I recently came across another principal’s tweet: “Relationships during the day, and paperwork at night.” As a veteran school leader, the notion of principals being the first to arrive at school and the last to leave, while working well into the evening has caused me much angst.

When I first became a principal, I heard stories of how my predecessor came to school at the crack of dawn, attended every school event, and wouldn’t leave the building until close to midnight. He was a legend. The expectation was that I would follow suit. I would attend home football games, volleyball games, basketball games, wrestling matches, track and field meets, multiple band, choir, and orchestra concerts, academic team competitions, plays/musicals, awards ceremonies, dances, weekend championship tournaments, and fulfill all other duties as assigned by my superintendent.

However, I was the mother of a child less than a year old, and I lived 30 minutes from my school. Many nights, I couldn’t make it home in time to feed her or put her to bed because I had evening events. The mom guilt I experienced was real.

To free up some of my nights, my assistant principal and I decided to split up evening duties; he would take Mondays and Wednesdays, and I would take Tuesdays and Thursdays. Any additional events I would attend, including our district’s evening committee meetings.

As time went on, I would bring my daughter to my games, concerts, and plays. She lived in my school almost as much as I did. Looking back, I remember many nights buying fast food or concession stand hot dogs for her dinner. She would be content eating and playing on her device. Teachers would bring their kids too, and our gym looked like a romper room.

In elementary school, my daughter would ask me to come to various school activities. I often worried about how it would look if I slipped away during the school day to be the class “mom” at another school. One year, she begged me to chaperone a field trip. The next day when I picked her up from school, she was so excited. She said the teacher asked the class what the best thing about the field trip was, and one student said, “Kay’s mom. She made it fun.” It doesn’t get better than that!

When my daughter entered junior high and had her own activities, I had to figure out how to get her to and from practice as well attend my own events. It was difficult. I relied on family and friends for help, but I wanted to be there to support my child. I wanted to see her play the euphonium at band concerts. I wanted to watch her play volleyball for her school. The principal guilt I experienced was real, too. People notice when administrators are not at school events.

Prioritizing Family Time

When my daughter entered high school, I had a decision to make. She made the freshman volleyball team, and I was determined to be present for her. Principals have all experienced times when school ends, and it takes some parents an additional hour or more to pick up their student. On a few occasions, I have been that parent. It’s a struggle figuring out how to be everywhere at once.

I shared my schedule with my administrative team (an assistant principal and athletic director) so that we could develop a plan. We asked teachers and administrative interns if they were available to supervise evening activities at school.

It wasn’t just me feeling torn between family and job responsibilities. Other administrators have shared with me that the need to be present for everyone else and the extracurricular activities they are expected to supervise have taken a toll on their families and marriages. Many of my male colleagues experience principal guilt, too.

As I reflect on my career this Mother’s Day, I remember as a teacher having a principal who left the building right behind the buses at dismissal, and he led an effective building. I worked for another principal who believed that she needed to be the first to arrive and the last to leave, and she ran an effective building. Another principal lived for junior high school sports and attended every game; he led an effective building. There is no perfect way to do it.

Eventually, I realized I could not live up to the expectations of my predecessor. And that was ok. I stopped feeling guilty about the events I couldn’t attend and enjoyed the ones I could. When teachers wanted to put evening programs on the school calendar, I asked them to find teacher supervisors to help.

Yes, it’s important to be involved in the school that you lead, but it doesn’t have to be constant. Attending every event doesn’t make you a great building leader. It makes you a busy and exhausted one. And when you’re busy and exhausted, you’re not good for anyone at home or school.

Now, I prioritize my family time when I can. If my daughter has a game, I am there, watching and cheering her on. If I need to take her to practice or pick her up, I do. I no longer feel guilty for missing some of my school events or feeling like I must be the first one in the building, the last to leave, complete paperwork in the evening, and be present for people during the day. I am doing it all—whenever I can, which is what effective principals do.

My perspective has changed as well. I am a mom first and then a principal. I feel good about that. It works for me.

Visit https://www.nassp.org/leadership-networks/ to learn more about NASSP’s Leadership Networks.

About the Author

Crystal Murff Thorpe, PhD, is the principal of Fishers Junior High School in Fishers, IN. She is a co-facilitator of NASSP’s Aspiring School Leaders Network.

1 Comment

  • Rhonda Tourner says:

    Sometimes it takes a minute to learn to prioritize and navigate your routine when it fomes to job and family. But when you do it’s the greatest reward ever. Win win!

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