In 1984 and 1985 I was a squad member on the football at Southeast Missouri State University. Had it not been for a debilitating injury and the fact that I just wasn’t good enough, I would have remained on the team, which ultimately won the division conference in 1987 and would have proudly sported a championship ring. Even though my athletic shortcomings hastened my career, I did learn three things as a “walk-on” that has helped me during my career as a school principal.

  1. Everybody in the organization plays a vital role.


As a “walk-on”, I was relegated to playing on the “scout team”, which was comprised of guys that would run the opposing teams plays so that the first and second string players could have someone to practice against. Scout team players were at the bottom rung of the ladder, yet, we worked hard so that we could prepare the starters for the upcoming game.  Each time I lined up against George Cahill, a future All American, I tried my hardest to beat him. Even though he continuously got the best of me, I did push him to develop his talent. What does this have to do with being a principal?


Think about your building for a moment. Every staff member plays a crucial role in the ultimate success or failure of your school. The cafeteria workers must prepare the food and serve it on time to get the students through the lines quickly. If problems exist in running the cafeteria smoothly, the problems may spill over into other areas of the building and can potentially have a negative impact on an entire school day. Likewise, a clean building promotes a positive attitude and sends the message that pride exists in the building. Custodians have the ability to make a first impression on visitors when they enter your building. They also have the ability to set a positive mood for staff and students. Nobody wants to show up to work or attend school in a dirty environment. So no matter one’s role or status in a school building, each team member plays a role in the overall success.   


  1. It’s okay to move on if something is not working (but you have to give it your best effort)


Being battered and bruised daily and missing out on all that college life had to offer, I decided that playing football was no longer worth it for me. Confronting the reality that I wasn’t good enough to compete in a sport I loved was difficult. I’d had given it my best shot and knew I had to establish a new identity for myself rather than that of a “football player.” As a building principal, I recognize when a procedure or program has been implemented in my school and has not yielded the benefits, which, had been desired, it’s okay to move on to another idea. Staying with something for the sake “sticking it out” is not always wise. In fact, knowingly staying with something that is not working is downright foolish, but be sure you have given it your best shot to be successful before moving onto something else.      


  1. Feedback is a must if you want to improve.


While I wasn’t good enough to continue my collegiate career, the continuous, specific, and immediate feedback I received from my coaches allowed me to grow and perform at my peak performance. Having coaches’ model, provide opportunities to practice, and guide me was such a positive experience. They also worked on developing my strengths instead of trying to correct all of my weaknesses. Without specific, timely, and actionable feedback, your teachers and students will never grow.


Points to Consider


Does each member of your staff know how vital they are to the success of the school? If you answered yes, what evidence do you have to support your answer? If you answered no, what will you do to let them know how vital they are?


Is there anything you or a staff member is currently doing that needs to stop?


How are you providing specific and actionable feedback to your staff? Are your teachers providing specific, immediate and actionable feedback to their students?