APPR has created a tremendous amount of change in our districts and buildings. It has also increased the amount of work principals have to do on a daily basis, let alone the amount of stress. Staying positive is key to the success and survival of these demands. As a 13 year administrative veteran, here are some top tens I would like to share (In no particular order!)
1. Keep Your Door Open and Be Visible: Your staff, students and parents need to see you as the leader and you need to be accessible. Keep your door open, listen, listen, and listen even more. Give encouragement to your staff who are working hard to embrace a new curriculum and create engaging lessons for students. Be in their classroom, the hallways, the lunch room and the playground. Greet the buses and parents in the morning. Get on the announcements daily and say the pledge, your school pledge and your belief statement. It’s powerful, it resonates, and starts the day on a positive note.
2. Use a Scheduler: If you don’t write it down on your schedule to do a walk through, be visible, or do that observation, then it will not get done! I use Google Calendar and live by it. I have shared the calendar with my secretary who schedules my observations and meetings with staff when needed. Using an online calendar such as Google Calendar, iCal, or Outlook will help you organize YOU. The best part is that it notifies me of my schedule in the morning, and notifies me 10 minutes in advance.
3. Provide Mini-Observations: Teachers want feedback on how they are doing. When you do a walk through or mini-observation give them honest, constructive feedback. I like what Kim Marshall has listed in how to do mini-observations the right way: Unannounced, Frequent, Short, Face-to-face, Perceptive, Humble, Courageous, Systematic, Documented, Linked to teacher teamwork and schoolwide improvement, Linked to end-of-year teacher evaluation, and Explained well. (Kim Marshall, Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, 2nd Edition, 2013.) Marshall suggests to do 10 mini-observations on each teacher, throughout the school year.. That would be 1 mini-observation per month. In our district, we do 5 mini observations for tenured, 2 formal observations and 3 mini-observations for 1st year teachers, and 1 formal observation and 4 mini-observations for 2nd and 3rd year non-tenured teachers. What it has accomplished for me is having powerful, professional conversations about what is occurring in the classroom, asking questions of the staff, and coaching best practice. It is also building trust and it is so important to have those face-to-face conversations about what is working and what needs to be refined. It’s about growth and should not be about a “gotcha”.
4. Share The Leadership: I am the sole administrator/lead learner at East Side, with a student population of 463 and about 60 staff members. There is no way I can do this job alone and I rely on the staff to help run the school. Give leadership roles to your teacher’s. Give them opportunities to work together so they can manage the Common Core. They are the ones in the trenches and will help boost school morale and provide great education for our students.
5. Be the Lead Learner: Rather than being “the principal”, be the Lead Learner. Joe Mazza, Lead Learner of Knapp Elementary School in the North Penn School District, PA, coined this term and it means to talk the talk and walk the walk. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Join your teachers in professional development. Share your learning and what you find. Get on Twitter people! (Social media networking is huge and you should be embracing this venue.) Gone are the days of the principal sitting in the office, managing discipline and minutia. We need to be visible, be a part of what is happening in our schools, and be in the classrooms.
6. Your Hour of Power: Tony Robbins says that we have to have a daily ritual of physical and emotional conditioning. This means having time for you. Are you experiencing an extraordinary life? He also says to put in some type of physical activity. I try to power walk the hallways of my school and examine student work displayed and in turn, see the pride in our students’ accomplishments. This also gives me an hour to reflect on the day and plan. Give yourself this hour to rejuvenate and reflect.
7. Stop Those Boring Staff Meetings: Are you regurgitating information that can be shared via email or a blog? Stop that type of staff meeting where it is you up there, giving information and share it with your staff. Don’t waste their time by giving unnecessary information that can be shared via email or better yet, flip your staff meeting as Peter DeWitt shared in his blog Finding Common Ground.
8. Climate and Culture: How is the climate of your building? Have you given a culture survey? Are you dealing with lots of discipline issues that boggle you down? Maybe it is time to implement a social and emotional curriculum such as Responsive Classroom or PBIS. If you don’t address the social and emotional aspects of students and get to know your kids, forget about the academics. Programs such as these change the culture of your building not only for students, but for the adults. The social and emotional curriculum is just as important as the academic curriculum. Once you have the social and emotional curriculum in place, academics are a breeze. It is about the relationships we develop not only with our students, but also with adults.
9. Celebrate: Celebrate the joys of being a team, a school family. We just finished our Holiday stocking stuffing exchange and what a hit it made for the staff. We also celebrate baby showers, weddings, birthdays, you name it. Again, as adults, it’s about the relationships and working together to be the best we can be. I always say to the staff, “You are the best of the best.” You say it often, and it starts to become a part of you, and we show our pride.
10. It’s People, Not Programs: Todd Whitaker says it best that it’s about the teachers, the people, not the programs. “We can spend a great deal of time and energy looking for programs that will solve our problems. Too often, these programs do not bring the improvement or growth we need. Instead, we must focus on what really matters. It is never about’ programs; it is always about people.” (Todd Whitaker, What Great Principals Do Differently, 2003.) Yes we have new Common Core State Standards and those modules, but if you are not putting the time into your people, your staff and teachers, giving them time to plan, collaborate, reflect and giving them ownership, then it will be a tough road ahead. Empower your teachers and your staff, and you will have a better school. You know that if you have great teachers, you will have a great school. “The program itself is never the solution nor the problem.” (Todd Whitaker)
In the end, it is all about teamwork. As the lead learner, create those opportunities for collaboration, leadership, reflection and rejuvenation. You are the lead leaner and remember to remain positive!