New Leaders: Back to School

New Leaders: Back to School

My back to school posts have usually been helpful lists, things to do, and pep talks for new teachers, but recently I’ve been thinking that new principals and administrators need similar pep talks. I didn’t arrive at that conclusion all by myself. My son-in-law, who is a brilliant, caring, and award-winning educator, has become a principal at 32. I hardly remember being 32, but I do know that most of my administrators were much older. As a teacher he was there early, left late, and spent weekends figuring, creating, and planning. Now, he’s worrying and planning for an entire school, all the staff and parents, as well as trying to please his district.

While there is stress for seasoned administrators, it can be a head-in-hands situation for a new leader. Furthermore, my daughter teaches, too, and they have two of the most wonderful and beautiful young children—a grandparents blessing—to care for, feed, and worry about. Maybe you remember, or have those “What do we do with the kids when we’re at work?” concerns, too. I don’t know how young people do it; I’ve forgotten, and truly don’t know where my energy for doing it has gone. My son-in-law and daughter are used to sharing all home and kid-raising responsibilities based on two teaching jobs, but with a new administrator in the house, the home time is not quite the same. Being a principal or leader in a school, or district takes a lot more personal time. Not easy for a young family.

My son-in-law is a quick study, and can handle anything, so my line with him is that everything will be OK, and that others are in the same boat, or has been there.

Thinking further, I came up with a few things I’d say to any new principal leading for the 1st time. I guess they’re more culture building than anything else, but that may be the biggest thing to build, because that foundation leads to building success.

  1. If you have an assistant principal, let the assistant principal help. Trusting a 2nd in command is a great way to get a principal out of the office and into the halls and classrooms with kids and teachers. Every teacher will tell you that having a principal, who is out in the field, regularly, is what they like, and it’s what students remember, too. Leaders should never hear the question, “Who’s that?” as they walk by.
  2. Lead teachers can be extremely helpful to new principals. If a school doesn’t have any, figure out a way to create the post(s). Feedback from teachers and the classrooms helps make better decisions, and helps you know when you’re really messing up—and off base. Lead teachers often have plenty of years experience as well as a handle on great teaching and communications. Figure out a way to give them an extra prep, so they can do some teacher mentoring makes sense, too.
  3. Involving teachers in regularly scheduled decision-making meetings is appreciated. These are not gripe sessions; teachers should gripe in person. Decision-making meetings are for that purpose—helping the principal make the best decisions for all.
  4. Student meetings are important, too. Principals can learn a lot from what kids are saying.
  5. Parents need access to talk with the principal, and the principal needs time to enlist parent advocates. These are not for grumping either. Positive parent meetings are a good way to share positive school vibes launched by a principal, as well as a way to brag about staff and students—to the customers. It’s great PR.
  6. As principal, making times to be accessible to teachers—for an office, sit down chat is important. Having an opportunity for teachers to schedule an individual meeting to talk, propose ideas, or to hear a “well done” pays dividends. Make these conversational.
  7. This may seem simple, but I had a principal who never acknowledged a hello in the hallway. Now, I’ve had that experience in the corporate world, too, but a simple hello in the hallway by a principal isn’t the equivalent of a salute from privates to an officer.
  8. Every principal should know that there are known times of stress during the year, and one of those is at the year’s start. Teachers have stress there, too, new students, new schedule, new curriculum changes, and new demands. What I do know is this, those times of stress are difficult, but they pass. In many cases it’s like the beginning of a race before you get your 2nd wind. It’s amazing how difficult running can be early on, and how easy it gets after a few miles. Hang in there, it will get easier to do all the things you need to do and more.

New principals shouldn’t forget personal branding.

I know my son-in-law understands the power of social media, because he’s already using Facebook to help connect his school for support and funding. Many educators do this as well. I’d also remind any new principal to remember personal branding. Personal branding can be beneficial locally and globally. Sharing the things you do, as a leader, with others is important. For now, I’d recommend Twitter, a blog, and speaking engagements, as well as joining a few leadership groups, where productive and practical knowledge is shared. Building a name in specific areas and keeping an eye on present and future trends can help grow a leader into a great leadership model. A conference or two is a great way to mingle with like-minded administrators—so getting away—grows more than a leader—it can grow a district’s vision, too.

While these thoughts are generic, I hope that a few will be of value to those new leaders piloting and maneuvering staff and students—for the first time—and possibly—again. Good luck new principals and all veterans, too!

Ken Royal is a teacher/education and education technology blogger/reporter, video interviewer, podcaster, education event news commentator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience. His teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. Read more of Ken’s work at Royal Reports