Does Time Management for the Principal Exist?

In my six years as principal of Martinsburg High School, I have realized that it does not matter what my plan is when I walk in the door at 7:00 a.m., it is always going to change based on the myriad situations I am faced with throughout the day.  If you ever find a professional development session for administrators that starts out with a heading like “time management for administrators in order to get everything done,” you should be very skeptical as to whether this leader has ever worked in a school as an administrator. What normally happens is I spend 80 percent of my day putting out fires and prioritizing which of those fires need my attention and which of those fires can I delegate to an assistant. Which bring me to my question for all of you: How should school leaders manage their time to make the most of their day?

In the beginning of my career as an assistant principal and as a principal I found it very hard to leave the office and go home when there were still tasks to be accomplished.  It would often leave me stressed to the point that my time at home with my family could not be enjoyed.

I attribute a lot of this to my father, who was a carpenter by trade. He was a stickler for making sure the job was done right. One of the things that I did not understand was that my father always cleaned up the job site before leaving for the evening.  Now that would not have been as hard to comprehend if we were working in a house that was lived in on a daily basis, but most of the houses he worked in were second homes or weekend places.  So why do we clean up a place that we are going to come back to tomorrow and dirty up again?  One day I got up the nerve to ask him that question, and he responded, “Chances are these people will not be here tonight, but what if they did show up unannounced? They would judge my work based off the way this place looks, and I don’t want them judging me based on a dirty worksite.”

Well, early in my career that was my attitude.  I did not want to leave any messes that I could be judged by till the morning.  It has only been in the last year that I have realized being an administrator is a little different when it comes to those messes. It was probably the loss of my mom in April that helped me to realize that leaving some things unfinished until the morning is probably not an issue that is going to bring about the end of the world.  I still need to be the instructional leader of my building, but the relationship piece of this profession is so much more important.  I still try to make instruction important through some of the schedules that I make for myself to ensure that I get into classrooms and give teachers feedback

Here is the takeaway, though. When you get to the end of your career—or even deeper, the end of this ride we call life—you are not going look back and think about that year your school had those great test scores or the year your teams won the state championship. You are going to reflect on the relationships you built with students, staff, and colleagues. Don’t feel bad about putting off dealing with that fire if you have an opportunity to build a relationship. In the end, relationship-building is going to bring more dividends than putting out the fire, and chances are the fire will still be burning in the morning.

Trent Sherman is the principal of Martinsburg High School in Martinsburg, WV.  He is married to Melissa, and they have one son, Trenton, who is a junior at MHS. Like most West Virginians, he enjoys anything outdoors and spending time with family. He is the 2018 West Virginia Principal of the Year.

4 Comments

  • robert myers says:

    Excellent article, Trent. You have learned early in your career that you have to take care of YOU if you are going to care for others. It truly is the relationships that will last….test scores last until the next test!!!!

  • Andrew Coppinger says:

    Thank you for the reminder, Trent. I’ve been a HS principal for 23 years and I think somewhere around the same point in my career I came to the same realization as you did – there is always more to do, and more that someone thinks we should be doing, than time allows. No one is going to protect my personal time, my family time, my health, but me. Balance in all things is my goal.

  • Patrick says:

    I have been a HS principal for 22 years in St. Louis County. I have also learned and taught other administrators my favorite saying. “Have the good sense to do nothing, when nothing seems right.” It goes along the same lines that often, after a nights rest, the problem may still be present. Yet, your thought process might have changed slightly. You may not be emotionally charged. You may have thought of something else, something new, something important, something that helps your make a clearer decision. People want Principals to decide something “Right Now.” Other professions gather data, reflect, work in teams, collaborate, rarely do they make hallway passing decisions which impact the lives of people. Principals are asked often to do this, but we can have the “Good sense to do nothing, when nothing seems right.” That advice has served me well and I trust it will serve you well if you follow it.

  • Derek Adams says:

    This is very insightful and after nine years as an Assistant Principal and Athletic Director, I’ve taken the leap to be a Principal. During my time, I’ve adhered to the wisdom of one my mentors. He often said to me “This job is 24/7, it’ll never end, and you’ll never be done. There’s always a list and always something to do. You have to control it and not let it control you.”

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