First things first…thank you for all that you do! Your job is hard. You wear many hats and determine much of the building climate by the type of leadership role you choose to take. You are a decider in which course the ship will sail. You are often overworked and under thanked. While you may continually look for new ways to build up your team…who is the one helping to build up you? Being an effective, fair, and positive leader is a humongous undertaking, but it is what your job requires.
For the last six months I have been asking your teachers what they need from YOU. I have engaged with Ts through focus groups, twitter chats, private message boards, and PD sessions. Through their responses I found 10 common themes of what they want from you. Below are 10 factors that teachers believe make good leaders. Can you check off most from the list? Do you have areas left for growth?
1. Good principals take care of themselves. Often leadership positions require admin to arrive early and stay late. Every after school event (e.g. skating parties, sock hops, carnivals, math night, etc.) require leadership to attend. And while you may LOVE your job and the families you serve, are you making the effort to also love yourself? Self-care is not selfish. When you get on a flight to go to Florida the first thing the flight attendant does is address the passengers with this message, “Please secure your own oxygen mask before helping to secure the mask of the young child next to you.” Same is true in a school setting. If you can’t breathe how are you going to help students and your staff? Good principals practice self-care and they practice it consistently.
2. Good principals make time to develop relationships with students. Leadership must make an effort to know students’ names, understand their needs, and build authentic and real relationships with kids. Think back to why you began Principal…what’s your why? I can almost guarantee it has something to do with wanting to help serve kids! Remind yourself on that WHY often and reclaim your joy as an educator because that is what you still are. You’re the educator that is the model for all of those around you, including the students. The kids want to love you. They can tell if you love them. Be real and genuine.
3. Good principals develop relationships with parents and families. As a leader, you are not only serving your students but their families as well. Look for innovative ways to connect and welcome families into the school. Are you making more positive phone calls home than negative? Are you an outside of the box thinker on how to better serve and meet the needs of the families at your school? How comfortable are parents and guardians with connecting with you? Are you visible? Accessible? Approachable?
4. Good principals develop relationship with their staff and SUPPORT their team. Just like you want to be real and genuine with the students you also must be real and genuine with your team. You can’t drive the train without them. You may be the conductor, but they are your crew. You need a crew to get everyone to their destination safely. Treat your team as the professionals you hope they can be. JEAN Days are nice but it is a minimal form of respect and appreciation. What goes further than a JEANs Day is a sense of support, trust, and specific positive feedback. Teachers appreciate working with someone who is honest and will back them up when faced with adversary.
5. Good principals understand teachers have outside lives. Teachers are human. We somehow hold them to a higher standard because of their very important role in our world but they are human beings. Beings with issues, families, and lives. It is unreasonable and insensitive to expect school to come before all aspects of outside life. Of course you want your teachers to display dedication, but being a good principal requires you to have empathy for your staff. How would you want to be treated if you had personal issues to attend? Treat your team the same.
6. Good principals sometimes make hard decisions based on what is best for kids. Your main role as an educator is advocacy. Not only advocacy for your team but more importantly advocacy for students. You are a voice for the voiceless. Sometimes being an advocate for children means making hard or unpopular decisions but it is WHY you are here. An effective leader will always put the students first always thinking, What is best for our kids?
7. Good principals keep up on current trends and best practices. One strategy that many teachers suggested was for you to visit their classrooms often for nonevaluative purposes. A classroom visit shouldn’t be for the “I gotcha” surprise element. Visiting classrooms should be to 1. Build relationships with students and staff and 2. Celebrate and learn about what is happening in classrooms. It is also the responsibility of admin to understand what best practice strategies are appropriate for all grade levels. PSA…early childhood education is technically defined to include children birth through eight years old. That means what is developmentally appropriate for a five year old may be just as beneficial for a third grader (just at a differentiated level). If you have never taught a younger grade it could be in your best interest to visit those rooms often to understand what it’s all about! The opposite is true too for older grades.
8. Good principals allow their team to lead and have a voice. After visiting your teachers’ rooms often, you may quickly realize what types of talents are present in your school. Every single member of your team possesses unique gifts and specialties to share. BUT if you are always the one running the show you are missing out on showcasing your team’s talents. Delegate responsibilities. Allow teachers to express what they need for professional development instead of simply deciding for them. When people feel valued and important they step up to the plate. Teachers are wanting voice and choice just like we are promoting our students to have voice and choice.
9. Good principals don’t allow drama and cliques to live and breathe in their school. Like I mentioned above, every member of your team is unique. With this uniqueness come personality differences and sometimes conflict. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. What turns conflict into drama is when gossip, passive aggressive behaviors, and cliques run your school. It is your job as a leader to not allow this to overrun the environment. Set up a precedent that you’re a team with differences and that is part of what makes you great. You are a group of professionals and need to act like it. Professionals address each other with respect and empathy. This includes admin and leadership roles. The worst thing you can do as a leader is to engage in gossip, favoritism, and cliques. Your team is watching you. You set the tone.
10. Good principals have FUN at their job. This goes back to remembering your WHY. Have fun with your students and staff. Be silly. Laugh. SMILE. Engage. Not every day of your job will be filled with sunshine and joy. Leading is HARD!! A leadership role often requires you to make hard choices and put out a lot of fires. Positivity breeds positivity. If you can approach your role with joy and fun, it will spread throughout the entire school and out into your community.
Being a leader in education is living a service life. You serve your staff, your students, your family, and your community. Just remember to keep the joy in your job and make sure you are serving yourself too!