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What Does a Principal Do?

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Updated on May 8, 2013

Do you remember how your teachers taught you to spell “principal” and “principle”? The principal is your "pal."

Through this slightly corny mnemonic device, kids can remember that the principal is a human they can turn to for help. And yet many of us can remember the feeling of trepidation when we're told to go to the principal's office, a feeling that can follow us into adulthood if we're not careful. As a parent, any feelings of nervousness around your child's principal may stem from the mystery around what the principal actually does.

Okay, demystify them for me. What do principals do all day?

Vincent Myers, principal of West End Elementary School in Woodbury, New Jersey, begins and ends his day with children. In his seventh year as a principal, he's got a routine down. He arrives at the school at 6 a.m. to prepare for the day. He wants to get everything set and ready to go for any meetings that day, so that when students arrive at school around 8:30, he can direct his focus completely to them. He meets his students at the school's entrances and greets them as they start their school day. "It's important for me to be out there and visible to get them off to a good start," he says.

He does the daily morning announcements so that every student hears his voice and knows that he's in the building. Then, for the rest of the morning, he's usually tied up in meetings. He's responsible for managing the major administrative tasks and supervising all students and teachers. But in his school district, he also has to help with new initiatives and projects that affect multiple schools.

During lunch and recess, Principal Myers is back out among the children. He strives to make himself as visible as possible, which includes making impromptu visits in classrooms and helping students with their academics when possible. "Just because I oversee the whole building does not mean, in my mind, that I have to take a step back," he says. He works to be very hands-on and involved in the lives of his students.

Planning is a huge part of the job. He has to plan for the rest of the current year and simultaneously envision the future. He makes an honest effort to be home for dinner and to put his own kids to bed. "My whole day is about kids," he says proudly.

Busy day! How do my child's needs fit into that kind of schedule?

Myers has an open-door policy for parents. "If I shut my door on my parents, then I shut my door on my students," he says. He sees parents as part of the school's team and community.

If you find that your child's principal isn't as available as you would like, communicate that with him. You may be able to negotiate a compromise and a set of expectations that you're both comfortable with. Remember that he may not always be aware of the details of your child's academic and behavioral record. Your child's teacher should be able to fill in the blanks and act as a liaison between you and the principal.

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