In response to the post, “Advice for the First Year Principal,” a reader writes:
“SC, if it wasn’t for you I would not have made it though my first year. I don’t say that lightly, there were other first year principals in my district that didn’t make it. Why doesn’t our district hire you to coach all of our first year principals? Don’t they care?
To all the new principals out there, get LYS to your campus, even if you have to pay for it out of your own budget like I did. The stakes are too high to just guess all the time.”
Thanks, for the high praise. It’s not the districts don’t care. I’ve yet to come across a district that wants principals to fail. Principals are like fighter pilots, very expensive and hard to replace assets. But I do recognize that many districts do a poor job of new employee induction in general and new principal induction in particular. It has been my observation that there are three common reasons why this happens.
1. Money and time. It takes both to organize and operate a meaningful induction program. Unfortunately, I haven’t found many school districts that are flush with cash and have nothing to do during the day.
2. A faulty memory. Part of the human condition is that we minimize or forget hardship and remember the good times and experiences. If this wasn’t the case, we could never get past tragedy. But a by-product of this is by the time you are in a position to support a first year principal, you have forgotten the toll it actually took on you. The highs you remember (of which there are a lot) the lows you forget (which at the time felt devastating). When you don’t remember things being that tough, in a world of limited resources, induction programs go from being an “A” priority to a “B” priority.
3. An outdated experience base. Many of us in mentoring and development roles today, earned our experience during times of less rigorous accountability. We forget that during our first year the stakes were lower. We actually had the luxury of time (relatively speaking) to learn our craft. Therefore, what I might view as a luxury, based on my experience base, is now a necessity.
If your district has an induction program, embrace it. If it doesn’t, find somebody you can trust and talk to them a lot. Just the process of stating a problem out loud often makes it less ambiguous and easier to solve. During my first year as a principal I was very fortunate I had the advice and council of an internal coach (Dr. Richard Griffin) and external coach (Wayne Schaper) and a coach that I hired from my own budget (Harlan Yetter). Would I have survived without them? Probably. Would my career trajectory been as steep? Absolutely not. My coaches made me and my school successful. Since then, I have been conscious of the need to pay that forward. It is unfortunate that many in our field view the need for coaching as a sign of weakness (ironic, since we are supposed to be focused on continuous learning and improvement). Because the more potential you have, the more valuable timely coaching becomes.
Think. Work. Achieve.