- Beyond The Desk Leadership
- This time of year is interview season when more aspiring leaders are named principal. Once named, the work begins. There’s a lot to do before school opens for all principals, seasoned and new!
- Be present and involved in your school. Be an active leader. Move beyond the desk to work side by side with teachers.
- Suggestions to help all school leaders move beyond the desk include: set the tone, be purposeful so you can be present, lead by example, and ask, “What can I do to help you?”
Beyond The Desk Leadership
The weather is warmer, trees and flowers are blooming, and the birds are singing. Do you know what is right around the corner? If you are an aspiring school leader, you just said “interview season”! It provides new opportunities for aspiring leaders to step into that coveted principal seat.
Being named principal of a school is the biggest accomplishment for an aspiring school leader. They are now afforded the opportunity to live out their vision for creating an amazing school environment for staff and students. With their new title comes a new office, a new desk, and possibly even a secretary. Their name now appears on all school letterhead, as well as above the “Principal” nameplate on their office door.
They are now officially the leader of their new school, and the demands of the job begin on day one.
Besides all the great things that were already mentioned, there are a thousand decisions that need to be made before the first day of school. It begins with scheduling, hiring, purchase orders, class lists, retention, etc. And, let us not forget, time needs to be made to talk with all teachers in order to build trusting relationships and create a shared vision with staff and community.
Staff surveys need to be created and the data analyzed so that they can begin planning professional development for the upcoming school year. They need to schedule meetings over the summer with all of their different teams to plan out how they will proceed in the upcoming year. Staff and parent handbooks need to be updated and modified to reflect their thoughts and beliefs. Community meetings need to be planned out, and summer meetings with PTA and other key community stakeholders must be held.
While all this is going on, they need to learn everything they can about the culture, beliefs, and traditions of their school. All while trying to interpret what the school data says in order to inform their own decision-making. Sounds easy right? Did I mention that this happens every summer, whether you are a seasoned veteran, or new to the position?
The role of the principal is not easy, and it is not for everyone, yet it is the most rewarding leadership position you can have.
You are able to work side by side with amazingly talented teachers, positively influence every student in your school, and create partnerships with families to ensure their child’s educational journey is a successful one. To accomplish this, it requires you to be present and involved in your school.
It starts with an understanding that there is a fundamental difference in thinking between a leader and a manager, and it begins by leading outside the four walls of your office. You have to make a promise to yourself to get out and be an active leader.
Be a leader who is willing to engage every stakeholder in their school, both inside and outside of the school building. Make a commitment to yourself to not get bogged down by all the paperwork and daily issues. Move beyond the desk to work side by side with teachers so you can ensure you are building a culture that includes an “all-in” mindset.
Here are my suggestions to help all school leaders move beyond the desk.
Beyond the Desk Leadership: Set the Tone
You are the leader of your school, and it is up to you to create a positive and inviting school environment. Every morning, you will either find me helping out at the car rider line or on the walkway greeting students as they come into the school. I am there to give high-fives, hugs, and offer a smile to help start a student’s day off right.
I personally will have conversations with students. I’ll sometimes celebrate things I heard from students on the morning announcements. Announcements are key for setting the tone for your whole school. They allow you to create positive energy and celebrate staff and students and remind every person in your school that you are there to support them. More importantly for me, they remind everyone in my school that I love them.
Beyond the Desk Leadership: Be Purposeful So You Can Be Present
It is often hard to get into classrooms regularly with all the other disruptions happening around school. You have to be purposeful with your planning if you want to make that happen. My assistant principal spends her mornings visiting classrooms and talking with every teacher before the first bell.
As for me, I set time in my calendar where I do nothing but visit classrooms and make time for kids. I have a list of teachers I plan to visit each day. I intentionally add two extra names to my list in case I have extra time. And I make time to walk my campus after the first bell every morning.
This serves two purposes. It allows me to visit with custodians, bus drivers, school resource officers, and cafeteria workers. It also allows me to evaluate and address any campus issues that I see.
Beyond the Desk Leadership: Lead By Example
My first mentor said something that stuck with me all these years. “Never ask others to do something you are not willing to do yourself.” She was the principal, but it was not out of the ordinary to see her out front pulling up weeds from the garden beds, picking trash from the parking lot, and wiping down lunchroom tables. She was a part of the team, and she was never afraid to get her hands dirty.
Beyond the Desk Leadership: “What Can I Do To Help You?”
When I am visiting classrooms, I ask the same question to teachers before I leave. “What can I do to help you?” “Is there anything you need for me to do?” These two questions let teachers know that I am invested in their success and that I’m there to support them.
Every school leader gets caught up in the daily grind of management. I know I have been guilty of it myself. This is why we must be intentional to lead from beyond the desk and ensure the success of our schools.
Originally published on Teach Better on May 5, 2021
- Getting Coached Up!
- A school administrator is also an instructional coach, life coach, behavior coach, character development coach, and career development coach.
- To make an impact, every educational coach should build relationships, listen, stay positive, and start small.
When talking to another colleague about a coaching training I had recently attended, they asked me why I would attend training designed for coaches. “Are you looking to become an instructional coach?” they inquired. Although I knew they were joking, I was still perplexed by their question as they were also a principal.
Don’t all principals consider themselves a coach? Don’t all administrators want to sharpen their own skills at providing feedback, and helping those they serve reach new levels in their performance? Isn’t every school leader looking for new ways to inspire their staff, and provide them with new ideas that will engage and excite their students about what they are learning? In my opinion, understanding what it is to be a coach and improving your coaching skills will have a direct impact on your effectiveness as a school leader.
I feel that it is imperative for all school leaders to take time to invest in their own growth so that they can ensure that those they serve will continue to grow and succeed. CLICK TO TWEET
Some of the different coaching hats a school administrator wears:
- Instructional Coach
- Life Coach
- Behavior Coach
- Character Development Coach
- Career Development Coach
Share more suggestions with me, and I will add them to this list.
So what makes a coach great? Here are the 4 things that every educational coach should do to have a positive impact on those they serve.
Every Educational Coach Should…Build Relationships
Rita Pearson said, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like!” Guess what, neither do teachers! Take time to get to know the people you are working with. Learn the culture of the school, what teachers believe, what their teaching style is, and how they approach students and engage them in the learning process. In other words, effective coaches establish a culture of trust and collaboration.
Every Educational Coach Should…Listen
Have conversations with teachers—not about what you observed, but about who they are! Build up that relationship, and lay the groundwork for TRUST! You can be the most knowledgeable person with strong expertise in pedagogy, but if they do not trust you, they will never truly learn from you.
Once you know who they are, you should take time to find out what drives them (their why), and ask deeper questions about their experience, likes and dislikes, and their go-to teaching strategies. One of my new favorite quotes in education is “You must go slow to go fast!” Take the time to build strong relationships, earn trust, and lay the groundwork to help them grow![scroll down to keep reading]
Every Educational Coach Should…Stay Positive
No one likes to hear all the things they are doing wrong! Be supportive, and offer ideas about strategies and techniques that worked for you in the classroom.
Every Educational Coach Should…Start Small
When you provide people with feedback it must be transparent, thoughtful, timely, and targeted. Use the feedback sandwich technique, where you provide them with a positive, an area to work on and end with a positive. Focus on one thing during a lesson that you observed and offer to help with it. If the teacher seems receptive, take the time to coach them through all the steps of implementing it into their next lesson.
Be there to observe their next lesson, and offer lots of praise (whether it went well or not) for trying it. If they need, model it for them, and possibly co-teach with them. Knowing that you are there for support will make them more comfortable when they take the risk of trying your suggestions.
I feel that it is imperative for all school leaders to take time to invest in their own growth so they can ensure those they serve will continue to grow and succeed. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have been given to grow as a coach, and to fill up my toolbox as a school administrator.
Originally appeared on Teach Better May 4th
- Empowering Staff In The Decision-Making Process
- Empowering staff in the decision-making process means listening to your staff’s needs.
- Consider the potential barriers before making any big decisions.
- Be open with staff and solicit feedback to increase buy-in.
- Be sure to explain the “why” of your decision-making process.
School administrators are continuously looking for new strategies to help their teachers and students in their schools achieve at higher levels. They take time to read articles, books, blogs, or whatever they can get their hands on. They attend seminars, conferences, and Edcamps. And they may even watch Ted Talks and YouTube videos in an effort to find fresh new ideas. And after all of this, school leaders are faced with making tough decisions. They make the tough decisions that will impact the daily routines of those they serve on a regular basis.
After the past 5 years as a school administrator, I have learned that it is not as simple as just rolling out your plan, or making a quick decision. We owe it to the ones we serve to be strategic in our thinking. It starts with empowering your staff in the decision-making process. You must give them a voice as vital stakeholders in your school. It must be a part of your school culture and it can directly impact your school climate.
So how can you prevent your ideas and decisions from being rejected and ensure they are fully implemented with fidelity? Below you will find a list of steps that I take to ensure that I cover all bases before making decisions that will affect my staff.
Communication is the KEY!
It starts with listening! Take time to talk individually with your staff, to see what they need, or what new ideas they want to try in their classrooms. How do they feel about the decision on the table? What are their fears? Are there changes they would make in the plan you proposed? By taking the time to listen, you will have a better idea of the actual wants and needs of your staff. Then you can strategically begin to develop a plan that they will embrace.By empowering your staff in the decision-making process, you will build the trust and relationships needed to create a positive school culture and climate that will thrive for years to come.CLICK TO TWEET
Where are the BARRIERS?
Where are you going to get pushback? What parts of your plan will people take issues with? You don’t want to look back and wish you had identified possible issues that are now threatening your success. Before making any big decisions, or rolling out any new initiatives, you have to take some time to think through every scenario, identify possible issues, and assess what kind of obstacles are in your way.
Plant the SEEDS to get buy-in!
Getting buy-in from your staff can resolve almost every barrier that you identify. As teachers pop in and out of my office throughout the day, I will often invite them to sit down and discuss some of the decisions that I am contemplating. I record their questions and remain open-minded about their feedback.
Make time to reflect on the ideas they brought up during your time together. I suggest going to grade-level meetings to share your ideas, answer the questions that were already brought up to you, and solicit more feedback. The more input your staff has in the decision-making process, the more invested they become.[scroll down to keep reading]
Explain the WHY!
You are now ready to roll out your decision to your staff! It is not enough to simply just tell them what decision you made. You need to be prepared to share the “why” behind the decision. Explain how it will impact them. Then reassure them that you heard their concerns. This will not only build trust but will reassure them that you have done your best to lay the groundwork to ensure it is a smooth transition.
I am not saying that every time you make a decision that you must follow this plan. But if you take the time to follow these steps when big decisions need to be made, your staff will be more understanding when you have to make a quick decision without consulting them first.
“By empowering your staff in the decision-making process, you will build the trust and relationships needed to create a positive school culture and climate that will thrive for years to come.“Tweet
- Hiring The Right People…
- It is important to hire the right people who are great people, aligned with your vision, and support you.
- Consider whether they will buy into your vision and fit with your current staff. Ask deeper questions to find out!
As an elementary school principal, I believe reflection on the work we do is key to our success. My entire staff knows that I love quotes and I use them to reflect on my own life and career! Every morning when I get to school, I look forward to checking my email and taking a moment to enjoy some words of wisdom from Simon Sinek, and recently this quote resonated with me.
“Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet.” – Simon Sinek
I instantly began to think about my life and how it correlated to this quote. Immediately I thought to myself that I could easily add more to this quote. For instance, life is beautiful because of the people we meet, and the people we choose to surround ourselves with. I am blessed with an amazing family, friends, and coworkers. These people support me, lift me up when I am down, help pull me through when I am struggling, and they are there whenever I need them. They make my life…well…”beautiful”!
My focus when hiring is simple. I want to surround myself with people who share my vision, will embrace our culture, and make an immediate and positive impact on student learning.CLICK TO TWEET
Surround yourself with great people.
As I reflected on this quote as a principal, I began to think deeper about staffing and how important it is to surround ourselves with great people. It is not enough to just hire a teacher, teacher assistant, custodian, or front office personnel. I needed to surround myself with people who share my vision, support my dreams, and help pick up where my own shortcomings prevent our school from excelling. In all honesty, none of us are perfect, and every one of us has areas where we could use some support. That is why it is imperative that we take the time to be selective! We must ensure that we are hiring the right people for our schools.
See staff as family.
As a beginning principal, I walked into a new school fortunately surrounded by remarkable people who shared a vision similar to my own. Instantly, I was drawn to the idea of school staff as family. I have maintained this idea as it is an integral part of our school culture. Like any family, we have disagreements. Sometimes we do not see eye to eye. But ultimately, we stand side by side and support each other in order to make our vision a reality.
Unfortunately, teachers leave for retirement, new opportunities, or for other personal reasons resulting in a teaching vacancy. Filing these openings can be a daunting task. But, as I previously mentioned, it is one of the most important obligations we have as school leaders, especially if we are focused on surrounding ourselves with the right people.
Hiring the right people: Will this new person buy into our vision?
Do they believe that we must create lessons that engage our students? Can they understand why it is important to get children excited about learning? Are they the type of person who believes that we can help every child excel? How will this candidate positively impact my school? When I plan questions for the interview process, I am planning with these thoughts in mind. I want to know in the interview what the candidates believe. More importantly, I want to know if they will be a proper fit for our school.
Hiring the right people: Will they work well with our existing staff?
I think it is important for administrators to have an interview team made up of a few teachers, a teacher assistant, office personnel, and a parent. We use our School Improvement Team (SIT) members to conduct all interviews. Each person on my interview team brings a different lens to the table. They all have a different set of expectations for each candidate we interview. I want to ensure that every new employee will be a good fit for my existing team. My team must be confident that they will be able to work well with the new hires. To start off with, make sure that you cover the basics when hiring new staff. I know someone who was researching about the background check in Colorado and it turns out you can check for more than just criminal history. You double-check they received the qualifications listed on their resume. It’s surprising how often people lie about qualifications to get themselves a job!
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Hiring the right people: Dig deeper when doing references!
I want to know as much as possible before hiring a person for a job at my school. Aside from the obvious clearance from police that means they’re safe to be working with children, I want to know about what makes up their very core. If your hiring process is like mine, you have a list of required reference questions that must be answered. There is nothing wrong with asking deeper questions along with these questions. I heard Todd Whitaker talk at a North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals Association Instructional Symposium about asking better questions when checking references and it has stuck with me.
“My least favorite question is Would you hire this candidate again if you had an open position? Of course, they will say yes since they had agreed to do the reference. I want to know more specifically, out of all your staff, would this candidate be in your top 3 rehires? What separates this candidate from everyone else in your school? It tells me a little more about the culture of a candidate’s previous school. Plus, I know what values their reference person considered to be important.”
This gives me a deeper insight into how this potential employee has performed in the past. It has now become a part of every reference call I make.
My focus when hiring is simple. I want to surround myself with people who share my vision, will embrace our culture, and make an immediate and positive impact on student learning. If you want to change, improve, or enhance your school culture, begin by focusing on your hiring process and ensuring you are surrounding yourself with the “right” people.