Finding Success as a New Principal (Again)

California principal Todd Schmidt and Texas principal Matt Arend are case in point how online networking can develop into real-life connections. From their friendship, they developed a support system that eventually led to their latest project: The New Guys.

The New Guys, through a series of blog posts and their joint Twitter account (@_TheNewGuys), acknowledges that “being new can be hard, and being experienced isn’t always easier.” So together, they’re sharing their experiences and what they’re learning as they navigate new administrator roles.

Both principals are in roles that aren’t often talked about but that present their own set of challenges: They inherited schools that are top-performing. So they’re navigating how to keep those schools successful, rather than working through the common challenge of turning around low-performing schools.  

But, Arend says, “Regardless of the school you’re moving into, it’s still the relationships you have to cultivate. … You have to get to know their story before you try to do anything else.”

The Challenges:

  1. In what ways can I engage with school stakeholders who might be apprehensive to grow or change?

  2. How do I keep a top-performing school at the top?

  3. How do I navigate working with teachers who are also parents of students in the school?

Principal Spotlights:

Todd Schmidt

Principal, Weaver Elementary School, Los Alamitos, California
Twitter: @tsschmidty and @_TheNewGuys

Schmidt is the lead innovator at Weaver Elementary School—home of the Weaver Whales! A husband and father of two girls, he is heavily involved in the #DadsAsPrincipals movement on Twitter.

Matt Arend

Principal, McClure Elementary School, McKinney, Texas
Twitter: @matthew_arend and @_TheNewGuys

Arend is principal at McClure Elementary School—home of the McClure Marshals! A husband and father, Arend is as passionate about running as he is his family and school community. He’s a marathon runner, and even completed a triathlon once.

In this video, Schmidt and Arend talk about their “unique similarities” of taking the helm of top-performing schools and using the lessons they learned as first-time new principals to succeed as start over as new principals of new schools. You’ll learn ideas to:

  • Build relationships with faculty and parents. Have a 3-2-1 conversation with every staff member—not just teachers—and even parents when you start at a new school. What are three things you’d like me to know about you outside of your school life? What are two things you love about this school? What is one thing you feel we need to address as a school? With this process, the immediate needs of the school become apparent, and it gives you a logical place to start making adjustments. Keep in mind, this means you’ll discuss a lot of topics with a lot of different school stakeholders, so use a Google doc to take notes during the discussions to refer back to down the line.
  • Enlist the help of teachers who are also parents of students. Before rolling out a new initiative, talk to teachers who are also parents of students in the school to get their feedback from both perspectives—teacher and parent. Using them as a sounding board has led Schmidt to learn where the potential problems or pushback might come from in regard to specific initiatives or programs before he begins rolling them out. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Develop online relationships with administrators that can turn into real-life connections at conferences like the NAESP Pre-K–8 Principals Conference.
  2. As a new principal, learn about the people and programs that made the school top-performing, and celebrate those processes before implementing your own.
  3. It’s not enough to just build relationships with faculty, staff, and families; you also have to work to sustain them.
  4. Ask questions and involve parents so they understand that you value their input.
  5. Staff, students, and families need to see that you’re human and that you have emotions and a vulnerable side. It helps you create more meaningful connections with them.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.