Beyond The Desk Leadership

  • This time of year is interview season when more aspiring leaders are named principal. Once named, the work begins. There’s a lot to do before school opens for all principals, seasoned and new!
  • Be present and involved in your school. Be an active leader. Move beyond the desk to work side by side with teachers.
  • Suggestions to help all school leaders move beyond the desk include: set the tone, be purposeful so you can be present, lead by example, and ask, “What can I do to help you?”

Beyond The Desk Leadership

The weather is warmer, trees and flowers are blooming, and the birds are singing. Do you know what is right around the corner? If you are an aspiring school leader, you just said “interview season”! It provides new opportunities for aspiring leaders to step into that coveted principal seat.

Being named principal of a school is the biggest accomplishment for an aspiring school leader. They are now afforded the opportunity to live out their vision for creating an amazing school environment for staff and students. With their new title comes a new office, a new desk, and possibly even a secretary. Their name now appears on all school letterhead, as well as above the “Principal” nameplate on their office door. 

They are now officially the leader of their new school, and the demands of the job begin on day one.

Besides all the great things that were already mentioned, there are a thousand decisions that need to be made before the first day of school. It begins with scheduling, hiring, purchase orders, class lists, retention, etc. And, let us not forget, time needs to be made to talk with all teachers in order to build trusting relationships and create a shared vision with staff and community.

Staff surveys need to be created and the data analyzed so that they can begin planning professional development for the upcoming school year. They need to schedule meetings over the summer with all of their different teams to plan out how they will proceed in the upcoming year. Staff and parent handbooks need to be updated and modified to reflect their thoughts and beliefs. Community meetings need to be planned out, and summer meetings with PTA and other key community stakeholders must be held.

While all this is going on, they need to learn everything they can about the culture, beliefs, and traditions of their school. All while trying to interpret what the school data says in order to inform their own decision-making. Sounds easy right? Did I mention that this happens every summer, whether you are a seasoned veteran, or new to the position? 

Move beyond the desk to work side by side with teachers so you can ensure you are building a culture that includes an “all-in” mindset.

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The role of the principal is not easy, and it is not for everyone, yet it is the most rewarding leadership position you can have.

You are able to work side by side with amazingly talented teachers, positively influence every student in your school, and create partnerships with families to ensure their child’s educational journey is a successful one. To accomplish this, it requires you to be present and involved in your school. 

It starts with an understanding that there is a fundamental difference in thinking between a leader and a manager, and it begins by leading outside the four walls of your office. You have to make a promise to yourself to get out and be an active leader.

Be a leader who is willing to engage every stakeholder in their school, both inside and outside of the school building. Make a commitment to yourself to not get bogged down by all the paperwork and daily issues. Move beyond the desk to work side by side with teachers so you can ensure you are building a culture that includes an “all-in” mindset. 

Here are my suggestions to help all school leaders move beyond the desk.

Beyond the Desk Leadership: Set the Tone

You are the leader of your school, and it is up to you to create a positive and inviting school environment. Every morning, you will either find me helping out at the car rider line or on the walkway greeting students as they come into the school. I am there to give high-fives, hugs, and offer a smile to help start a student’s day off right.

I personally will have conversations with students. I’ll sometimes celebrate things I heard from students on the morning announcements. Announcements are key for setting the tone for your whole school. They allow you to create positive energy and celebrate staff and students and remind every person in your school that you are there to support them. More importantly for me, they remind everyone in my school that I love them. 

Beyond the Desk Leadership: Be Purposeful So You Can Be Present

It is often hard to get into classrooms regularly with all the other disruptions happening around school. You have to be purposeful with your planning if you want to make that happen. My assistant principal spends her mornings visiting classrooms and talking with every teacher before the first bell.

As for me, I set time in my calendar where I do nothing but visit classrooms and make time for kids. I have a list of teachers I plan to visit each day. I intentionally add two extra names to my list in case I have extra time. And I make time to walk my campus after the first bell every morning.

This serves two purposes. It allows me to visit with custodians, bus drivers, school resource officers, and cafeteria workers. It also allows me to evaluate and address any campus issues that I see. 

Beyond the Desk Leadership: Lead By Example

My first mentor said something that stuck with me all these years. “Never ask others to do something you are not willing to do yourself.” She was the principal, but it was not out of the ordinary to see her out front pulling up weeds from the garden beds, picking trash from the parking lot, and wiping down lunchroom tables. She was a part of the team, and she was never afraid to get her hands dirty.

Beyond the Desk Leadership: “What Can I Do To Help You?”

When I am visiting classrooms, I ask the same question to teachers before I leave. “What can I do to help you?” “Is there anything you need for me to do?” These two questions let teachers know that I am invested in their success and that I’m there to support them. 

Every school leader gets caught up in the daily grind of management. I know I have been guilty of it myself. This is why we must be intentional to lead from beyond the desk and ensure the success of our schools.

Originally published on Teach Better on May 5, 2021

About the Author


Robert Breyer is the “proud” principal of Cameron Elementary School in Cameron, NC. He also makes time to coach aspiring leaders who are looking to make the transition from teacher to administration. He is the host of The Guiding Principals Podcast, where he encourages visionary school leaders to share the stories of their own leadership journey and celebrates their successes along the way. Connect with Robert on his website at or via Twitter @rbleads

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