Your First Year as a School Leader: Advice from Fellow Principals and APs

When you look back at your first year as a school leader, what do you wish you had known – and what did you love learning? Your fellow lead learners shared advice, insights and inspiration for new principals and APs who will soon be starting their big first year in school leadership! From encouraging teacher and student voice to promoting instructional leadership to building a culture of equity and accountability, here are the words your fellow school leaders live and lead by: 

“Get caught up in the work, never the title. Actions speak louder than your words ever could. Teach when you can – it keeps you grounded, connected and respected! Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do, and make sure they know that you would. Embrace challenge and change!”

– Johnika Gayden-Gaines, 5-8 principal in LaPlace, Louisiana

“Leadership is a team sport! Invest in conversations about protocols and norms for equity of voice. Lead from your core values. Build accountability into your system. Communicate important messages often to staff. Listen.”

– Kelly Maloney, principal in Kent, Washington

Listen broadly and deeply, always – and exclusively so for most of the first year. Be kind enough, always, to be clear. Be wise enough to appreciate and courageous enough to inquire. Don’t let anyone pressure you to judge. I learned all this from experience and from a valued mentor, who still inspires me today!”

– Regina Lemerich Botsford, former superintendent in Connecticut

“Learn your school’s employees (not just teachers!) and observe your school’s culture. Be patient, because everything that you see in the beginning may not be the whole picture. Remember no one expects you to be perfect your first year. Continue to revisit your ‘why’ throughout the year!

– Joel T. Brown, middle school assistant principal in Washington, North Carolina

When you look back at your first year in school leadership, what lessons and insights come to mind? Add your words of wisdom for new principals and APs in a comment below – and for more conversations on back-to-school leadership, join your fellow lead learners in the #PrincipalProject community!