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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Great Principal's "Any-Given Afternoon"

A Great Principal’s “Any-Given Afternoon”

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            As I drove down a Michigan expressway earlier today, I called my wife and asked her to verify an address: I was going to make an impromptu (admittedly uninvited) visit to the school-building address of Principal Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat) of Morrish Elementary School in Swartz Creek Michigan, who was kind enough recently to endorse an upcoming book that I have coming out with Dr. Steve Gruenert.
            I wanted to thank her and to see what she was up to.
            Michele has a large social media following, an international professional learning network; she is the co-author of COLchat Reflections: Creating a Culture of Learning One Day at a Time, and has a reputation for being an incredibly successful K-12 school leader, and thus one of the busiest people on the planet. 
One might assume you can’t just drop by and see someone like this, but I bet different.   
Michele is a GREAT building principal.
            I didn’t have much time, as I was traveling between destinations myself, yet I was betting that at 4:30 p.m. today, Michele might be quite predictable, indeed.  She would probably be in her building, helping teachers and staff wind down their days, helping others wind-up their evenings, and doing about a hundred things that she didn’t get done during the day, because folks needed her to do other things. 
I was right.
In pulling into my parking space, I saw Michele with a smile at the school’s entrance, greeting families as they were visiting, waving to others who were leaving, and helping with what I believed was a school fundraiser.
These things weren’t delegated. 
Michele didn’t have a small army of “peeps” handling her clerical or public relations work.  Like other great K-12 leaders I know, she was assuming the lion’s share of everything that was going on at that moment in time. 
She was “principaling,” even with few people left in the building.
And the best part about it . . . she made me feel like a million dollars when I arrived.  I would have thought that I was the only one in the building, even with her greeting others by name as they passed, making them feel like a million dollars as well.
I began this week writing a Leadershop article on the conditions of our school buildings after the day is done.  I might not run it, because my interests have shifted, yet I will say this about that topic: I believe if schools have a culture that engenders pride and self-worth, a principal’s school building at the conclusion of any given day will still allow principals to impress visitors with how nice everything looks. 
Morrish Elementary was such a place.
What a great feeling to be in Michele’s “house,” even if staying only a few minutes.   I enjoyed our brief talk.  I look forward to visiting again, maybe with some warning.
What I will say in closing is how much pride I have knowing that our best principals around the nation, like Michele Corbat, are probably quite predictable in what they might be doing, whom they might be greeting, and where they might be making a true difference, on any given afternoon . . .
. . . At their school entrances, in their office doorways, or readying for a school event, doing too many things to count, yet ensuring that when we visit, we feel like the only ones on their calendars, at those moments in time.


Dr. Ryan Donlan believes that K-12 principals keep him relevant.  If you’re a building principal, please continue helping him in this regard by contacting him from time to time and letting him know “What’s Up?” in your building, and thus allowing him to pass-on the story of how you make a difference to his PhD students, as well as the groups to which he speaks.  He can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at 

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