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October 2005 | Volume 47 | Number 10
When the Principal Is the New Kid at School
Several of the principals interviewed for this issue commented on strategies and tips that they felt would have helped them become better instructional leaders during their first years. The following are some of their suggestions.
Principal, Rocky Run Middle School
Remember, visibility is wonderful, but it needs to be coupled with other things. What are you doing while you're visible? Are you developing an awareness of your building and how it operates?
A lot of being a leader involves being emotionally in tune with your building. If people are under stress or unusual things happen, the eyes go to the leader to see how to react. If you frame your culture in a way that suggests you're doing well and sharing the best possible practices with each other, you're doing the best you can, and that can't help but translate into achievement with your kids.
Department of System Performance
Calvert County Public Schools
Prince Frederick, Md.
For me, I had an epiphany when I realized as principal that I was spending a tremendous amount of time focusing on teacher behavior. I finally realized it wasn't all about that; it was about whether our kids were learning.
In my office, I have a sign by the door that says: “What Have I Done to Improve Student Learning Today?” It's a matter of believing what's important. If you're in a learning center environment and trying to develop this, you have to make it happen.
The sink or swim idea doesn't work. If one teacher is retiring, you don't go through your class list and decide that seniority equates to getting all the honors kids. You need to give the “easier” assignments to the new teachers because they've got the most to learn.
Assistant State Superintendent
Maryland State Department of Education
If the only time you're in a class is when you're observing a teacher formally, there's no continuity around instruction. But if you're in and out periodically, and you know what the teacher is doing and what the students are doing, that's when you're a part of the instructional process at your school.
Having a Breakfast with the Principal is one of the most major and powerful events you can have. It's early in the day, and you can get various stakeholders before they go to work. You can do it with anybody—parents, teachers, students, business leaders in the community. It's one of the most powerful tools you have for communication and support.
Remember, it comes back to frequency of contact. People who did not have a great experience in school will want to know if their child is having a different experience. But if you wait until there's a crisis, the relationship will not be a sturdy one. And it will create other issues down the line as well because you won't be building the kind of trusting relationship that you need.
Katherine E. Johnson
Professional Development Facilitator
Howard County Public Schools
Most new principals simply try to do too much. For a new principal, garnering support and getting everyone on board and getting them to be data driven and work toward the betterment of student achievement is a challenge. The day to day can be overwhelming, so you really need to build collaborative teams that enable people to work together.
Very often, a new principal will observe and look at a culture first. They might do a survey to see if they know what's going on. They might do retreats with faculty, working with team leaders to build a powerful and positive culture. Remember, building that kind of culture can take years.
Remember, nontraditional figures are essential. Very often, the custodian and the related figures (teachers, assistants, tutors, coaches, and so on) have a lot to do with the culture of a school. If the secretary greets you in a friendly way, you know that that's a positive school.
At my school, we have a poster of sayings for the faculty room. It's called our Stop-Keep-Start list. We have things like the following:
Remember, principals tend to think they'll change the world. You have to be careful because there's pressure to make things the best that they can be, but if you do too much, you will lose sight of what your goal should be.
Copyright © 2005 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
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