The upcoming holiday season provides a natural break in the school year. The next few weeks is an ideal time for administrators to reflect on the past few months, as well as project how the remainder of the school year will unfold. Throughout this process, principals should focus on a new set of 3 Rs: reflection, recognition and relaxation.


Ensure a Unified Effort

With the halfway point fast approaching, now is the time for principals to work with their staff to determine what goals have been attained and what other initiatives need to be further modified, pursued or terminated. This ensures ongoing focus on the school plan and that it continues to be a living, breathing document.

Rich, open professional dialogue should have occurred earlier in the school year as these goals were being established, but at this point all staff must be committed to them. One of the most important, and unquestionably most challenging, aspects of the school leader’s role is to maintain the proper balance of pressure and support.

Prioritize Relationships

Nurturing strong working relationships with staff members must continue to be an ongoing focus for every principal. At this point of the year, these connections are hopefully well established, but they still will require constant monitoring for the duration of the school year.

Besides continuing to prioritize these connections, principals must also continue to model resilience. Education has been dealt an extremely difficult hand over the past few years, and it continues to be paramount for principals to model a strong sense of personal and professional resilience in the midst of these most challenging times.

Embrace Personal Assessment

The most challenging aspect of any mid-year reflecting is undoubtedly the principal’s self-reflection of his/her own performance. We have previously discussed the need for some difficult conversations with staff over the course of the year, but there is no conversation more difficult than the one an administrator needs to have with oneself.

Making this process meaningful requires principals to review their strengths/weaknesses as a leader and the successes/challenges of their leadership. The most important part of this process, of course, is all about what resultant changes principals should/must initiate moving forward.


Acknowledge Effort

Principals need to acknowledge individual and collective growth among staff. Such growth may involve staff teaching a new grade, implementing a new initiative with their students and/or assuming greater professional responsibilities outside of the classroom. Some staff may also be running clubs, teams and other groups outside of class time, and their time and effort should very much be recognized and appreciated.

Such acknowledgements must be genuine and some staff will prefer private recognition, whereas for others, recognition within a group setting is most appreciated.

Affirm Holiday Stress

Advertising campaigns do their best to convince us that this is the most wonderful time of the year. The harsh reality, however, is that for many people, the holiday season triggers feelings that are anything but festive.

Undoubtedly some staff members and students’ families have suffered a significant personal loss this past year, while others may feel overwhelmed by the recession. Some students will be dealing with heightened anxiety over the next few weeks, as they have no idea how their family dynamic will cope without the structure and security of them going to school.

It is a noble cliche for leaders to reiterate that “my door is always open,” but the reality is that some people will never choose to walk through it. When people are struggling professionally and/or personally, they may not be in the mindset to actively seek the support they very much need. School leaders need to recognize when to take the initiative to reach out and walk through someone else’s door.


Clear Your Desk

Before a principal can begin to enter real holiday relaxation mode, he/she must make a conscious effort to release any job stressors that have been percolating. During the last few weeks before the break, focus on “clearing your desk” of all matters that need to be addressed. Otherwise, these issues will be a dark cloud hovering over all holiday festivities.

By the same token, some very important matters which may not be particularly urgent, should never be addressed in a rushed manner just for the sake of “resolving” them before the holidays. In fact, taking a few weeks away from such matters may well clear the principal’s head, offer new perspectives, and ultimately lead to a better overall decision.

Enjoy Family Time

The focus of the holiday season should always be on spending quality time with family and friends. Replace your many work-related responsibilities with family-related games and conversations. Don’t feel the least bit guilty about temporarily altering some long-standing routines in terms of sleep patterns and food consumption.

This is a time to privately reflect on one’s own physical and emotional health and to take the initiative to schedule any necessary appointments. The holidays are also a great time to rekindle a hobby; read a good book; or, get some exercise.

Begin the Transition

A few days before returning to school, principals need to refocus and prepare for the challenges of the next few months. The ideal time and place for such honest self-reflection is when one is physically and emotionally removed from the school building. The latter stage of the holiday season, therefore, is the perfect time to set and/or adjust key goals for the term ahead.

About the authors

Jamie Bricker and Jack Barclay are retired school principals who live just outside of Toronto, Ontario. They co-host the Matters of Principal podcast.