new principals] should always have some way to capture what they see in the classroom because that is what is going to be able to help drive improvement,” Osei said. “What [the principals take with them] should ultimately help teaching and learning.”
Still, Osei said, she wishes someone would invent a fanny pack, designed just for principals.
An ‘administrator’s apron’
Kelly Frycz, a second-year elementary principal in Monroe, N.C., wishes someone would create an “administrator’s apron” to easily store her essentials items she carries each day. As an artist before becoming an educator, Frycz said that would be the most efficient way to carry everything.
“The pockets would have to be like an interactive suitcase,” Frycz said. “As an artist, I used to wear smocks. I need something that allows me the opportunity to go into rooms and have [everything]. Imagine having really cool pockets that I could just pull things out [of]. It would be so easy.”
In the meantime, Frycz utilizes a clipboard to keep track of all her belongings as she roams the building each day. She brings brightly colored card stock paper and a pen to doodle and write jokes for her students and staff.
“I like to leave notes that have doodling on them because they’re more fun for teachers to get,” Frycz said.
Every Tuesday, Frycz hands out jokes to students throughout the day, which she tucks into her identification badge, which also functions as a miniature wallet.
Also tucked into her badge holder are the master and lunch schedules.
Like most school administrators, Frycz carries several keys with her in case she needs to get into any locked cabinets, unlock any doors, or access the building’s outside classroom. (Spoof videos of principals fumbling with huge rings of keys was a popular genre on social media a few years ago.)
The clipboard of this principal’s dreams
Erica Walters, a former high school assistant principal in Columbus, Ohio, swears by a clipboard that can store her essentials inside. She saw athletic coaches using them and realized they’d work for administrators, too. She said it can keep almost everything stored in one place without a risk of losing her belongings.
“You can fit [the essentials] in one spot and you weren’t carrying all these things in your hand because it was inevitable that something would happen or there would be a fight,” Walters said. “Just being able to be mobile is really good.”
Walters kept her laptop, cellphone, walkie-talkie, paper, pens, and hall passes inside the clipboard’s storage compartment at all times.
“I never wanted to have to go back to my office all the time,” Walters said. “That was the most annoying thing when you were out or in a classroom. I never wanted to waste 15 to 20 minutes of … running back to my office.”
Ahead of students and teachers arriving, Walters would sit in her office, look at her schedule, and prepare her clipboard for the day. She went through a “trial and error” process of figuring out what exactly to pack.
“I’d start out with a pencil, but then I’d be writing a pass for a kid and have to put my signature [and] need to use pens or markers,” Walters said. “I would be caught without the currency for the school for the positive behavior reinforcement, so I make sure I kept a stack.”
She saw other administrators try more cumbersome solutions to carrying all their stuff: purses, bags, and even a tool belt.
“I wasn’t going to do that, but I found [myself] shopping for clothes that had pockets because I was able to put a bunch of stuff in pockets,” Walters said.
Her advice for new principals is to keep it simple. She said carrying a bag or purse is too cumbersome and slows you down.
“The clipboard worked just because it was an easy way to keep everything in one place but also be professional,” Walters said. “It’s the experience that really shapes the type of administrator you are, and adaptability and mobility are the best characteristics.”