Serving Strategically while Keeping Your Own Needs in Mind

Conversation at a job with professional women.Assistant principals have super powers. I may be a little biased, but it makes the statement no less true. You are the gravitational pull in the orbit of all things school, the nuts and bolts of a complex learning machine, and the peanut butter between two school lunch breads. You get the point! You all are the unsung heroes who capture the flag, but often pass it for others to wave. During my time as an assistant principal, there were tips I applied to help me serve strategically without completely neglecting my own needs. Here are a few of my life-savers:

Maximize Your Minutes – I can recall days that I entered my office, placed my belongings on my desk, and headed to the lounge to grab my caffeine of choice. I would return hours later to see  my bags were still unpacked and my computer was still snoozing from the day before. As an AP, you often feel your time is not used at your own discretion due to being pulled in so many directions. You must be thoughtful in your problem solving, private investigator skills, and methods for communicating in order to maximize your minutes! Before you know it the clock will run out. One way to accomplish this is to prioritize by determining which things are: Smoking, On Fire, or Extinguished.

“You must be thoughtful in your problem solving, private investigator skills, and methods for communicating in order to maximize your minutes!”

Smoking: These situations have the potential to need immediate attention but have not become matters of concern. In these instances, details may still be gathered, and they may even take care of themselves over time with the help of other staff members, students, or parents.

On Fire: Suit up and sound the firehouse bells! These situations will require 100% of your energy and time. If left unattended, they could burn to the ground. There are times when these situations are too large to handle alone. Determine who can “suit up” with you in order to divide and conquer a few of the tasks.

Extinguished: These situations are where resolutions have been found but don’t put the fire extinguisher down just yet! These matters have a tendency to reignite the next day or later in the week and follow up may be required.

Prioritize People over Projects – It is tough not to prioritize people when a staff member is waving their arms in distress. However, there are times when you do have a choice between completing the task or calling the parent, meeting with the teacher, or having lunch with the kiddo. Think of these moments as investments. Each time that you arrange a way to put people first, you are setting yourself up to reap grace, understanding, or more importantly a chance to build or strengthen a relationship. Now, let’s be real. There are times when putting off a time sensitive project is out of the question. In those instances, do the “thing.” However, if at all possible, make people your priority and watch your investments grow.

“Each time that you arrange a way to put people first, you are setting yourself up to reap grace, understanding, or more importantly a chance to build or strengthen a relationship.”
Principal meeting with parents.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Be the Bridge – I thought of the role of the assistant principal as a bridge between the principal and….well, everyone else. This does not imply that the principal is disconnected by any means. I am only suggesting that the assistant principal possesses a vantage point that is unique. The AP may be able to gather information from staff, students, and parents that could be useful to the principal in making sound decisions. The duties of an AP exposes them to the pluses and deltas that exist around the school. The nature of a principal’s role calls them to think more globally, whereas the nature of an assistant’s work puts them closer to the deets. By being a bridge, large and small goals are accomplished more quickly in all aspects.

Find the Fun – Whether it is laughter, music, field sports, elevated voices (unless it is a piercing scream)…find it! It may lead you to the staff, students, or both doing something that may illuminate your day. Finding the fun and filling up on it may give you the fuel that you need. Now let’s level the playing field here and recognize the bogus field day occurrences that will land you in the front seat in an ambulance, accompanying a child who has broken their fibula doing a potato sack race. Been there, no fun. Nonetheless, boost the morale, wear the silly costume, dunk tank for the cause, and dance it out!

Lead then Leave – This is your cue to fold up that cot and put it in your trunk! Business hours are over! This line of work can lead one to put the needs of others before their own. I am here to tell you there is always work to be done and young lives to be impacted. However, we can not exhaust ourselves by arriving early in the morning and staying late into the night consistently. Consider tightening up some systems, reorganizing, delegating, or even being okay with allowing some things to wait. Burnout is real and is often detected too late. Give yourself permission to lead at your best and then leave for the day. Days when the work extends into the evening may show up here and there, but running on an empty tank lessens productivity. Even computers need to sleep to function correctly, so you, too, can power down.

“Give yourself permission to lead at your best and then leave for the day.”

I would often joke by saying I needed to clone myself to divide my daily duties. The truth is that I needed to be content with serving at my personal best while embracing I am only one person. Assistant principals continue to provide all involved with the roadmap to a successful learning experience. In the meantime, you must also set up guide posts to avoid losing your own way. I encourage you to serve strategically while taking care of yourself on this journey. We need you.