Principals: What Is Your Job with a Capital J?

“What is my job on the planet?” is one question we might do well to ask ourselves over and over again. Otherwise, we may wind up doing somebody else’s job and not even know it.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are, pg. 206

In a previous post, I posed the question: “If you knew that your last day at your school was tomorrow, how would you decide to spend your time?” I offered my own response (spending time in classrooms, ignoring email, etc.). Yet I didn’t address a possible follow up question, one that couches us in our daily realities: How do I find the time to spend with students and teachers in classrooms?

This is a reasonable concern. The emails in our inbox don’t magically disappear. Requisitions need to be approved and evaluations have to be completed. What helped me prioritize my limited time in school is to ask myself a follow-up question (adapted from a chapter title in Kabat-Zinn’s book): What is my job with a capital J?

To find out, I created a T-chart. Next, I looked back on my calendar and started listing all of the tasks I had completed in the past along with what I remembered doing but didn’t schedule. On the left side, I wrote down all of the tasks that should belong to me as a school principal and instructional leader. On the right side, I listed tasks that were my responsibility as a principal but didn’t necessarily need to be completed by me.

Image 8-22-18 at 7.41 PM
This idea comes from the book The Together Leader by Maia Heyck-Merlin (Jossey-Bass, 2016)

Here’s the list. It’s evolving. For example, I still do some data entry for discipline. I also tend to take care of a few purchase orders because I get uptight about our school budget. But overall, this process was both freeing and empowering. Freeing because I could give myself permission to not feel like I needed to be everywhere at once. Instead I’ve learned to trust staff to be responsive to students’ needs. Empowering because I am finding that staff members who I have asked to take on certain responsibilities are doing as good if not a better job than I would. For example, some of our most popular professional learning experiences have been facilitating by our teachers. I had as much to learn as anyone.

To be clear, I don’t value my tasks over what others might accomplish with me. Everything is important. What I know is that principals cannot do it all. So we have to be selective about how we choose to prioritize our time every day. If our expertise and efforts are best served as instructional leaders, then we have to find ways to delegate some of the non-instructional tasks to other staff members in order to be most effective.

What tasks have you found to be essential or nonessential to your role as a school principal and instructional leader? How did you re-organize responsibilities? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

8 thoughts on “Principals: What Is Your Job with a Capital J?”

  1. Matt, I really like this post! Looking at your “Tasks for the Principal”, it’s clear what you value and where you spend most of your efforts–an impressive list that highlights your wise priorities and that shows how your beliefs and practices aligh. I love your comment about not needing to do it all because you’ve “learned to trust staff to be responsive to students’ needs.” Congratulations! With admiration, Regie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your blog….and you!

    Starting a new position in a new district is a challenge. This year, I’m focusing on cross-training staff to build relationships, capacity and confidence. After our cross-training transition (not sure about the exact time frame), we’ll come together to assign tasks based on team input. It’s also a great way to affirm each other’s strengths. Who benefits? Everyone! 🙏 that it all comes together as planned to maximize our time at work. We’re open to feedback!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tyisha. Thank you for the comment. The initiative you describe sounds intriguing. Best of luck to you in your new position. -Matt


  3. Matt, this is exactly what people need to remember! Principals must do what you need a principal’s head to do. This is value-added work, which can’t be delegated. Principals’ primary job is to ensure that the environment is conducive to learning for kids, and for teachers!! Great reminder for the new year!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tom for the comment. You noting that a principal’s true work cannot be delegated is so true. It is why we were hired in the first place. Reassigning responsibilities can be a challenge, especially if other staff members have a full plate already. Appealing to their expertise and being vulnerable as leaders can help. -Matt


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