I remembered the day before I began my first day as a Principal. While I was excited, I was also very nervous and unsure about the journey I was about to begin. I thought I was prepared but the more I thought about the “what if’s”, the more I recognized I was not entirely sure I had all the answers. I wanted to help impact others and support their work on a broader scale beyond my single classroom that I had as a teacher. I knew that also meant my responsibilities were also much greater too. Those memories seem very distant now…but at the same time I feel similar emotions as we embark further into this school year. The impact of COVID-19, social justice, budget shortfalls, staffing challenges all make this year similar in many ways. Despite my best efforts to be ready for this year, I know I will not have all the answers. I also know that as a building leader, there is an immense amount of responsibility upon my shoulders as we must keep our students and staff safe while providing high quality learning experiences – all during a pandemic. The expectations from those outside our building are in many cases unrealistic due to the many challenges and new practices that must be implemented this year. As I was thinking about this year, I was reminded of the importance of Blazing my own trail as a leader as there is no principal manual for COVID so I will do my best to lead our school community through this year and grow in the process.
The areas below are 5 areas from my perspective that I must incorporate into our work and keep as my “True North” to help keep my purpose right in front of me. These 5 areas are what all leaders consistently do within their work. These include:
Challenge the status Quo – It is important to remember that teachers will only take risks when the principal takes risks. From my perspective, challenging the status quo means simply you “try new strategies in a pursuit of an unknown better”. In other words, you are not striving for perfection but rather learning through the process as the focus is on growth. This year is different and if schools will be successful it is because they had teachers who were willing to adapt, pivot and try something new. This can be best achieved as leaders keep the following in mind:
- Importance of having “worthy rivals”. This is not referring to other leaders who you try to beat our outdo, but rather your professional learning network (PLN) that supports you, helps motivate and provides honest feedback. They can be a springboard for new ideas.
- People outside of your school rely upon communication for their perspectives, so consider what within communication can you innovate this year to connect with families and showcase the positives from your school.
- Don’t settle for “it’s working” when it can become what attracts great teacher leaders to your community and motivates them to stay and grow within their profession. At the same time, what makes students excited to come to school?
- As a starting point, help your staff remember their “why” as that will give them the courage to lead and try new things.
Inspire a shared Vision – This year has so many variables and so much new information. Teachers and your staff may get overwhelmed. It is important that leaders help their staff members remember their purpose and that together we can accomplish anything. This can be achieved by:
- Always focusing on relationships first.
- Build culture every minute, every day. This is done through simple conversations and in many cases, listening and being empathetic.
- Use stories as a way to connect staff together so there is a common shared understanding of the work.
- Bring it back to the kids.
- Leaders must be a filter. There is so much information thrown at leaders that then is supposed to be shared with teachers. Their key is to only share with staff the key information they must know so their plates don’t get too full. Keep it simple for teachers so they recognize it is about making connections to students and making learning personal and authentic.
- Communicate to your school community in an authentic way, effectively and efficiently. This is achieved by using consistent messaging , being simple and straightforward. It is also important to be genuine and use multi modal means of communication.
Empower others to act – Leaders must recognize our key role is to help Influence others and develop your team. This is achieved by investing time with them so you get to know each person and what motivates them. This allows you to Inspire them to try new approaches and rekindle their “why” they became an educator. It is also important to seek their input as not only will that allow you greater perspective but also to avoid your own personal blindspots. It is also important not to rely on the same teacher leaders for everything – find ways to incorporate different people and give them opportunities to contribute. As leaders, find ways to get your staff excited about what they can accomplish if they work together and then get out of their way and let them do their magic.
Model the Change – The greatest factor that causes change within a school is when a leader models the change. People respect a leader by their Competence (which is how well they do their job) and their Character (which is how they do their job). It takes more than 1 conversation to influence change, it takes repeated efforts that demonstrate consistency, common purpose and resilience. Leaders must remember their words and actions can inspire others and we should never forget that a 30 second hallway conversation may be the important part of a teacher’s day. In addition, when leaders take responsibility for their professional growth, the teachers notice and that inspires them to also take advantage of opportunities to grow and learn together. Learning becomes the culture of a staff where the principal is a lead learner.
Enlarge the Heart – Culture is the most important thing in a school. This is true every year but this year – the culture of great schools is the factor that will allow schools to find success in the most challenging of times. Leaders must focus more on experiences for staff and help them to remember why they do what they do. Educators don’t get burned out because they don’t want to work hard, they get burned out because they forget why they do the work. We cannot just tell our staff we value them – we must show them. The little things (ex. Handwritten notes, stopping by their room during their plan to check in on them, giving them grace when they make mistakes) go a long way to strengthening a culture.
This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. Leaders must keep common principles in front of them so they can focus on their worth daily. The areas mentioned above will help leaders navigate through the storm of COVID-19 impact to help their school have a great year. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth by keeping your “True North” as your focal point. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org