On Leading and Learning: A Principal’s Perspective

Transitioning from teacher to principal and starting a school year

By Principal and Guest Blogger Stefan Joly

The calm before the storm. Cliché? Maybe, maybe not.

It is one month before school starts and I am sitting with my administration, in the conference room discussing a task list as long as the supplies list for our 1st graders. 15 items.

Do I love it? Yes!

Our discussions and decisions revolve around our students, their families, and our teachers. How can we stretch our budget to purchase everything our teachers would like versus what they need? How can we create the most exciting, student centered learning environment for our students? These are the fun questions we entertain. Yes, we have more serious matters at hand, and sometimes not the most pleasant of topics, but talking about the smiles of our students and the passion our teachers have, brings us back to a happy place.

We have our foundations set; an amazing staff, strong curriculum, and a physical plant that has been painted, deep cleaned, and student ready.

Not long ago, I was on the other side, as a teacher. One month before school starting, stretching the hours each summer day, as the countdown to reporting back crept closer. I had my classroom set from the previous year, but always looking at Pinterest for new ideas. There were numerous websites available for inspiration, curriculum development, and technology integration. Being a teacher and preparing for the school year was not easier or less stressful than the administrative duties I face now. We both face the same levels of anxiety as the first days sneak up. The first days of school for a teacher are full of nervous anxiety making sure every detail is perfect for each student coming into the classroom. I appreciate that nervous energy now, and know that my energy preparing my classroom put my administration at ease.

Being a teacher, on the front line, as I like to call it, is everything our teachers really say it is. Rewarding, energizing, and just simply, busy. But transitioning to the administration side takes those feelings and multiplies it by the number of students in the school. Now I have the privilege of seeing all of the students, visiting classrooms, working with talented teachers, and seeing our school site and programs from a broader spectrum. I do have days that I am in my office, away from the smiling little faces more than I would like, but once recess comes, I am vying for the final match in handball.

There are a few days within the school year that make my position stand out. On party days for example; Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, St. Patrick’s, and Valentine’s, I can be found “party hopping.” Yes, I visit all the parties. Some classrooms have healthy snacks and games, while others have pizza, chocolate fountains, and music. It is a sugar rush like none other.

What I really notice in my transition from teaching to administration, is the diversity of each day. In their classrooms, our teachers have daily routines, patterns in their lessons plans, and scheduled teaching moments. Yes, the behaviors of children in general can bring a slight variance to each day in the classroom. On the flip side, as much as I can try to schedule my day, I walk in the each morning with a new deck of cards, asking myself, what am I being dealt today?

So, before the first days of school approach, and the teachers report to their positions, I have been behind the scenes creating master schedules, approving supply lists, confirming book orders, meeting with vendors, easing the nerves of new parents, and everything else the dealer throws out that day. It is as if, I am setting the stage for a great stage production. It is the calm before the storm.

When the time comes for the teachers to stand at their doors and greet their new classes of students, I look on with that same nervous anxiety. And, I love it!


Mr. Stefan Joly, M.Ed. is celebrating his 15th year with Oakridge Private School, having spent his first seven years as a teacher of math and science. Mr. Joly holds two California teaching credentials and an administrative credential. He earned a master’s degree in cross cultural education from National University in 2004 and is a Ph.D. candidate at Walden University, specializing in K-12 educational leadership. He believes education is a priceless gift that inspires dreams. Away from school, Mr. Joly is very active. He enjoys water sports, running, and spending time with his family. He can often be found on pool decks around Orange County, as a USA Water Polo Referee. Mr. Joly is married to his high-school sweetheart, Mary. They have two beautiful little girls, Tess and Yve, both of whom attend Oakridge.


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