Principals, Maximize your Impact on the 1st day of School

The first day.

There’s nothing like it. Definitely one of the best days of the year, second only to graduation. You may be asking yourself, what should I do be doing on an important day like this? How do you make the biggest impact?

I’m going into my 5th year as Principal and my umpteenth year working in schools, but it still gives me butterflies. For weeks, I’ve been struggling to sleep, my mind racing with ideas and to do lists. We made it through the Welcome Back PD, with sriracha of course, and now it’s time for the kids to come back.

I’ve been at the school late at night, and all weekend and here we are at the first day of school.

In short, it is all about making sure everyone feels good, has what they need, and making magic happen behind the scenes. The school, the teachers, and the classrooms are the stage. You, and your support team are backstage, pulling levers, moving the spotlight, and playing the music.

So what should a leader do on the first day of school?

Be visible

It helps to be at the entrance to greet everyone!

Greeting Students Strengthens School Culture - Culturally Responsive Leadership

A leader leads and sets the tone for everyone else. That starts with arriving early, being at the door to greet all students as they arrive and shake hands of family members. Play some music, blow up some balloons, and put up a ‘Welcome Back’ banner. This is what the Heath brothers call a “peak moment.”

Be outside during passing periods. Say hello to students, give some dap and high fives. Let students know you are excited to see them. Even if you are stressed and worried to make sure that everything is perfect, remember to smile and let your teachers know that you believe in them. Show that you’re happy they are here.

In addition, go outside and play with students during lunch, to help build community and show that you are more than a robot that sends out emails.

Get into the classes!

Visit classes and participate in the community building. If students are playing a game, join in. And be extra silly. Draw funny pictures, play two truths and a lie, and join in on the human knot. Give your teachers a head nod or a wink and left them know that you see them working hard. Teachers want to know that you will have their back, and that you care about their work.

Classroom observations and visits bring up all types of emotions related to evaluation and judgment. But, when you spend enough time in the classroom it will build the trust necessary for truly being a coach, instead of a supervisor. Your students are also watching. They see if you’re in the classroom or in your office and they’re noticing where your priorities lie. So show that their learning, safety, and inclusion is paramount to you.

Hook your teachers up!

Leave a small gift or message for your teachers. Nothing wrong with dropping off a little somethin to welcome your teachers back to a new school year. Teaching is fueled by the spirit and the soul. So feed that soul. Leave a small plant, a sweet treat, or pastry.

Make sure you include a personalized note letting them know how much they mean to you and how important their work is. Teacher Appreciation Week is not only in April. It should be every day, so let’s make it that way.

Coffee and Donuts

Depending on your level of school, parents may be dropping off their students and some will linger around a little longer. Give them something to stay for. Pick up a few dozen donuts, a carton of coffee, and a few pastries. Set up your cafeteria or library with some music and a warm reception for your families. Go a little bit further and create a sign-up sheets for parents to volunteer for various jobs or committees, and invite them to school governance groups.

To add to that, grab a few T-shirts for sale, a few books that students will read and give parents a preview of what they can expect this year. Make sure you say a few words about your vision for the year, share celebrations from the previous year, and any new changes that they should be aware of. Make sure that you translate for parents who speak languages other than English and it doesn’t hurt to show a few pictures in a slideshow.

Clear the roadblocks

Make sure all the copiers work!

You know what it feels like to fight the copy machine, clear out paper jams, and yell obscenities at the Xerox. So make sure that it’s working, the paper is full, and the godforsaken laminator works. Turn it on and test it out. This will allow teachers to focus on teaching and building relationship.


  • I definitely have spent some of the first days of school running around moving furniture and tables and chairs. (Ask me about the construction years). But I have learned to make sure that this stuff is all done well before the first day, so that I can focus on being responsive to the needs of our staff.
  • I also tried many years to do things myself and run around frantically. Recently, I’ve been planning ahead well in advance, and making sure that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. You should know who is making sure that student schedules are in order and who’s making sure the breakfast and lunches are ready.
  • As much as you want to sit down and write an email, or respond to another request from your supervisor, it is far more important to be outside with students and with the staff.
  • I read once the trust is built on being impeccable with your word, and people stop asking for support when they see that you can’t deliver. The trouble is they will still need the support, even when they stop asking, so keep the lines of communication open by supporting teachers with chairs, books, and copies. They just might turn around and ask you how they can improve their practice.That starts with today.

So be visible, clear the roadblocks, appreciate everyone, and connect.

Good luck.

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