Recommitting to School Leadership

Tap into the passion that first brought you to the job.

Topics: Principal Leadership

It’s after Spring Break, but not even close to summer, and school leaders across the nation are starting to feel the weight of the entire school year on their shoulders. Principals report that it’s the time of year that they need to “recommit themselves to the profession.” This can ring especially true in this era of post-pandemic school leadership—when the responsibilities seem to keep piling up, but nothing is ever taken off the plate. This scenario can leave a principal feeling like they need a “reset” to model the type of commitment that they expect from others.  

I recently had a conversation with school leaders about what goes in to recommitting to the profession and what might go into a “recommitment statement.” Here is a snapshot of what they said.

Be Realistic About What’s Developmentally Appropriate

One of the lingering effects of pandemic-era schooling is the uptick in student discipline and their challenges with self-regulation. Teachers can get frustrated with students’ challenges with self-regulation, leaving teachers wondering “is it me, or is it the kids,” said Todd Brist, who leads Watertown Middle School in South Dakota.

Brist, who reminds staff that students are still acquiring organizational and developmental skills, has recommitted to “truly understanding the developmental milestones of the age at age group.” He recommends the book Yardsticks, Child, Adolescent, Development Ages 4 – 14 by Chip Wood because it helps to put in perspective, “I’m working with what they are actually capable of, and what I think they’re capable of, which can be two different things.”

Think Beyond Goal-Setting

Principals are experts at setting intentions, making school improvement goals, and marking milestones. But a recommitment statement goes beyond those more technical planning tools, according to Katy Kennedy. “Although goals for me are important, when I talk about recommitting or why I do what I do, I think about the big picture of my passion,” said Kennedy, who is principal of Washington Middle School in Glendive, Montana.

For Aqila Malpass, recommitting to school leadership is about finishing the work that you set out to do when you first began. “There are more students who need the energy, talent, and leadership you deliver, so that’s like getting at that passion,” said Malpass, who is a district curriculum coordinator for Hoover Public Schools in Alabama.

Think Bigger than Getting Through the End of the Year

Principal turnover rates reached a high of 16 percent in the 2022-23 school year, according to research from RAND. This is no surprise, given the changes to the principal profession that have occurred since the pandemic. Matt Moyer, principal of Rupert Elementary School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, said that as more principals consider leaving the profession, they can use a recommitment statement as an opportunity to discover, “is this still what I want to do?”

“I can still be committed to my own personal mission, whatever that may be,” said Moyer. “But maybe this isn’t the right thing. So if you’re not loving it and it’s not what you’re passionate about every day, then it’s good to look elsewhere and still try to find your mission.”

Aim for Wellness and Balance  

“Who’s taking care of the principal?” is one of the crucial questions that emerged in the aftermath of pandemic-era school leadership. “COVID was a turning point for many principals when they took the heat from parents and negotiated public policy,” said Illinois principal Shannon Hamm. “So many hours were spent; it further altered life balance.”

The added empathy fatigue and staffing shortages have left principals thinking that the role now feels unsustainable. 

Lyn Marsilio is committing to strengthening boundaries so that she can prioritize her personal life and family. “There’s tons of trauma at my school that I also take home with me, but I also still have that feeling that I am needed, that I am not ready to leave yet,” said Marsilio. “So thinking through the commitment is really important. Because if you stay and you shouldn’t, then you’re doing more harm than good for your kids, for your staff.”

Put Boundaries Around Your Principal “Identity”

#PrincipalLife, #MomsAsPrincipals, #FitLeaders. The popular principal hashtags show just how strong a principal identity can be. In recommitting to the profession, principals must balance their identity as a principal with boundaries that enable them to find passion and purpose outside the school walls, too.

Tanisha N. Cunningham, principal of W.J. Bryan Elementary School in North Miami, Florida, has witnessed firsthand school leaders asking to be redirected back into the classroom because of the amount of work administrators are asked to accomplish keeps expanding. Cunningham’s recommitment to the profession is a recalibration of her identity. “As much as I love this position, I’ve had to say to myself that this is what you do, this is not who you are,” she said. “Because if you’re not careful, your entire life will be consumed by this job.”

Hamm cautions against becoming addicted to working, which she believes peaked during the pandemic. She says principals put so much time and effort into their jobs, and we are still breaking ourselves away from what has become a “work addiction.” 

Hamm is committed to regaining passion but with balance. “For me, it’s my kids and prioritizing family and time,” she said.

Focus On Why You Started In the First Place

“It all goes back to why,” said Hamm. So many of our responsibilities “are the things that take us away from the passion of what we want to do,” she said. “It’s a matter of being able to reflect on your why and what brings us joy and passion and then putting that on our calendar so we can get into the classrooms and do those things.”

Reflection: What brings you joy that you need to put on your calendar to make sure that it is scheduled and prioritized?

Strategy: Write a letter to yourself about why you first wanted to be principal and what you thought you would be able to accomplish. 

Whether you are dealing with work stress or a turning point in a career, don’t lose sight as to why you started in this field. A recommitment statement that outlines your passions, what motivates you, and why you started in school leadership in the first place can give you a boost.

Kaylen Tucker is associate executive director of Communications at NAESP and the editor-in-chief of Principal magazine.