A Principal’s 12,000 Steps

Jon Konen
School Principal

DISCLAIMER: This article has no intent to brag about what we do as principals. The purpose is to illustrate to the public, what most principals do on a daily basis. The job has changed and continues to evolve!

The concept of a principal from years past, sitting at their desk all day, is wildly inaccurate! As the job of a principal continues to evolve, public education continues to take a hit. Let us look at a typical day in the life of a principal. It seems if you have not walked in a principal's shoes, here are 12,000 steps to get you mildly associated with the position. You must throw away the thoughts and not revert to the concept of principal from your childhood…that job no longer exists!

Unfortunately, there is an increasing disdain for the salary of an administrator. It seems people attack administrators for making more money than a teacher. Yet, when I started out as a principal in a small school in Montana, my wife worked 20 less days and made $10,000 more than me. Then when I ascertained my current principal position, I found that I made $7 per day more than my wife. My contract was 207 days and hers was 187. Pitting a principal's salary versus a teacher's salary only has the intent to divide the education community. When in reality, all educators should be paid at a more competitive rate with other professions! From janitors, to paraprofessionals! If you are in education, you need to be paid more!

Recently, an opposition group to our local school levy printed every single administrator's salary. The tagline was, "…superintendent makes more than the governor." Upon researching further, there are a multitude of superintendents across the state that make more than the governor's yearly salary of 108,000. Market value, and a competitive rate, are words in our community that can evidently be eradicated!

The point of this article is not to start a political fanfare of insolence. It is meant to raise awareness of the plethora of duties, responsibilities, expectations, and tasks a principal may do in any given day. I am going to give you my typical Monday…usually the busiest day of the week for me! The following times are approximate, but for my staff and other people that know me, they can tell you where I am specifically at these times of the day!

SIDE NOTE: When I state a "typical day," this does not include many of the unplanned events that occur daily in which the principal is expected to problem-solve. Most days are a packed with more events and jobs than listed below. A few days a month, we are in meetings and it is extremely difficult to get 12,000 steps in!


Steps 0-1000 (~7:00 AM - 8:00 AM)

The first steps of the day are minimal in my house: bed, coffee, and bathroom. As I arrive at work, I walk by the coffee machine and turn it on (my lifeline to sanity). I head into my office and turn the computer on. While the computer is on, I gather my mail from the Principal's Mail Box. I listen to all the voice mails from the previous night. I then read my email and check the electronic calendar for the day. Using those four different communication avenues, I devise a plan and checklist of tasks for the day. I prioritize what absolutely has to be completed today, what can be done after school, and what can be held off and put back on my calendar for a later date. I then check the online substitute tracker to see who is going to be gone today. As walk out to get my coffee, I travel up and down the hallways unlocking the doors of absent teachers. I check the hallways to see how clean they are before students and staff arrive. I am constantly cleaning as I walk. I drop the stuff off at the lost and found, as it looks similar to Mount Kilimanjaro. I arrive back at my desk and complete one project that needs to be completed today. Around 7:45 AM, my administrative assistant arrives. We go through the day's events and I delegate any tasks to her that I need help completing.


Steps 1000-4000 (~8:00 AM - 9:30 AM)

Teachers start arriving at 7:15 AM and continue to arrive all the way to 8:00 AM. Any teachers that are going to be later than 8:00 AM text me their rationale for their tardiness. The teachers know this is a pet peeve of mine…not communicating tardiness. There is nothing more embarrassing then bringing a parent down to a classroom and the teacher has not arrived at school yet. If I know they are going to be gone, I can frontload the parent and it shows how well we communicate among between teacher and principal.

At 8:00 AM, I start walking around doing a check in with teachers, saying hello and maybe asking a question. This is done to model positive communication, as well as letting teachers know I genuinely care about them as a person! In addition, I can take a thermometer check of the whole staff culture…stress, anxiety, happiness, and, hopefully, I am able to hear laughter!

Around 8:15 AM, I head outside the front doors and check in with my crossing guard. I walk the sidewalk and student drop off area. I start helping supervise the 3rd-6thgrade playground. I am high fiving and welcoming students to school all along the way. I stop at the edge of the 6thgrade playground to connect with some of my most challenging students. I am continuing to welcome, joke, and smile at all the students on the playground as I continue to walk around. I specifically search for some at-risk students each morning, making sure I talk with them, as I know I probably will be talking with them later, too.

I continue to walk towards the lower playground, Kindergarten-second grades. I talk, hug, high five, and even shake hands with several primary students. I usually have 2-5 students that chose to follow me around telling me stories about last night at home, or their third favorite dinosaur! I love this time! At 8:24, I start ushering students to line up before the 8:25 AM bell. I continue to herd the students using every positive technique , including funny strategy I can think of…my favorite saying, "You better beat me there or you have to be principal today…!"

As I walk in with the primary students, I continue to say, "Good Morning." I try to put as much energy into the morning welcome to get a gauge on how the students are…another thermometer check. I stand at the primary entryway holding the door for students who are late, all the way up to 8:30 AM. As I walk in, I check in with the food service employees that are getting breakfast prepared after the bell. I ask if they need any student support for breakfast or lunch times.

I walk down to the office, drop off my safety vest, and check-in with my administrative assistant quickly. Then, I head up the hallway and start my door checks. After the Newtown school shooting, I decided to check every entryway, every day, to make sure the doors are locked. I sometimes have a student with me at this time for a meaningful work job, but not today. I walk all the way up to the 6thgrade wing, check those doors, then the 3rdand 4thgrade doors. I confer with teachers and staff members that are in the hallway or close to their doorways.

At 8:40 AM, I head back down to the office and do the morning announcements with the Student Council representatives for the day. After announcements, I check back in with office staff on absent students. The students on my priority list are discussed. Many days I would leave after announcements to go pick a student up for school when they miss the bus or their parents are unable to get them to school. I then grab my lesson plan clipboard and head to classrooms.

I go from teacher to teacher and check their lesson plans for the predetermined criteria. The lesson plans are usually on their desk or up on their computer screen. I do this every Monday. As I travel from classroom to classroom, I am also checking engagement of the students, as well as checking on students who are at risk and exhibit unregulated behaviors in the morning. I continue this until 9:30 AM.


Steps 4000-5000 (~9:30 AM - 11:30 AM)

At 9:30 AM, I walk down to the kindergarten classroom and I teach a small Read Well group with seven students. At 10:00 AM, I head back to my office. I check phone messages and emails quickly. I usually make a few phone calls and answer a couple emails. I check in again with office staff. We talk with volunteers who are packing food boxes for families. We determine today that there are three families picking up food boxes. After the Parent Engagement Advocate was cut due to budget constraints, we have relied more and more on outside volunteers from a local church, as well as other staff and myself filling this need.

From 10:00-10:30 AM, I work with students who come to the office, and I visit classrooms to support students staying in the classroom. Then from 10:30-11:30, I meet with Aware, our private mental health company who resides within our building. On Monday's, we discuss every student's progress that is the program, 28 students total with diagnoses. We discuss changes, additions, and updates on academic and behavioral supports for these students.


Steps 5000-9000 (~11:30 AM - 1:15 PM)

Starting at 11:30 AM, I transition into the lunchroom. I help monitor and support kinders. Every 10 minutes a new grade level comes into the lunchroom while one grade level transitions outside for recess. I pick up a rag, a mop, or a broom and help clean the lunchroom just like all other lunchroom staff. I continue to connect with students, help monitor behaviors, and reteach lunchroom expectations.

I continue to walk around the lunchroom and bounce back and forth supporting students in the hallway whom are transitioning to their lockers to get their coats and gear for outside recess. I walk up and down the hallway encouraging positive behaviors and praising students who are doing the correct thing.

At 12:50 PM, we start to tear down the lunchroom as it transitions back into the gym. A class is coming at 1:00 PM. We work together to wash all the tables, get them put away, sweep the floor, scrub the floor, and make sure everything is put away before 1:00 PM. This is done every day.

At 1:00 PM, I head outside, as I know the group of students that need the most support are out there. I support the aides by helping monitor recess. At 1:10 PM, I support the student's transition back into the classroom. I head back to my office by 1:15 PM.


Steps 9000-10000 (~1:15-3:15 PM)

From 1:15-3:15 PM, I check my phone messages, check email again, and determine what conversations I need to have with staff members. I believe there are many conversations that need to be conducted in person, rather than email. Another benefit to getting my steps in, as well as creating strong relationships with staff members. I bounce back and forth between my office and classrooms supporting students and teachers. At 3:10 PM, I meet with families to finish loading their food boxes with dairy and frozen goods from the refrigerator, and lastly I help load them into vehicles.


Steps 10000-12000 (~3:15-5:30 PM)

When I get back to the office, I learn that one of the crossing guards cannot make their shift. I grab by safety vest, a stop sign, my walk-talkie, and I head outside. I support parents crossing the street to pick up their students. As school is excused at 3:20 PM, I continue to talk with students and parents until the last student is crossed or picked up around 3:40 PM. At 3:40 PM, I put my stop sign back and head out to support bus students who are still waiting to be picked up. Between 3:40-3:50 PM, the bus finally shows up. Finally, the bus aide and I support the students boarding the bus.

From 3:50-4:30 PM, I head back into the school and go talk with staff about things I was unable to earlier. By 4:45 PM, a majority of the teachers have left. The night engineer and the afterschool day care program, HANDS, are the only people left in the building. At 4:45 PM, a HANDS employee brings a student to me to support with behavior. Even though this is a private company within our school, I still feel I can support the program's success by teaming with the employees, especially with our toughest behaviorally challenged students. I work with the student for 20 minutes until his mom comes and picks him up from my office.

From 5:00-5:30 PM, I am able to work by myself on the things I was unable to complete during the school day. Much of my paperwork that could be pushed back is completed during this time. At 5:30 PM, I decide what work or project I am going to take home and complete with my dog and wife by my side. I understand each night I could stay the whole night at school and work, but for my mental health and staying semi-balanced, I must go home. Some principals may not work when then get home, but since my wife will be correcting papers from her teaching position, I tend to bring some work home, also!

Jon Konen

Jon Konen

Jon Konen is a father, husband, K-6 elementary principal, and freelance writer in Great Falls, Montana. He has taught most all grade levels K-6, and has been a K-12 principal of a rural school. As a 5th grade teacher in 2010, he won the Presidential Award for Elementary Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). As a principal, his school won the 2012 Blue Ribbon Award. In 2018, he won the National Distinguished Principal Award (NDP). He is the author of two guides, An Educator's Guide to Combat Bullying & Bully Prevention and Teacher Evaluation: A Transition Guide to Exemplary Performance. He has authored a children's picture book that will be released in October, 2018 titled, Principal Reads and Benjamin's Visit to the Office…Not the First!
Jon Konen