8. Survival Skills and Strategies

This book has been filled with information on many aspects of life as a principal. Whether you are a first-year principal or a seasoned veteran, please take care of yourself so that you can be the leader you have been called to be.



The principal needs to find the balance between the demands of personal and professional life. Few individuals would say that they wished they had spent more time at the office. The “to do” list is never completed. Working long hours robs you of personal and family time. Love your family by spending quality time with them; love yourself by maintaining your health; and love God by staying connected with Him.

Escape your office and enjoy the good things happening in your school. Walking around your school gives you the opportunity to interact with students and staff, shows that you care about what is happening, and reminds you why you’ve chosen to be the principal!


Principals, particularly those who are new or in a new assignment, can benefit by entering into a mentoring relationship with an experienced educational leader. In collaboration with the conference superintendent of schools, identify quality and experienced principals who will be willing to work with you.

Not only is it important to build a relationship with an experienced school principal, but it is also important to build a team of local people who know your community and can help you navigate some of the challenges. (Helpful Hint: the first person in a new community to befriend you may or may not be the best mentor–be aware of confidentiality issues and hidden agendas!)


A respected, experienced educational leader can be a mentor who will be particularly helpful as you:

  • Brainstorm on all aspects of the school program.
  • Build a faculty team.
  • Deal with day-to-day stress.
  • Delegate responsibilities.
  • Desire a nonjudgmental listening ear.
  • Develop and implement a budget.
  • Evaluate forms and procedures.
  • Foster relationships with constituent churches and pastors.
  • Generate professional development ideas.
  • Grow as a spiritual leader on campus.
  • Implement conference and union policy.
  • Interact with difficult parents.
  • Seek accountability for maintaining balance in your life.
  • Provide instructional leadership including teacher evaluation.
  • Process sensitive disciplinary situations.
  • Work through the accreditation process.


Principals can be more effective by consistently accessing information loops. These are made up of people who hold and/or pursue common interests, needs, and expectations and are willing to share what they know. They include:

  • Community/constituency members
  • Faculty and staff
  • Local conference and union personnel
  • Parents
  • Pastors
  • School board members
  • Students
  • Other stakeholders

Information can be discreetly gleaned from each of these groups regarding the school’s history, operation, past successes, and disappointments. This information, used wisely, can allow you to more effectively meet the needs and expectations of these various, and sometimes conflicting, stakeholder groups.

What Are Some of the Bumps and Lumps?

Some of the common bumps and lumps that have undermined the effectiveness of a principal are:

  • Avoiding or not accepting accountability.
  • Failing to build and maintain appropriate relationships with faculty, staff, parents, board members, pastors, and other stakeholders.
  • Growing stale professionally.
  • Not balancing management and leadership.
  • Being inconsistent in decision making or applying policy.
  • Communicating ineffectively/insufficiently.
  • Losing spiritual focus.
  • Micromanaging; inability or unwillingness to trust those with whom you work.
  • Reacting inappropriately to a situation.

How Can I Avoid the Pain of the Bumps and Lumps?

Learning and consistently employing a variety of life hacks helps a principal’s overall effectiveness. Some strategies to consider include:

  • Address issues—the right ones at the right time.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Celebrate the success.
  • Cultivate interests and relationships outside the school.
  • Do not try to solve all the problems by yourself.
  • Exercise daily; eat healthfully; sleep regularly.
  • Grow professionally.
  • Guard your worship time.
  • Include others in solving problems.
  • Keep a close eye on school finances.
  • Keep an open-door policy—and know when to close it.
  • Learn the art of saying “no.”
  • Maintain confidentiality.
  • Move around your school and community.
  • Place family appointments in your calendar and keep them.
  • Stay in frequent communication with your superintendent, board chair and pastor(s).

How Can I Recover From the Bumps and Lumps?

Be resilient!

  • Accurately assess past and current reality.
    • Expect the world to be filled with disruptions.
    • Develop a high tolerance for ambiguity, paradox, and complexity.
    • Determine root causes and risks posed by adversity.
    • Understand reality from multiple perspectives.
  • Be positive about future possibilities.
    • Focus on opportunities, not obstacles.
    • Expect that good things can happen despite adversity.
    • Exert positive influence to create positive outcomes.
    • Maintain a positive perspective for the long-term outcome–change takes time.
  • Remain true to personal values.
    • Be clear about what matters most in the hierarchy of values.
    • Stay focused on being value-driven, not event-driven.
    • Solicit feedback to align values and actions.
    • Model personal core values for others.
  • Maintain a strong sense of personal efficacy.
    • Recover quickly from setbacks.
    • Achieve and celebrate small victories.
    • Maintain confidence in personal competence.
    • Recognize you won’t win them all.
    • Sustain a base of caring and support.
  • Invest personal energy wisely.
    • Renew physical energy through periodic recovery time.
    • Develop emotional empathy and self-awareness.
    • Maintain clear mental focus and steady concentration in the face of adversity.
    • Invest in spiritual-driven purposes and causes beyond oneself.
  • Act on the courage of personal convictions.
    • Be clear and act on what matters most, even when risks are high.
    • Act decisively when deepest values are at stake.
    • Remain courageous in the face of strong opposition.
    • Acknowledge and learn from mistakes by modifying actions to align with values.


Principals know that time is a precious commodity—once used, it cannot be recalled. Managing time effectively is of primary importance to a successful principal:

  • Attend events where your presence makes a difference.
  • Beat procrastination: “just do it!”
  • Carve out time for planning, reflection, and creative thinking.
  • Delegate tasks that others can do.
  • Document, document, document.
  • Match effort to importance of the task.
  • Organize, organize, organize.
  • Implement a system for efficient handling of communication and paperwork.
  • Refuse to do other people’s work for them or to make their problems your own.
  • Reward yourself for completing major projects.
  • Use technology as a time-saver, not a time waster.
  • Use your administrative assistant as a discreet “screener.”
  • Vary your schedule.
  • Keep your to-do list prioritized—important vs. urgent; leadership vs. management.

While taking care of the office duties is important, it is more important to build and nurture relationships with faculty, students, and parents.


  • Join a professional organization.
  • Read professional journals and books.
  • Attend conventions and workshops.
  • Complete graduate coursework.
  • Participate in accreditation visits.
  • Visit a variety of schools to network and see what is working.