By Kathryn Washington, EdD

After being a principal for 11 years and working with the same administrative assistant for 9 years, I was asked what contributes to the magic of our success. Here are my Lucky 7 spell-binding tips for a successful front office:

1. Train your people. Be patient with those newbies!
At my small 1A school, I wear many hats. It took my admin a good year to get the hang of everything required of working in the front office.

In the words of Meaghan Brewer, my admin, “It took me a long time to get into a good groove, understand what was needed of me, the needs of the school, and the PR of the office. On top of all that, I was also learning who my boss was, what she needed and expected, and how to work with her on a day-to-day basis. I relied on trainings offered, and other office support staff in the district.”

It can be frustrating to deal with newbies, but if given the opportunity, time and resources, you never know who will be a great fit for the job!

2.Understand the front office isn’t a job everyone can do.
Some may think being “just a secretary” is easy. I mean, how hard is it to answer phones and file stuff, right? It is so much more than that, and a good principal understands this!

If the principal is clear and concise on what is expected and how to handle certain situations, front office staff will feel confident and empowered to handle situations independently and effectively. There may be frequent turnover before you find just the right person for each job, and that’s okay!

3.Trust your office staff to handle things you’ve trained them to do.
Supervise, yes. Ensure needs and requirements are being met, absolutely. But also trust people to do their jobs. Trust and respect are key to having a valued staff that wants to work with you. There’s a difference between working for someone and working with someone.

4. Share information, opinions and points of views.
Keeping your office staff informed is critical to ensuring the office does its job smoothly, efficiently, and within the guidelines the state requires. Knowing deadlines and how it needs to be done will help make that happen.

Learning how your coworkers feel/think will also help everyone get along better. However, keep politics out of the office as much as possible.

Listen to staff, answer their questions and verify. Interactive conversations are key componentsof a successful office. Being heard makes staff feel valued and respected.

6. Nurture mutual respect and appreciation.
In my admin’s words, “I understand my principal has the final say in decisions. I respect that even if I may not agree.”

Note, a good principal will allow for the opportunity to voice opinions, observations, and knowledge at appropriate times. Also, keep in mind office staff may be going through some things that may need to be taken care of. If they ask for help, ensure they get it. If your office staff is trustworthy and reliable, be sure to let them know they are appreciated!

7. Maintain a sense of humor.
Front office work can be demanding not only with the requirements of the state, but also dealing with kids, parents, faculty and staff. Some situations can seem overwhelming. Then, there are those situations you just can’t do anything but laugh. Finding humor is key to making sure the office stays fun and enjoyable. Laughter is magical!

Dr. Kathryn Washington’s career in education spans 27 years. She serves as TEPSA Region 6 President-Elect and is Adjunct Professor in the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at Houston Baptist University.

TEPSA News, September/October 2018, Vol 75, No 5

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The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 5,900 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

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