From AP to Principal: Don’t Forget Your C.O.A.T.

One principal recounts how collaboration, organization, attitude, and time management help him succeed in the position.
By Bivins Miller
June 2019, Volume 42, Issue 10

Moving out of the classroom and into administration was quite the adjustment when it came to balancing tasks, working with more adults, and ultimately making decisions that would affect the larger body of the school. My first few years in administration were as an assistant principal (AP)—a great training ground that allowed me to get my hands dirty without being the last man on the totem pole. However, three years ago I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to lead a school as principal.

The transition from AP to principal was quite a stark contrast. However, with great opportunity comes great expectations for new principals. My recommendation? Don’t forget your “C.O.A.T.”

C Is For Collaboration

As a principal, it is monumental that you make collaboration a cornerstone of your practice. Collaborate with stakeholders like teachers, family members, and the community. Collaboration can give you a sense of family while also setting up a support system for things to come. One of the best support groups for me has been a professional learning network, such as Twitter. This resource provides real-time collaboration with other like-minded peers doing the same good work across the country and around the world. The principalship can become a lonely place if you allow it to.

Collaborate with teachers to gain their insight into and understanding of practices at the school as well as new things that they might want to try in the classroom. Teachers are growing students daily and positively changing the trajectory of their future based on the practices, so be sure to listen to them.

Parents are a key component in any school. Understanding that parents want what is best for their children. Connect with parents outside of the daily grind: Attend baseball games, ballets, and programs. Host “Coffee with the Principal” to listen to what they have to say.

Don’t forget your community members! Include them in school publication distribution, invite them in to share their story when appropriate, and let them know you are in this together.

O Is for Organization

Being organized is key to being a successful leader. Every year, I create a master school year calendar, working from the end of the year to the beginning. Being organized allows for division of labor and using staff members and key team players in ways that truly allow them to showcase their strengths.

A Is For Attitude

When it comes to the attitude of an organization, outsiders often look to the top. Are you setting a positive example for your school day in and day out? Do you have fun with teachers and students? Do you love what you do and show this through your actions? A positive attitude enables you to make a difference in the world around you because when you can see things in a positive light and you help to influence and shape people’s attitudes, too. Be the leader you would want to lead you.

T Is For Time

One thing that can be overwhelming early on is the inability to get all the tasks accomplished in the time you have allotted for yourself. As a principal, you are ultimately responsible for the staff and students under your direction, which can be an overwhelming task that will consume you if you allow it to. As the leader of the school, you need to model what you expect for your teachers, taking the time to unplug, rest, relax, and refocus on the most important work at hand: our students. If can’t be your best self as a principal, it’s going to be difficult to serve others.

Moving into my fourth year as principal, I have my sights set on big goals. I truly hope that this is the best year yet in terms of growth, excitement, and all-around love for learning. While the first three years have certainly reminded me not to forget my C.O.A.T., it is imperative that as educators we remain crazy about our kids and the staff that work with our students.

Bivins Miller is principal of McAllister Elementary in Richmond Hill, Georgia.

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