Principals

They Even Have Jumper Cables


Paralyzing.  That’s how someone this week described the potential feeling of all there is to do as a building principal.  She is not paralyzed, but she knows the danger in ever trying to think about it all at once.

There is instructional leadership.  Math and reading small groups, data-driven decision-making, Professional Learning Communities.

There is parent and community engagement, social emotional learning, mental health supports.

There are Halloween parties and after school clubs and volleyball games and pep rallies.

There is student discipline, and there are student celebrations.

And then I was driving home from work this week, and I noticed one of our principals out in the parking lot helping to jump-start a car.  They even have jumper cables.

The role of building leader is enormous.  It can feel overwhelming if you let it.  The same could be said of most leadership roles.

So how are the great ones doing it?

A mentor shared an axiom with me this week. If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.  Prioritizing is essential in effective leadership.  The best leaders avoid feeling paralyzed by staying focused on a few key things.  Asking some important questions can help.

  • What should I be focusing on today, this week, this semester?
  • How will I keep the first things first?
  • Who can help me?

That last question is sometimes the hardest.  Delegating and asking for help does not come naturally to many people.  The same mentor once told me that if someone else can be doing something, they probably should be doing it.  Building leadership is a big job.  Surrounding yourself with talented and engaged people helps but only if you let them.  One of the most powerful things you can do as a principal or a leader of any kind is to recognize and develop the leadership skills in others.  Collaboration and shared decision-making is not only good for your climate and culture, it lightens your load.  The best leaders are not trying to do it all by themselves.

None of this is to say that other people in our schools and in your organizations are not also doing overwhelming work.  I’ll do a whole blog on what we ask our teachers to do everyday.  They are heroes, truly amazing!

But this week I have been overwhelmed by all of the things our principals are doing.  They are anything but paralyzed, and our students are all the better for their efforts.  I just wanted to say thank you!

Keeping Connected to the Classroom

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I have the best job in the world!  (Everyone in education says they have the best job in the world, and we all really mean it.)  After 13 years in the classroom and 9 years as a building level administrator, I am currently working in our district office.  My job is staff development and instructional improvement.  I get to spend my time talking about effective instructional practices.  It is an amazing gift!

This week I spent two hours with a colleague doing walk through observations in one of our high schools.  We are implementing a new instructional model, and this was my opportunity to walk my talk.  I have spent the last year facilitating staff development for our administrators about this new model.  Now I need to spend time in classrooms watching the model in action.  I need to spend time with the administrators who are actually using the model with teachers.  It was wonderful.

There is an energy in a school.  I miss it.  Engaging lessons in the classroom, excited students in the hallway during passing period, and people building relationships at every turn.  It was fun to be back talking about good teaching with a great administrator.

And then it happened.

We got back to the office and were debriefing our experience when another administrator in the building popped in to let us know there was a discipline issue being addressed across the hall.  And there it was…the real world.

We ask our administrators to do so much.  There are hundreds of tasks that need their constant attention.  Safety and security, technology, parent concerns, student issues…the list could go on and on.  We need them to manage the building, but we also need them to be instructional leaders.  Finding that balance is not easy.

Walk through observations, reflective conversations, and meaningful feedback are all critical to improving instruction.  We know this!  But finding the time to do those things effectively can be a struggle.

Today was a good reminder for me that the real world sometimes gets in the way.  As someone who is not currently serving in a building level role, there are things I need to remember.

Listen and Seek to Understand

I need to listen openly to the experiences of the people who are implementing things in the building.  They have the practical experiences and a more realistic understanding of what is actually happening.  I may think I know, but I am not the one doing it. We need to have a relationship that allows for honest and direct conversations.  Time is precious; there is never enough of it.  When we can carve out time to talk, everyone needs to be willing to share openly.

Empower Others

No amount of planning on my part can replace effective implementation by the leaders in the building.  My role is to empower leaders to be both visionary and systematic.  I can only make things happen by developing capacity in others.

Offer Grace

While instructional improvement is certainly not all I do, it is the big rock in my world.  But what is a big rock for me may be a pebble in the moment of what they are dealing with in the building.  It is critical for me to remember that my piece is only one piece of what they are being asked to do.  If something gets dropped or a detail gets neglected, my first instinct should be to offer grace.  I have no idea what student issue that administrator has been tackling.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not letting building administrators off the hook here either.  This same real world exists for our classroom teachers too.

We ask our teachers to do so much.  Administrators have to remember that their perceptions will never be as accurate as the teachers’ actual experiences in the classroom.

And finally, I’m not letting classroom teachers off the hook either.  We ask our student to do so much.

This real world exists for us all.  Listening and actually hearing the experience others are having is a powerful first step.