Staying Sane in the Sandbox: Lessons in Principal Leadership

Leaders Need Opportunities to Learn.

Recently I followed a twitter conversation about principals speaking at conferences instead of leading in their schools. My question since reading and reflecting on the post and comments is ‘Why does it have to be one or the other?’

I love my school, I pull into the parking lot everyday and look forward to what lies ahead. My school position holds two unique programs: we are the only public kindergarten program in the district (so all 400 kindergarten students come to our school) and we also offer families a choice between two different school calendars-a ‘year round’ and ‘traditional’. What that means is the school secretary and I serve students, staff and families from August 1st to mid June (equating to about 200 student contact days between both calendars).

March has always been a bit challenging for me in this position. Our year round calendar staff, students and families are into their 2nd three week break of the year while the rest of the student body is still in session.

This March however I had the opportunity to spend two days in Fergus Falls, Minnesota as a principal facilitator for the Minnesota Principal Academy . The unit I was chosen for completely stretched my skill sets. Unit 5: Leadership in the Instructional Core Part 1: Language Arts and History gave me opportunities to read research about instructional practices and ask questions of middle and high school teachers to prepare to teach the content. I was able to spend two days engaging in conversations with principals 4 1/2 hours from where I lead, and I learned a ton.

So yes I was out of the building, yes I was facilitating a workshop with other principals, but I was also learning. Monday I will pull into the school parking lot with an energy I haven’t had in a few weeks. I am excited to connect with teachers about what I learned from other elementary principals, to share information with secondary administrators, and was even texting central office staff while I was there about tools I was hearing about for possible implementation back home.

Whenever I go somewhere to speak, consult or facilitate I always feel like I have gotten more from the participants than I have given them.

I am grateful to work in a district that allows administrators opportunities to learn and connect with other leaders. I enjoy having opportunities to attend/present at conferences when I can connect with other leaders of early learning and learn from their leadership. I continue to be humbled whenever a published author takes time to meet with me after a session to answer questions or help me dig deeper into concepts they have researched, and most importantly I return back to my school a better leader than when I left.

Looking back on that twitter discussion, if I would have commented on the thread my concern wouldn’t be about leadership that continues to find ways to learn…it would be for the leaders who never leave their office or seat.


looking for opportunities to grow as a leader as well?

2 thoughts on “Leaders Need Opportunities to Learn.”

  1. Interesting take and I hope your district allows you some flexibility to persue presenting. I do feel it makes you a stronger educator and you get to see how other districts function. Those in higher academia feel those of us at the school level should be able to do this. However, I’m not sure schools would see it this way, much less pay us for it or even agree to days without pay . As an older and worn out SLP I’ve tried to expand my skill set beyond just servicing children. The one time I left to present a poster session at a 3 day conference, my principal was very nasty about it. I had not taken any sick days, attended other conferences or presented (except to school staff without any reimbursement). I worked part time so it was only a day and a half that I would take without pay. My presenting hasn’t turn into anything grand but I know it would have been a fight to take more time off to present (paid or not). How often would you allow your SLP to be out of the building to present? I have a feeling you would work with the situation until union contracts or higher administration wouldn’t let you any more. For SLPs there are also legal issues to consider such as due dates and mandated services. It is very hard for those in education to move up without getting higher degrees or taking time off to build a new niche. Most educators can’t afford to do that. Good luck with futrue presentations. By the way…..I got back from that conference and quit my job. In over 30 years I had never quit a job mid year and it tore me up to do it. Maybe in the future teachers/administrators/SLPs will be putting wording in contracts to allow them more flexibility to present.


    1. Teresa-thanks for sharing your perspective. Our SLP attend’s conferences annually and they also have days throughout the year to connect and collaborate within the district. I am so sorry to hear of your experiences in your district.


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