What Principals with Backbone Know About Self-Talk

Some might say that people who talk to themselves are a little crazy.  As a person who regularly converses with herself, I disagree!

Whether it’s deciding on whether to reschedule a meeting because one of the team members is absent or whether to have the Breakfast with Santa on the same Saturday as the Fireman’s Pancake Breakfast or who should be the school representative at the Safe School Committee meeting at the district office on Thursday – you’re making decisions all day long.  And you need to go beyond just gut checks and knee-jerk reactions in making those decisions – especially when they impact the quality of instruction.

Here’s where the talking to yourself comes in…

Savvy principals know that the decisions that they make are going to set the tone for other decisions to come.  And most importantly, powerful principals know the staff is watching their every move, analyzing the decisions and deducing what is important or not important based upon the decisions the principal makes.  This is where you have to train yourself to talk through the outcome of even the teensiest decision before you pull the trigger.

Powerful principals making decisions do some good ol’ fashioned self-talk around these types of questions:

  • Does this decision have an impact on the heart of instruction positively or negatively or not at all?
  • Does this decision get in the way or give the impression of interfering with our instructional goals?
  • Does my decision impact the instructional minutes in the day?  Am I setting a precedent that I do not value those minutes if I allow this activity to interfere?
  • Does my message conflict with professional development that the teachers have had?  How will I reconcile this?
  • Am I piling another thing on the teachers that will cause undue overwhelm? Can it possibly wait or is the time right?
  • Who can I run this decision by prior to rolling it out to the staff?  Who can give me real-time feedback on this?
  • Is this a decision that has to be made or can I let it go?
  • Am I falling for a fad-like trick or is this decision based upon solid research and sound practice that overall just “makes sense” for us?
  • Should I run this by the Leadership Team or is this my decision to make alone?
  • Is this decision going to have long term effects?  What are they?
  • What will it look like when I implement this decision?  Do I like the picture I see in the long run?
  • What is the timeline for making this decision?  Can I delay it for a more opportune time?
  • Are there others who have made this decision before me?  I wonder what kind of input they can provide?
  • Does it just plain “make sense?”
  • Do I need more data before I make the decision or do I have enough for a “yes” or “no” right now?

I worked with a fantastic principal who turned around a less-than-fantastically-performing school and she reports, “I try to delay making decisions by 15 minutes because I find that people who pressure me to make quick decisions have an agenda.  They are using the tactic of a quick decision to get me to AVOID thinking things through – and it’s usually for their benefit.  On the other hand, if I delay decision-making too long, I look weak.  And one thing I’m not is weak!  So, I have my go-to questions in my head, kind of like my checklist that helps me funnel the question and then I make a decision like I mean business.  Even if I’m slightly unsure whether the decision is the best, I make it with gusto – like I mean it.”


Jill Jackson is known for telling it like it is about education.  She is passionate about school improvement and USING WHAT YOU HAVE to get increased student achievement results.  She is spilling the secrets about what it takes to improve classrooms and schools…click on the link to grab her Dirty Little Secrets video series – it’s free!  No strings!!     http://ow.ly/gF9kC