Listen! Look! Learn! Laugh!

An open letter to new principals

By BCPS Principal of the Year Pat Goldys

After 19 years as a principal, I will always remember my first year. Everything that I thought I knew and my whole value system and educational philosophy were challenged. I had to reflect after every decision and metacognitively analyze my solutions and ideas. It was challenging, busy, exciting and a time of great learning for me.

I had to be open-minded, receptive to suggestions and constructive criticism, a role model, a teacher and a coach. I learned as much about myself as a person, educator, leader, manager and visionary as I did about my teachers, students, parents and the community. So, my advice for first-year principals is to listen, look, learn and laugh!


Get to know the wants of your school stakeholders. Have teacher, student, parent and community opportunities – gatherings, meetings, forums and informal conversations – to greet and eat. Listen carefully to their wants and desires for a better school. They already own their school; you are the new kid on the block. Deliberately plan to work together to make a positive difference in the school. This shows your commitment to improvement and respect of their opinions as well as provides an opportunity to bond and problem-solve together.


You will see a lot when you observe regularly. Always look for the best before looking for what needs to be better. Take a ride or walk around the school community. Talk to parents whenever they enter the building or gather outside during arrival and dismissal. Visit classrooms and leave Post-Its with strengths for both teacher and students. Look for trends, successes and master teaching and recruit those teachers to share their best practices. Look for areas where you can build student leadership and initiate a student ambassador club or a learning group that you will lead. All are looking to see what you will do to support the mission and vision.


Everything that the teachers learn, you learn in the same way that they do: you read what they read, you do the online sessions and webinars and you practice applying it. Do a demonstration and co-teach or tape yourself implementing the new strategies for teacher feedback. Professional development is critical to the genuine growth of teacher and student learning capacity. You are the leader; promoter; cheerleader; and example of avid, responsible and continual learning.


You better carve time for fun and celebration that first year! Your attitude, mindset and expectations must all come from a place of enjoyment, love of the school and a commitment to building a “home away from home” where everyone – teachers, students, parents and community members – likes coming to school. Find those moments every day that make you smile and even laugh out loud. There are many! Do grinning and shout-outs to celebrate accomplishments, bad days ending, good solutions to persistent problems, support to a teacher in need, learning from mistakes, taking a risk or the sharing of a good idea. You and everybody in the schoolhouse need laughter and happiness every day! Make sure that it is alive and happening!


Lessons Learned

You will set the tone, reveal who you are and build relationships your first year. You will grow from your mistakes; understand that you don’t have to know everything and be perfect; and ask many, many questions your first year. You will hug a lot, smile and nod with approval and disapproval your first year. Hours will fly by like minutes. However, you will find that the energy, grit, zest and tact that you possess will surface when needed. Just enjoy the ride!




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