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The CPR of Principalship

By Steve Lee posted 05-02-2022 11:59 AM


The CPR of the Principalship

For successful school leaders, the PRINCIPALSHIP is one of the most rewarding and exciting positions for realizing life-long passions you can have. Yes, it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love, but if you follow the concepts of CPR, you will be in the best position to succeed! As a 35-year veteran in education, I’ve lived by these principles.


As a school administrator for twenty-four years and having, overall, thirty-five years in education, I was consistently developing, evaluating, redefining, and implementing my leadership style. Early in my teaching and administrative years, I believed it was important for me to be the expert in curriculum, classroom management, scheduling, and budgeting. In fact, I was directly told by a mentoring administrator that the “science,” the X’s and O’s, of a successful school leader and principal, were the factors mentioned above. This also included “words of wisdom,” such as the following: to “manage” the educational process and to not become friends with stakeholders because at some point you would have to say “No!” to them, discipline them, and /or make tough, unfavorable decisions.  I still see building leaders who believe in this philosophy.  I believe this leadership style is just plain wrong! And, I believe this is certainly not in the best interest of kids!

I believe successful educational leadership as a principal is both a science and an art, and CPR is the art side of this paradigm. It is what makes the principalship a human undertaking. After all, as an educational leader, that’s all we’re dealing with--other humans. Just like music education; fine and applied arts; physical education; and social-emotional learning complete the whole picture of learning in a school curriculum, CPR completes the portrait of a successful, impactful educational leader.

The science side, knowledge of curriculum, knowledge of the successful methods of teaching, knowledge of classroom management,and knowledge of a variety of budgeting concepts, are all important and necessary for success; however, I believe these concepts can be learned over time or can be supported and delegated to others within the school as an extension of your administrative responsibilities. If the concepts within CPR are not at least an equal component of one’s leadership, success will be much tougher to achieve, if not impossibly out of reach.

What is CPR?  What makes CPR an art that needs to be developed and embraced? Let’s look at CPR.


Successful leaders' use of technology allows for quick, direct communication with all stakeholders in the educational process; however, don’t underestimate other, more traditional forms of communication.  Besides technology, face-to-face, person-to-person conversations, I believe, are vital. There is a lot to be said about the power and influence of face-to-face conversation and discussion. Emotions, facial recognition, eye contact, intonation, and even a sense of humor are all important in the art of communication.  This is hard to duplicate with the use of technology alone. Another often overlooked form of communication is the personal written word we all used to utilize before technology became predominant in our lives.  Formal letters, informal memos, or just a simple handwritten note saying “nice work or Atta Boy!” are invaluable tools. All three forms of communication--technology, face-to-face conversation, and the written word, must be utilized to address the varied audiences you’re trying to reach. Your audience's educational background; their knowledge and comfort with technology; and their busy schedules and hectic lives all determine how your communication, the information you want out there, needs to be disseminated.  You need to include communication: 

   -  With your parents

   -  With your staff

   -  With your students

   -  With other building administration in your district

   -  With your community

   -  With your direct supervisors

Some important tenets of good communication include the following. Newsletters and social media, should have information of upcoming events, calendar dates/times, special recognition, topical issues that children are facing, new policies/procedures, safety routines, connections for further information, and general contact information. This needs to be disseminated on a weekly basis, at around the same time, so all stakeholders know when to be prepared to receive information from the school. The location of updated resources, such as on the website, in a parent email, printed in the office, on social media, in the local paper, or highlighted on a campus marquee, should be known.

Edit your communication to meet the needs of your audience. Information that goes out to parents may not be stated in the same way, using the same words, as communicated to students or staff, for instance. Your words need to be appropriate for the audience with whom you’re communicating.


Successful leaders need to participate in a variety of activities that demonstrate advocacy, support, and modeling for the education process you are wanting to achieve in your school. Your participation can be in more traditional ways; however, a lot of memorable moments are had and relationships created through just putting one’s self out there and taking a risk. For example, few would forget a principal having his/her own act in a school talent show. Or, what about dressing up as the mascot?! Show your vulnerability, that you can be human, and have fun and be a little crazy.

When considering participation, think of involvement in the following:

  • In any and all parent/teacher organizations, booster clubs within your building
  • In any and all parent/teacher organizations, booster clubs that feed into your building
  • In any district-sponsored in-services/workshops (lead them if applicable and possible)
  • In professional organizations outside your district that support building-level leadership
  • In professional organizations that support cutting-edge curricula
  • In community organizations that are in support of our educational process
  • In whole-school-based activities that expose you to students, parents, and the community, whether initiated by you or others
  • In building based and district-based committees, and encourage building level staff to do so as well
  • In building-level social staff gatherings, whether in or out of school. (Remember, that you’re still the boss. How you act and what you say and do can leave lasting impressions with stakeholders. One ill-advised decision, statement, or act, can forever sabotage your leadership ability.)



Successful leaders need to build positive professional relationships with all stakeholders in the educational process. Relationships may be the one key component of CPR that you absolutely must have to be successful in the principalship. I have never witnessed a successful building leader who was not able to build personal, positive, and professional relationships with stakeholders. These professional relationships include students, building staff, district-level staff, parents, and community members.

Building personal, positive, and professional relationships with stakeholders consists of four key concepts: Modeling, Integrity, Honesty, and Consistency.

Modeling: you need to act and behave in a way that inspires others to follow and replicate those actions. You need to explain, instruct, demonstrate, and most importantly, expect others to act and behave in that manner. Nothing is as powerful as “do as I do.” Always act and speak as if you are being recorded. (Nowadays, you probably are!)

Integrity: you need to live in accordance with your deepest moral values, the principles of ethical and appropriate speech and actions, and you always need to keep your word, based on the circumstances that are in the best interest of your students. After all, that’s why we are in this business . . . the students. Within the art of CPR, all successful school leaders are here to inspire, motivate, and cajole stakeholders to be better than they were the day before, always in the best interest of students. Integrity is a highly valued trait, especially in leaders. Act with a higher purpose; everything you do will be a reflection of your leadership and your legacy.

Honesty: you need to be truthful, keeping in mind the best interest of your students, in a professional manner. Be honest and expect stakeholders to deal with you in an honest way. Being upfront and honest in an appropriate and civil manner is an important trait.

Consistency: your actions need to be reproducible; as others expect you to be consistent, you must expect stakeholders to be consistent. Stakeholders need to know where you stand on educational concepts, policies, and methods; how they impact the students; and the reasoning behind your thoughts and actions. Unpredictability is the enemy of the principalship and a building leader.

Concluding thoughts:

What Principals Know……………?  (Copied from 1995-2005 Powerone Media, Inc.)

Put 700 young children, 100 teachers and staff, and 1500 passionate parents and grandparents together for a year and it is quite obvious what a great principal means to a school.

Principals are modern heroes, and you just might be amazed at what they know!

Principals know how to scrub floors, sweep rugs, wash desks, carry out trash, fix cars, and bring gas to a stranded teacher.

Principals know how to account for every student, every day no matter if they have 50 kids or 2000 kids in their building.

Principals know how to get zippers unstuck.

Principals know how to explain why someone’s darling child does not get to pick his own teachers each year, why that child is not getting an “A” even though he tried “really, really hard”, and why their child is not going to the dance even though he had a date all lined up for several weeks.

Principals know the names of almost everyone in their buildings.

Principals know that the custodians, cooks, librarians, and secretaries are just as important to the building, sometimes more important, as the teachers and kids.

Principals know what the 6 am meeting is going to be like with parents from the cheerleading squad, the 11 am meeting with the school “climate” committee, the 1 pm meeting with the curriculum and instruction committee, the 3 pm meeting with the student advisory team and the 5 pm meeting with the parents for sports committee and the 7 pm meeting of the school board.

Principals know to get on a student’s level, look him in the eye and give him that special look that says he cares and is dead serious.

Principals know how to graciously accept that birthday treat, which they never in 100 years would ever think of eating.

Principals know how to get help for the child and family sleeping in a car, has head lice, are afraid to go into the school bathrooms, or has an allergy that could KILL him if they are accidentally exposed to a peanut.

Principals know how to respond to a police call at 3 am, school closing notices at 5 am, water leaks, bathroom backups, power outages, and the spider on the classroom wall that no one else will touch.

Principals are marriage counselors, financial advisors, detectives, enforcement officers, ministers, animal control officers, and of course, the fashion police.

Principals know what to do when a student wets their pants.

Principals must be visionaries, know more about teaching than most teachers, be able to align curriculum with NCLB demands, state goals, MAP scores, the district strategic plan, ISATs, SATs, ACTs, and the rising and setting of the moon.

Principals have 101 ways to make someone feel special!

Principals must face intruders, prepare for a crisis of death, fires, storms, bus crashes, heat emergencies, the plague and pandemics, deviant behaviors, lost snakes in the building, and dead class pets left in the classroom over winter break.

Principals know how to hire’em, inspire’em, and fire’em!

Principals know how to motivate, discipline, and honor teachers from every generation.

Principals are anger control managers, proficient at “ducking” and know when to stop, drop and roll and to “twist and shout”.

Principals are knowledgeable in many languages including, mumbling, muttering, whining, whimpering and “uuugh”, ya know!

Principals are diplomats able to resolve issues like what color sweater the pep team should wear, how much “booty” can be shaken at the pep rally, who gets to wear the school mascot outfit and why the play “The Vagina Monologues” may not be suitable in middle school.

Principals get to attend all sporting events, music events, PTO meetings, school math, science, history and poetry nights, the school musical and plays, the bond election forum, and the ice cream socials.  Plus, if anything goes wrong with any of them, to explain why.

Principals get to make a real difference!

Principals get a chance to affect more lives than any minister, juvenile officer, coach, scout leader or teacher, between the ages of 3 and 21.

Principals get to draw the lowest average salary of any middle management position can make in the public sector and then face scorn when it’s printed in the paper.

Principals understand that everyone who has ever stepped into a school can do a better job….. or so they think.

Principals know how to calm a scared child, an angry parent, and an upset teacher, over the same issue…….all at the same time.

Principals have a great life and a wonderful career.  Nobody EVER forgets a great PRINCIPAL!

A Principal knows that these things listed above come from communication, participation, and relationship building which are key factors affecting your success as an educational building leader. By practicing the art of building leadership, as well as the science of building leadership, you can have a rewarding and successful career as a building leader. The principalship is the best administrative position in the world!