If you are reading this article, you probably have already obtained unique and transferable skills that can be used when you retire. You have specialized knowledge and are highly qualified to do many different things. The knowledge you have gained from your lessons in leadership over the years in education is valuable, not only to higher education but to business and government agencies.
Indeed, there are lessons learned as a principal (and, for me, three years in the superintendent’s office) that teach skills for the future, bring a chance for a change in careers, or provide the opportunity for other work in order to feel satisfied.
As a principal, you have likely learned that you set the climate for those around you. One thing I discovered is that I used a specific tone of voice in giving direction that was respectful. It turns out, I also needed that voice to remain calm, cool, and collected so that I could set a positive tone. I learned that I could escalate or de-escalate a conversation, meeting, or conflict by setting the climate for those around me. Leaders are often not in leadership positions after retirement and are grateful for that, but years of practice gave me this voice that I can now use to contribute to policy, processes, and procedures of organizations or job sites. Working for someone brings forth your ability to use influence, experience, forethought, and creative ability to improve the organization.
Organizations all have their own unique public images and need employees who understand the effort it takes to project positive ethics and appreciate all the functions of an organization. I have learned to work for higher education institutions in different capacities, such as observing student teachers in post-graduate programs seeking their additional license in teaching ESL and serving in two different higher education positions (monitoring and serving on master’s project review boards). I have also benefited from assisting in writing mission statements, vision statements, and setting goals.
Multifaceted Job Duties
I realized that being a principal helped hone my skills in many important tasks, such as juggling a number of tasks at a time, writing job descriptions and evaluations, preparing a budget (which, inevitably, had to cover everything with less funds each year), and planning, preparing, and leading meetings. I’ve expressed these skills in webinars, in person, and through remote meetings. I have been able to listen and use the ideas of others in formal planning and in reflection. Understanding how decisions are made prepares you for success.
Determining Training Needs
Teaching and learning happen in all organizations. Since I have a basic foundation in educational leadership and an undergraduate degree in business, I have been able to determine training needs and set up programs based on learning styles of employees that provide different ways to assess their learning. I gained experience in a diverse learning environment working with government grants when I was a principal of a school with a 100 percent ESL population. I learned how to find licensed staff and upgrade teaching methods for ESL and translation aids, all while seeking and implementing different sustainable funding sources.
The Importance of PRIDE
Successful principals have the ingrained attribute of PRIDE—personal responsibility in daily effort. I learned that even though each day is often extremely well-planned, there are so many unplanned events. Being a principal teaches you to practice flexibility, forces you to accomplish the best results in uncertain situations, and drives you to respond and react in a professional manner. You must plan to be intentional about reaching out to others so you are seen as approachable in order to build rapport.
Goals, mission statements, and vision statements are all valuable writing experiences, but I learned that they must be monitored and adjusted, and that the words on paper or the computer mean little if not articulated. Each employee or student should be able to articulate in their own words these statements so that they can tell a visitor what they include.
The principal has a lead role in evaluations of employees and performance—a valuable skill in any profession. There must be clear, consistent, and predictable criteria and levels of achievement. Expectations, along with a rating scale, must be expressed, and you must allow room for discussion. Human resource departments provide the hiring requirements, set up protocol for employee unions, and determine who has rights in certain situations.
The principal has a lead role in understanding what teachers include in their lessons. As you urge teachers to have clear, concise guidelines that promote basic skills (such as critical thinking), keep in mind that this can translate to the business world in relation to how you handle insurance companies, work procedures, or meetings that have criteria to follow. High expectations can be a way to motivate, enhance quality of work, and show the public that all things are considered carefully, thoughtfully, and using uniform criteria.
Ensuring Personal Safety
I have learned that the principal is the leader of the school in ensuring that all forms of personal safety are practiced, enforced, taught, and followed. These life lessons are good for people of any age to know and embrace. These safety skills are learned not only in the school building, but on buses, at sporting events, in meetings outside the defined school day, on field trips, and during compliance checks. The coordinated efforts with local police, security companies, teachers, principals, and district security afford the opportunity to form personal bonds and mutual respect.
Keeping in contact with individuals and organizations assures that you are on track and acknowledges that you need to and are willing to attend training sessions in the future. All these attributes showcase an employee that is valued and able to contribute in significant ways.
Even the most accomplished leaders often assume that there will be many opportunities for them after retiring from school. Be sure to keep your skills current, however. With the current technology-driven markets, your skills, strategies, and tools must be renewed for each experience. Finding a job that fits what you like to do and fits your schedule may not be as easy to obtain and sustain after retirement as you might expect.
The lessons from the past—serving on boards, volunteering for events, connecting to businesses in the community, attending book clubs or athletic club events, reading and editing business journals, doing research on your own about subjects you enjoy—all prepare you for future employment, if that is how you choose to spend your time after retirement from school. I’ve learned that I love serving students that are learning English as a second (or third, or fourth!) language. I love learning about different languages and cultures, and that has led me to several different jobs as a result of my experiences. Today, I am happy for the lessons of my past.
Eleanor Ruth Schultz, EdD, is a former principal from Minneapolis Public Schools and is currently a writing consultant.