Saturday 20th April 2019

My Morning By A Principal. 366/285.

My Morning By A Principal. 366/285.

I was a school principal in NSW public schools for part of the 1990s and early 2000s. The role of principal has changed as far as added technologies, 24/7 communications, pressures from more entities along with direct and indirect accountability.  Essentially though, the day-to-day has not changed significantly. This account  is based on a typical morning of mine from my role then. I add, it was fun to write it and be a leader in NSW schools was a privilege not given to many, but I admit to being glad to have retirement status now. I hope you enjoy the read. Denyse.


7.30 a.m. Drive to School.

Do not think about school. Much. I tell myself. I listen to news & to traffic reports. Then comes the phone call from Executive Staff who cannot find a casual teacher for Class 5K. Think ‘oh no’ not 5K teacher away again. Oh. Tell Executive Staff member to keep on calling central casual booking office till they find someone.

8.00 a.m. Arrive at School.

Park car in space for ‘Principal’ after waiting for the service truck to pull out of there after delivering ice creams to the canteen. Get Out Of Car. Come on, you can do it! Mobile rings. “I found a teacher for 5K but it will be 10 a.m till he can get here”. See you in a minute.

8.10 a.m. Walk up Stairs to Main Building Where Office is.

Notice that bins have not been emptied. Again. Make note in admin book for cleaning supervisor to see. I place lunch in fridge and hope to see it again at lunchtime (that would be a record!!). Greet the early birds in the staffroom with warm smile as they chat about day ahead and ask “have you put your footy tips in for this week?” I will!

8.15 a.m. Unlock Office Door. The room looks exactly as it did at end of day yesterday at 6.00 p.m.

Start computer, after putting my bag down (finally!), and wait for the emails (that did not get checked at home this morning) to flood in. They do. Office Admin Staff pop in with snail mail and warm greetings. It is nice to start the day that way! Oh no. There’s more to the greeting. “A parent” from the “class we all know well” needs to see you stat.

8.20 a.m. Parent Meeting. Matters Discussed: attitude of teacher to ‘his child’ and ‘homework’.

Listen and make notes as well as reassure the parent that I will be following up with issues discussed with the teacher and will be back to him by the end of the day. Parent leaves reluctantly as he does like a good whinge chat but the bell for playground duty has sounded.


8.30 a.m. Playground Duty. Morning. Once A Week.

Ideally the principal would LOVE to be out and about meeting and greeting families as the children arrive at school but school-business of all kinds can take precedence inside. One morning on playground duty is one way of sharing the teachers’ duties more fairly and getting to experience ‘first-hand’ what is happening on that day, with the kids and the school. So this is why I did playground duty!

9.00 a.m. Morning Outside Assembly. Led by The Principal.

In this school of over 400 students it is the one time each child and teacher is together in the one space to start the day. Families do hang around a little to hear announcements which are kept brief but are encouraged to leave so the school day starts with less distraction and more concentration on the day ahead. As the children leave in lines, with the class teacher, I observe them and note that one of the support staff has taken 5K until the relief teacher gets here. Then….just as I am about to leave the area I am found. By my office manager. That’s her job!!

9.05 a.m – 11.00 a.m. First Of My Day’s Business Via The Messages, Phone Calls, People Waiting to See Me and MORE!

  • respond to requests from my office manager for signature on documents and checking first that all is there as needed
  • speak to waiting people who are there for reasons such as monitoring the back to base security alarms, wanting to tell me about a new product for student reporting, a sales rep from a school photography company and many more who often ‘turn up’. I choose to meet outside my office with some of these people as it can be more time efficient and I also may refuse to see someone unless there is a valid reason. Schools can be seen as ‘cash cows’ by some less reputable firms and I have full responsibility for financial management
  • new families waiting to meet me and to enrol their children. With or without an appointment, these people take priority and once my office manager has verified their eligibility via residence, age of child and more, then I invite them in and off we go on the process. This can take from 15 minutes to an hour.
  • phone calls and emails from families, my superiors, other schools, the staff and so on are managed as they come in (or can be left until later) and are done in between face to face meetings.
  • moving around the school to visit classrooms is a priority but cannot always occur when more urgent business comes up. However, there is a plan to see at least one class per day and to interact with the children as much as possible.
  • when out and about around the school I observe the physical resources of the school making note of any potential repairs required or areas which may need closer maintenance and discuss this with the two days a week grounds person. Of course, if he is not in, I note it in the communication book and we chat once he is back. Anything urgent, I place safety barriers/tape around the area and ensure the staff and children know about it and report it to the company responsible for maintenance of our school.
  • I may have time to visit the ‘loo when I am out of the office and this is important!!
  • I may receive a visit from class reps who want to show me their ‘lovely work’ and this is always a reason to stop, and invite the children in.
  • As I am the only non-teaching executive in the school, I try hard not to interrupt the teaching day of my fellow executive staff and wait for them to be on face to face release for our meetings. Each Monday we get together over lunch for an executive meeting cover all the issues relevant to the school and wider education community.
  • I may be called, via the internal phone system to a classroom where a child is having some behavioural issues and it may escalate. The policies I introduced via our school management will help here, but in the end it may be ‘just me’ and perhaps a member of the support staff to help calm a situation. Each situation must be dealt with fairly and with no or minimal risk to the students and ourselves. I have had to, in the past, ensure a rescue of students from areas out of bounds including up on a roof and escaping outside the grounds. Fortunately each of these was resolved safely but they did require a LOT of follow up and in some cases, a new program, class or even school for the student. That is an extreme outcome.


Note Paper with yellow pencil

11.00 a.m. – 11.30 a.m. Morning Break For Students and Staff.

We chose to add 10 minutes to this break and take 10 minutes from the longer lunch break once schools were able to make internal timetable changes themselves. This one gives us 10 minutes eating, then 20 minutes at play and gives all teachers at least a 10 minute break for self-care. I have learned to grab my cuppa a few minutes before the bell, sit with my office staff to recover  chat about the morning and prepare for the rest of the day/week. I like this time to talk with teachers or just listen! Sometimes its their only time to connect with more of the staff and with me. A lot gets covered and there are noticeboards with info as well as pigeonholes for them to check the latest…and of course, emails. 


11.30 a.m. – Midday. Children Assemble Outside Their Rooms and Return to Class.

I spend some time outside while this is happening as it is another way of connecting with the students and I am scanning the areas to ensure that it is safe, all the children are back where they should be and that teachers have arrived to take their classes. On time. It is always my hope anyway!! 

Rather than go straight back to the office, this is time for another walk around these large grounds where I can ascertain that the repairs which were supposed to have been completed to the fence after the last storm have been done. I see that there are classes which stayed outside to complete their fitness after recess and it’s good to know the all-weather sport court is used! It cost a fortune!

Next time I will post about My Afternoon By A Principal.

So, how did you find reading this?

Are you surprised by anything in this?

Does it seem like a role you might enjoy?

Let me know in the comments!


education 150

Joining with Kylie Purtell and friends over here for I Blog On Tuesdays.







  1. It sounds as though it was a very busy but fulfilling role for you, Denyse. Always so much going on. Thank you, I enjoyed reading this. Good on you for blogging every day, what a big job to take on. I have been lucky to blog once a month while I have been doing uni, but back to once a week for the moment.

    • You know Dani, when I wrote it I was more energised than exhausted so I guess I did get quite a bit out of the role. It was unfortunate though, that my last 3 months on the job did me in…so to speak..thanks to over work and under resourced with trained staff. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting for the first time. I am reviewing my blog post daily plan for 2017 and want to consider reducing the posts. I hope your Uni work is going well. Denyse

  2. Interesting to read what those principals do all day. I thought they just played around on the Internet! Just joking. I wouldn’t want to be a principal with every thing they have to deal with.

    • Thanks Pinky…I bet many people think that’s what principals do and it’s one of the reasons I think principals need to be far more visible. Mind you, some days “escaping” to the office was tempting!! Not so much internet back then but also not so much instant ‘communication’. One of my bosses used to spend much of his day at the school boundary fence having a smoke!!

  3. What an enormous day you always had. All the while you need to keep a smile of your face and listen to people even when you think they are being ridiculous. Parents would be the worst as they are sooo protective of jnr .

    • Yes. That is so true. But remember that is the principal’s be there for the whole of the school community. It is a big job! Thanks for understanding.

  4. What a huge day! The Mum of one of my good friend’s was/is a principal when we were growing up and I can remember the long hours she used to put in as well.

    • Thanks Lauren, it was and still is for those who are principals now. The 24/7 nature of communication has exacerbated the notion of being ‘on the job’ more. However, I really never switched off because I would get phone calls on weekends and school holidays about maintenance issues, security and safety! Glad you visited and commented for the first time today. Cheers, Denyse

  5. Mate, I was exhausted by 11am!! Would be so hard these days too, with parents being so freaking precious about their kids. Back in my day the parents always backed the principal.

    • Thanks Hugzilla….I was tired writing it!! But it still made feel quite pleased to realise ‘yes I did this’ and for a long time too. You are so right about ‘entitled’ people. It was a sad day when some parents started seeing school as the ‘enemy’ and ceased to be a team in educating the kids. Your comment was spot on!!

  6. Good grief, you had to do more than this?? You must need to be so organised and able to focus so well to be a principal of a school. So many people want q piece of you. eek! Mine back at school today – whew.

    • Indeed I did!! I am an organised person and was able to compartmentalise a lot of what went on but always I was there for 3 groups: the students, the staff and the parents. Not all of these groups got on so I did have to use a LOT of the skills that I had and was given the role for. The money does not even come into it in a school principal role. There are really no ‘off duty days’. Nevertheless, I gave it my best shot and even though it ended up seeing me out (thanks to overload of work and under resourced staff) and I am proud to have been a school principal.

  7. It’s interesting hearing the ‘other’ side of things Denyse. A few of my close friends are teachers but my friend who works as a principal is far away and we don’t see each other much.

    I mostly hear from friends who are parents and dealing with schools and concerned about their kids’ support and the like.

    • Thanks Deb. I wrote it as a bit of a reminder to myself in a way of what life used to be like. However, it is a true recount and it would be even tougher today being a principal. I recognise that many more parents are more concerned (sometimes for good reason) about their kids at school that perhaps they need to be. It is a sign of the ‘worried times’ we live in. Give your principal friend my best wishes!

  8. Wow such a huge and varied role. As an introvert it ticked a lot of boxes that I could not handle lol. My mom was a teacher (including special education) and my sister teaches science to all primary school grades in her school. I would be exhausted by 10am (and when I volunteered at the girls’ kindy I swear I was dead tired by then and in awe of the teachers who could not even stop for a cuppa like I was). Not a ton of downtime in schools. Xx

    • There is NO downtime in a school EVER…but maybe in school hols when you go in for a day of work. Thanks Deb for your insights about the role. I didn’t know about your mum and sis being teachers. It can be a very draining but also hugely rewarding role but self-care was often at the end of the list which is why I wore out I think! Lunch at 5pm on the way home in the car was when I realised I needed to factor in a lunch time before ‘break time’ so at least I was fuelled!

  9. Wow, and that is only the morning. I’m exhausted just reading this 🙂 So many pressures when you’re a principal. #teamIBOT

    • Yes, I was both exhausted yet energised doing it!! I actually thrived on lots of it when it was busy but not hugely filled with problems. Unfortunately the problems lasted longer than the better times on some occasions. “There was this one parent…I could tell lots about but I won’t!” I hope things are a little better in your family this morning with Miss almost 4. Denyse xx

  10. I was definitely not made for teaching! Especially as a principal reading just your morning!

  11. It’s good to know what we won’t so isn’t it? There are many roles like that for me too. I am still glad I was a teacher and principal!