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Home » Leadership Topics » School Site Management » Do It Yourself!

Do It Yourself!

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As I reflect back on my 17 years as a principal, recalling the constraints and pressures, I think I can attribute much of the stress to my leadership style. I was a very hands-on principal. I wanted to be involved in most aspects of school leadership. While it contributed to longer days and probably to more stress, my leadership style didn’t allow me to delegate many responsibilities.

Delegation Doesn’t Work
While time management experts recommend that principals delegate some of their responsibilities, the problem for me was to whom should I delegate tasks. Too often, I found that when I delegated important tasks to clerical or instructional staff, the work simply did not get done with the same level of quality and attentiveness that I would have brought to the task While there are relatively unimportant tasks that can be delegated, the major responsibilities—the ones that truly add to a principal’s stress—simply cannot be delegated by hands-on school leaders if they want to ensure quality control over both the process and the end product.

How about routine communication? The time management experts recommend delegating most of those tasks to your secretary. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me. During my tenure, I wrote a weekly bulletin for staff, a monthly newsletter for parents, and a monthly column for the PTA newsletter. Whereas I sometimes did delegate my PTA column to other staff members as “guest contributors,” there was no way I was going to delegate the actual writing of my staff bulletin or parent newsletter to my secretary—
or anyone else. These communications vehicles reflected my voice in promoting my vision, reinforcing curriculum priorities, and educating my target audiences about important matters.

The time management experts also recommend saving time by using a gatekeeper to avoid constant interruptions, but I always maintained an open-door policy. I felt it was extremely important that anyone who needed to see me could walk right in. Immediate access often diffused potential problems. Knowing that a constant stream of visitors prevented me from completing office work during school hours, I chose to come in earlier each day, stay later each afternoon, and bring work home with me each evening.

Suggestions for Survival
What survival advice can I offer in hindsight to those whose leadership style tends to be very active and hands-on?

Writing. Consider writing for publication about stressful situations in school. Doing so helped me clarify my thoughts and acted as a pressure valve to relieve stress.

Acceptance. If you choose an active leadership style, you must accept the reality that it will create time commitments that add more pressure to an already stressful job. I had to drop or decrease some of my outside commitments, and I often opened and closed the school building. But it was necessary, and ultimately less stressful, to devote the time needed to do the job the way I felt it must be done.

Outside Activities. Make the time to engage in activities outside the school that let you relax and feel good. Golfing and bowling worked for me. So did teaching poetry and word games to children on Saturday mornings. These “non-principal” activities brought me pleasure and relieved job-related stress.

Quit. If you’re feeling pressure to a point where you’re not enjoying your work most of the time, you have a long way to go until retirement, and there is little hope of change that will significantly improve matters…get out! Take another administrative position elsewhere or move to the central office. A change of environment can be a positive step.

Now that I am retired, what has hindsight taught me? Quite simply, I realize that I couldn’t have led my school in any other way than I did. My personality and personal philosophy of leadership was simply not geared to a more laid-back style. For those of you who, like me, need to be more actively hands-on and are prepared to devote all those hours to doing the job right as you see it, my advice is to “go with the flow”—and enjoy the ride!

Allan S. Vann is a retired elementary school principal. His e-mail address is

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