One Day in the Life of a Principal

Sometimes people ask me what a “typical day” looks like for me.
Instead of creating a list of my responsibilities, perhaps an example of one day from last semester may serve as a better illustration:

5:15 AM
I am up and dressed for time on the treadmill while listening to an audio-Bible app. I breakfast, read, shower and get ready for the day.

6:30 AM
On the road to school. Listening to morning news or podcast on the commute while my 9th grader daughter falls sleeps in the passenger seat beside me.

7:00 AM
Opening up the office, turning on lights in the commons area. Early-arriving student drops in to tell me about a book he is reading and just wants to hang out a while before eating breakfast.

7:15 AM
While I chat with student, I sign substitute forms; teachers come to sign in. The cafeteria is starting to fill with other early-arrivals.

7:35 AM
In cafeteria while more students arrive for breakfast. Talking to assistant principals about the day. Parent and student come in and wait for a meeting I will be attending in 10 minutes with the student’s special education teacher and others.

7:45 AM
Secretary tells me a parent is on the line wanting to talk about bullying incident on a bus. Number taken so I or one of the assistant principals can call back after IEP.

7:47 AM
I’m late to the IEP meeting but catch up as we discuss the student’s grade. His single dad is worried because his son is behind on credits and is not taking seriously his responsibility to hand in all assignments. We coach, cajole, and counsel.

8:30 AM
Back in my office. Parent with bullying concern is now at the school and meeting with one of my assistant principals. Fill in my secretary on which classrooms I plan to visit today. Answer questions about calendar requests for use of auditorium. Check voicemail and forward transcript request from out of state school to our registrar. Answer email question from business office concerning teacher certification.

9:00 AM
I am in a classroom observing a teacher and logging areas on our state-mandated teacher observation instrument. I am trying to use my Ipad but the log-in for the online observation instrument is not working, so I email them for help and finish my notes on paper so that I can follow up later. Enjoyed watching cool lab experiments.

10:00 AM
I am in the hallways for the passing period. Then I am reminding the student making daily announcements to give a shout-out to the freshman boy’s basketball team who are in a tournament. I say hello to a therapist who comes to the school once a week to meet with some students. I touch base with my assistant principals about the bullying report and other items they have dealt with this morning.

10:15 AM
I return a phone call to parent of a student we had emergency suspended the day before and finalize an upcoming meeting date. School counselor stops me to ask some questions about course selections on our information system that are not coded correctly. This prompts another conversation about a conflict in the flowchart for traditional and advanced coursework. We set up a meeting to discuss and find a solution.

11:00 AM
I am in another classroom doing my observation in writing because the online version is still not working.

11:45 AM
I am in the lunchroom for second lunch helping with supervision and watching as students put donations in boxes for a fund-raiser. The teacher who gets the most money in their box will get a pie in the face. I have a box there with my name on it. I eat lunch and think about pie.

12:30 PM
I meet with our SRO (Student Resource Officer) who informs me about a situation that will require police presence to interview a student with the student parent present. We call the student out of class and facilitate the meeting.

1:30 PM
I have called my superintendent to give him a heads up on the situation because a parent has said she is contacting the media over the incident that happened on a school bus. I answer questions about student situation from a teacher who has stopped by on his planning period.

2:00 PM
I read emails and call the state department to ask a question about a report that needs to be re-opened. I respond to an invitation to an upcoming conference. I approve two maintenance requests, and a transportation request. I sign time sheets for our custodians and support staff, substitute forms, purchase order requests, and calendar requests.

I agree to a meeting with an insurance agent who wants to visit to discuss services he provides for schools. I meet with a senior student who needs a letter of recommendation.

2:50 PM
School dismisses and I walk the commons and bus stop areas to supervise. I answer more email questions from teachers. I text my wife about evening plans. I eat a snack. I work on a powerpoint for an upcoming workshop. I answer more emails.

4:00 PM
I go to the school gym and watch a girl’s basketball scrimmage where my daughter participates. I talk with our girl’s athletic director and check a few more emails on my Ipad.

5:30 PM My daughter and I stop for a quick bite on our way to a boy’s basketball game. The junior high and freshman boys are in a tournament.

8:00 PM
The freshman boys game started late because one of the junior high games went into over time. While watching the game, I catch up with a staff member on some happenings in the office that will need my attention tomorrow.

9:30 PM
I am home in time to kiss my 8-year old son good night and touch base with my other two daughters while their older sister who was with me wraps up her evening to-do’s.

10:30 PM
Before sleeping, my wife and I talk about events of the day. I check my personal emails (which I keep on a separate account from my school email). I update a blog draft and plug in my cell phone and sleep.

Not all my days are like this. Some are crazier and some less hectic. What I love about being a principal, though, is the constant change and problem solving.

What I have to guard against is losing sight of reaching specific short-term and long-term goals in the constant demand of addressing urgent or immediate requests.

Now It’s Your Turn
My experience is certainly not representative of every principal’s. School leaders manage lots of different tasks throughout the day. What are tasks you are managing in your current position? How do plan and prioritize in the midst of so many demands?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker