Every Tuesday of the month we have our staff meetings after the students leave for the day. As a teacher I usually dreaded these because I knew that I was going to get very little value out of the meeting or it was going to be about something that could’ve been addressed through email. As a Principal I’ve tried to avoid the things I didn’t like as a teacher but the body language of the staff as they file in lets me know I still have room to grow. These three tips are helping me improve my staff meetings.
Leave them wanting more
This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. Having only two or three things on the agenda makes this more attainable. With just a few items staff can anticipate leaving in a timely manner. You also have the opportunity to delve more deeply into a subject. When this happens and you have to end the discussion the staff will look forward to the next meeting. I’m always happy when a meeting I have to attend manages to end early. I know my staff appreciates it too.
The more the merrier
As the leader of the staff meeting it is important to set the agenda and begin the conversation. It is even more important to be a facilitator in the meeting. Usually you have a few people who always dominate the conversation. As the principal you must make sure to guide the discussion and ask good questions. Make sure to get input from your introverts as they often have great ideas.
The simple truth
Rarely is the truth simple and everyone’s truth is different. However, a meeting in which multiple perspectives are raised, and received knowing kind intent, is one worth having. These are the meetings we leave feeling purposeful and connected. Like a subtle spice in your favorite dish, meetings of this kind are rare. They’re often unexpected and hard to come by but these are the meetings in which the entire staff grows. I continue to work steadily to create a culture where staff meetings like this can happen.
Staff meetings are necessary and mandated by contracts. They don’t have to be boring or repetitive. Make meetings shorter than announced, include as many as you can in the conversation and be transparent and your staff will, if not look forward to, at least come with open minds.
How do you get the most out of your staff meetings. If you have some advice for us drop a sentence or two in the comments section.
I’m in my first year as a principal and I’ve found it to be an exciting and challenging experience. It is sometimes lonely after being used to being part of a teaching unit. Last year I was an assistant principal so If needed to talk something over there was someone there. As the single administrator in the building there is not one that is immediately there to ask for advice. Being part of a private Facebook Group, The Principal Entrepreneur, has allowed me to ask questions and receive answers in a safe and supportive environment. The following three pieces of advice were given when I asked, “What advice would you give a first year Principal?”
“Talk to your students! You learn the most from them!”
Principal: Dexter High School, New Mexico
This one has been one of the easier pieces of advice to follow. I tend to be student centered. However, following this piece of advice did cause some tension with my staff. I made a decision in which students were able to make their own choice. Staff was not pleased with the choice they made. How have others dealt with blowback in this situation?
Really . . . that too?
“Learn to say no! You have enough to do as it is.”
Principal: Holt Lutheran School, Michigan
This particular piece of advice is more difficult for me to follow. There are good ideas that create new opportunities for our students. I don’t know if I’ve done the best at this. Not all the things I’ve said yes to necessarily line up to our school’s overall mission and vision. What methods do you use to filter ideas that come to you?
Patience is a Virtue
“Be patient with change-take your staff and community through the process and let it work.”
Sara Nieves Pelly
Principal: Fletcher Elementary, Southern California
As a person with ADHD this is the toughest for me. I’m always wanting to push for the next thing. The idea of patience also ties back to the previous quote and why I struggle with the next shiny object syndrome. Real change takes three to five years. For others out there: is a 3-5 plan actually realistic? With the constant change in leadership in our field how do you plan for the long term?
As a new principal I appreciate the advice of more established leaders. It definitely helps me to grow more quickly. What advice would you give a first year principal? Leave your answer in the comment section below. For more quick tips check out my blog and podcasts at theprincipalentrepreneur.com
As a principal long days are pretty typical. We could have to stay late for any number of athletic contests, concerts, or parent meetings. Sometimes we might do two or three in one night. The next day when we come in we all must be careful to avoid our inner Trump. The following are three situations in which our implicit bias can manifest.
As mentioned in the opening, being tired can lead to an unconscious reliance on hidden patterns in your brain. I work in an alternative high school. Truancy is often an issue. I’d had a long day previously and was monitoring lunch. I saw one of my students outside wandering around the building. I rushed out of the lunchroom and yelled at the student to get his butt back over here. I made an assumption based on stereotypes of my students that he was trying to skip. On reflection, this student shows up almost everyday and has never skipped. He won an award the previous quarter for his attendance. Because I was tired I didn’t think I just reacted. When you’re tired and making decisions be careful of applying stereotypes to situations.
It’s a rare day when Principals don’t have to deal with discipline. This can often be a very stressful scenario. Just the other day I was informed of a fight between students where a staff member was hit in the face. Discipline was called for and the staff’s safety was of concern. These types of situations, where we are under intense pressure are key moments when implicit bias can manifest. This might lead to harsher discipline than would normally be administered. A good way to check for implicit bias is to regularly check our discipline data. If we find it skewed in one direction or another we can do a self assessment and make sure that our biases aren’t subconsciously impacting our decisions.
Dealing with internal and external politics is another constant. In a lot of cases we have to balance the needs of our staff against the needs of the district. In these situations, when making a decision it often appears that there is only a binary choice, either a or b. Again this is an aspect of the job where implicit bias is automatically tapped into. When I was working as a teacher the district was threatening to shut down our school. Teachers and students were up-in-arms. In this scenario I automatically assumed that the upper administration were uncaring, out-of-touch, dictators and we of course, were the scrappy underdog. Where they villians and we the heroes? Of course :-)
As principals, when we are tired, stressed or under political pressure we are more likely to make decisions based on our implicit biases. When reflecting what are other scenarios in which you have to watch out for your own biases? Please share in the comment section. For more quick tips check out my blog or podcast at theprincipal entrepreneur.com
Like bad credit card debt a Principal can find themselves paying interest on past mistakes. This can take many forms. Teachers will show up late for meetings, have blatant side conversations, and refuse to work outside of anything explicit in their contract. You can also find yourself paying with an increase in student referrals and calls routed to you that normally weren’t. To get out of this hole, like fixing your credit score, you gotta start with the basics.
Look in the Mirror
You first have to acknowledge that you messed up. Reflect on what may have caused the problem in the first place and own it. At your next staff meeting admit that you’ve noticed some changes and let your staff talk. Listen to their concerns. You might find out that something that you thought was innocuous was actually a major problem that went against an unwritten norm that you didn’t know about. In that case take responsibility and let them know that their hurt feelings was not the intent of the decision that you made.
Devour the low hanging fruit
If you find out that you made a sequence of small mistakes address those first. Maybe you come in and you have so many things on your mind that you consistently forget to acknowledge your office staff. Perhaps your forgot to follow through on sending out a weekly email. Take care of those simple errors first. Smile and say hello and schedule important emails in your calendar. This will help to compound your momentum as you begin to address larger concerns.
Learn from your mistakes and only make them once. This is simple advice that’s not easy to follow. Most of us make mistakes because of the habits we have. We make decisions based on the well worn neural pathways that we’ve built and that have helped us in the past. Those same perceptions may be causing us issues in a new situation. Learn new skills and new ways of working with people and through situations. In some cases it may help to have a mentor with a bird’s eye view. She could help you uncover your blind spots.
Whatever the case, don’t let your mistakes compound. Don’t point the finger and blame the staff for their behaviors. As the Principal, you’ve got to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve created and start accruing good will. If you do that you will eventually have the capital you need to make the changes you want.
Growing up in a competitive society it’s difficult to wrap your mind around losing. As an All American Athlete at the University of Michigan, losing was something that got me blasted by my friends and teammates. In the athletic arena losing teaches you that you have to try harder, work out longer, change your techniques to compensate for weaknesses and rely on your teammates and coaches to put you in the best possible position to win.
In business losing is even more cut throat and means you could lose your job. In education, the stakes are even higher and losing means you might be destroying a child’s life. Under these circumstances it’s hard being a loser and it’s hard trying new things. However as a Principal, you are in a leadership position in order to make decisions in which losing is a real possibility. Below are three reasons you should want to lose.
Trying innovative programs and ideas can galvanize your staff. If your building is filled with stale ideas from the past and cynicism about the future, the courage to try something new can help break you out of the malaise. In my building we started using public transportation to get our kids to school. This change helped to establish our program as different and created a clear separation from the past.
Shows a Growth Mindset
Schools are not to big to fail. As the Principal trying new things, failing at them and then learning from them is an essential part of leadership. Being a continual learner is an example for your staff and your students. Talking about your learning process and being truthful about losing experiences helps make you relatable.
Being vulnerable is an exercise in courage, especially when you're exposing yourself to criticism. Your staff will, in turn, be comfortable telling their truths and be open to asking for help. Mutual vulnerability creates a culture of community. According to Brene Brown, who was quoted in Harvard Business Review,
"Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, itimplies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing “professional distance and cool” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure."
Losing at something and being truthful about it is an example of vulnerability.
Being a great principal means you will often be in a position to lose. Embrace that fact and lose spectacularly. What are you're reasons for taking a risk like losing? Share in the comment section below. For more tips check out my blog and podcast at theprincipalentrepreneur.com.
One of the most important things a principal does as an instructional leader is conduct observations. I have done what I thought were numerous observations. I’ve gone into classrooms, watched the teachers as they talked to students, jotted some things down and noted when students completed tasks. I’d spend anywhere from five to ten minutes in a class and leave feeling quite accomplished. In researching for this blog post I came upon some FAQs at Michigan.gov and found out that what I thought was good is actually not. For a legally qualifying observation in the state of Michigan you must do at least three things.
Check out the lesson plans
While I would scheduled these observations in my calendar. I had not been as formal as to look at the teacher’s lesson plans. This is simple for me to do because we use planbookedu. This is an easy-to-use tool that we purchased through office funds. Once the teachers register they can share it with me. All I needed to do was click on the link before I left my office, check out their plans and then go observe their class. Without checking and considering teachers’ lesson plans your visit to a classroom is just a visit not an observation.
State Content Standard
Once you’ve checked out the lesson plan you gotta focus in on that content standard. When you’re in the room you need to check and see if they are addressing that standard. Is it incorporated into their “Do Now” or is it the “Essential Question” of the unit. Maybe it’s written in student friendly language as a learning target. Regardless of where it is you need to find it during that observation. Just stopping in and watching the teacher as she/he works with students doesn’t cut it.
The third component that must be considered is student engagement. Do the students know what they’re trying to learn? If you ask them what they’re doing can they point to the essential question or the learning target? Are they sitting there with heads down and eyes glazed or are they actively participating. According to Dr. Michael Schmoker three of the ways to monitor student engagement are to observe whether or not they are alert and tracking with their eyes, taking notes, or reacting to what the teacher or the classmates are saying. Student engagement is the third essential piece of an observation.
Just walking into a classroom and talking to a few students, watching the teacher present to the group and then walking out does not constitute an observation. You must, at the very least, look at lesson plans, know what content standard is being addressed and take note of student engagement.
What do you consider an observation? What are your State’s Minimum Requirements for an Observation? Be as specific as you can and leave a link to your state’s requirements in the comments section below.
I was recently in a Principals’ meeting and the Superintendent described the school atmosphere of some of the district's school buildings as stale. He went on to say that the methods we were using were not benefiting our children and if we wanted to create change in outcomes we needed to be innovative. He challenged us to try new ways to do things. In order to institute change school leaders must be prepared to battle the naysayers. Try these tips to relieve staff stress around innovation.
Tell a story
This comes down to having a vision of what could be. This is the time to weave in hard facts about what has been and how those outcomes aren’t as good as they should be. The data doesn’t lie, but it can be misinterpreted. Use multiple data points to help show the need for change and to support your narrative.
A constant flow of communication surrounding the change is necessary. At every opportunity speak about the change and why it’s necessary. Use staff meetings, community newsletters and your social media outreach to prepare your community. Don’t rush into it and provide some time for stakeholders to wrap their minds around it. Communication and time are essential components of preparing for change.
As the Principal you already know that collaboration is key. Identify those key influencers on your staff and encourage their input. Use your student governing body to help spread the word and get those students on board. Give an end goal that you would like and have them come up with the means to get there. Having them participate and lead the way will help the other staff and students buy in. The more people involved the less effort you will have to put forth and the greater your chance of success.
Innovation is necessary to change the status quo. What methods do you use to usher in change? Share what you’ve learned in the comment section below. Join us in The Principal Entrepreneur fb group for The Principals' 20 day classroom challenge, sponsored by quickcashmi.com.
I'm a Principal and an Entrepreneur. I'm the former owner of a food venture Hustling Hoagies, the author of the children's picture books Detective Dwayne Drake and the Alphabet Thief, Detective Dwayne Drake and The Case of the Mathematical Misfit and the ebook Making it as a Male Model in Michigan. I've worked professionally as a model and commercial actor......