Top 5 Signs You’re Overwhelmed as a Principal

Dr. Kimberly McLeod | 1/17/2020, 10:30 a.m.
You don’t walk the halls anymore. You know that you should be visible, but if you leave the fire you ...

1. You don’t walk the halls anymore. You know that you should be visible, but if you leave the fire you are currently putting out, the building may burn down. Not just one room in the building, the entire building! The minute you put that fire out, you discover the embers from that fire started another one that is blazing right behind you. Sign number one that you are overwhelmed as a principal is that you are always in crisis mode and not in creation mode. No one can thrive in a building that is constantly in crisis, day after day; year after year and fire after fire.

2. Kid here, kids there, kids, kids everywhere! Sign number two that you are overwhelmed as a principal is that the one occasion when you do walk the halls, kids are all over the place. You see two kids take bathroom breaks twice in ten minutes, kids running the halls, dragging slowly down the halls. Ummmm are they playing chase? Where is this entire classroom? They are supposed to be in this area by now. Wait, who is missing? Well find him! Why are we spending 30 minutes transitioning? Why is this student outside of the classroom on the floor doing work? With all this activity in the hallway, who is in the classroom actually learning? You open the door to a classroom and see sign number three.

3. The worksheet jungle. You walk in a classroom and examine all the walls and all you see are worksheets. This is an issue, but it becomes a crisis when you find that your best teachers have worksheet jungle fever also! Worksheets are falling out of kids desks like they have decayed. Worksheets on the walls, worksheets in the trash, worksheets stuffed in backpacks, worksheet scraps on the floor, worksheets taped to the board. The worksheet has become the primary stimulator for engagement and that stimulator is BORING. So as a result, sign number 2 just delivered another gut punch because all you see are that kids are here, kids are there, kids are just everywhere.

4. A classic sign you are overwhelmed as a principal is when you stop taking care of you. Sign number 4. You take care of everyone and neglect your own needs. Even when you are not at work, your mind is still there; and if your mind is there, so is the impact that stress has on your body. When self-care moves to the last thing on your list, you are overwhelmed. Even if your mind doesn’t know it, your body certainly does.

5. Instruction what is that? Now you know that your teachers have had PLENTY of professional development. Plenty. Yet, when you peer into a classroom there is absolutely no sign that it transferred to the classroom. Sign number five that you are overwhelmed as a principal. You know what instruction should look like, but what you see in your classrooms is barely a distant relative. Teachers have gone completely off the grid and are doing their own thing; or they are recklessly executing the district/campus initiative. All are quickly burning out because nothing seems to be working. They feel like giving up and secretly, silently, in that place that no one can hear your thoughts, you feel like giving up too.

Don’t. Don’t give up. Principals don’t get overwhelmed because they don’t understand what to do; on the contrary, they know exactly what to do and they try to accomplish absolutely all of it – at the same time. You can’t. When you are ready to acknowledge that, then you are ready to revive your inner leader. Take a step back, assess your multiple problems on the campus and list every single one of them out. Then prioritize your list. Pick the top three that are most critical and focus on just three. You’ll find that when you and your team master those, the others will follow without you having to do much work. Breathe, because your lungs need air and your mind needs a moment to slow down in order to catch up. You can do this, but take care you of you first.

Dr. Kimberly McLeod is a 25-year education professional and an expert consultant in the field of cultural responsiveness. To get more solutions on reaching, teaching and leading with a culturally responsive mindset, visit Connect with Dr. McLeod on Twitter @mcleodkr, FB/drkmcleod, Linkedin/KimberlyMcLeod or email