“A work in progress.” “My best days are ahead of me.” “I’m chasing greatness.” I certainly believe all three of those quotes describe me when it comes to my journey as a principal. I do not have all the answers. I may not even be highly effective, whatever that means…yet.
What I do know is that being a principal can sometimes feel like you are on a lonely island. You don’t have a “grade level” or a”teacher team” to consistently collaborate with. The other thing I know is that I have learned so much from my fellow principals. Whether it is at the ISD, during grad classes, our administrative team meetings, through MEMSPA, or on twitter, I’m constantly picking up ways to better myself as an educational leader.
Every now and then, I’m going to post 7 components of this job that I’ve learned from others or recently discovered that have had an impact on my practice. I’m hoping it will be a way to spark some thinking, possibly bring an idea to your school, or maybe even result in a change or addition to your practice.
1. Gratitude Walks – Once a week, I schedule a 1-2 hour block of time for a “Gratitude Walk.” I walk into as many classrooms as I can during that time frame and leave a brief note for the teacher. Sometimes I’m in the class for 3 minutes, sometimes 20. At the top of the note it simply says, “I noticed” and I fill in something amazing that I see. At the bottom it says, #AttitudeofGratitude. The purpose is to point out something about their work as an educator that is fantastic. I can find something within minutes of each classroom I enter. It can be as simple as the volume, tone, and eye level a teacher has when working with a student or as complex as a sophisticated instructional move. I use the SBI (situation/behavior/impact) format in my note so it ensures my praise is authentic and impacts students. It’s not about a walk through, a learning walk, or collecting evidence. I simply want our staff to feel appreciated, affirmed, and valued over and over and over, all year long, for the great work they do on a daily basis.
2. M.B.W. – This is something new that I’m working to implement this year. I’m trying to write in a 30 minute “manage by wandering” time into my schedule each day. It is a time where I simply take as many laps around the school as I can. What I’ve noticed, is that I will get stopped about 10 times during that time frame. Most days, I take a list of students and staff I need to check in with. The purpose is for me to be free and available to students and staff as I also check on building security, students in the hallways, and ensure my visibility remains at high levels throughout the day. It also will cut down on emails or other meetings as you have proactively been able to address many issues.
3. “Thank you” – We have students, staff, and parents complimenting us for something just about everyday. As leaders, we often pass the credit on to others, say something self-deprecating, or mumble something and walk away. That is not always bad. However, being able to take and appreciate a sincere compliment is important, too. That person may not give compliments out often, it might have been hard for them to do it, and there may be more behind it than you know. Sometimes, a sincere, “thank you, I really appreciate that,” or “thank you, that means a lot to me,” works very well!
4. “That is not going to work for me” – This has been a good go-to phrase for me when I am in disagreement with someone. It allows me to take a stand without using harsh or argumentative language.
5. Monthly staff survey – I want to be constantly be requesting feedback from my staff. This can range in anything from how they are maintaining the home to school balance, new initiatives, feedback on your work, an event you recently hosted, etc. Consistently provide structures for their voice to be heard, reflect, and act accordingly.
6. Leading for Instructional Improvement by Fink and Markholt – This is the book that I’m now reading through for the second time. I really focuses on the importance of the principal as an instructional leader. It’s a great one to ground you in the important pieces of your work and why observing and evaluating teachers is such an integral part of that. It’s a great read, especially if your district is using the 5D+ model.
7. Data driven dialogue – The better I get at this process, the better my staff and I are able to analyze data. I don’t know of a school that feels like they are not collecting enough data with the thousands of assessments we are giving. However, being grounded in a process that allows us to analyze the data and decide upon next steps, is where the rubber really meets the road.