Little Things Matter: Lessons From Exceptional Principals

Session notes from “Little Things Matter: Lessons From Exceptional Principals,” led by Sean Cain.

What was the speaker’s main message?

Exceptional school leaders are those that expand student opportunities for their school and, as a result, their school outperforms similar schools. How can we learn from these top 2-3 percent of exceptional school leaders so that we can leverage our own leadership? 

What were the top ideas from the session?

  • Through the pandemic, we were in crisis mode, essentially putting out daily fires to help our schools operate safely. Now, we need to adjust back to truly being an effective leader. Move from being a fireman, to a manager, and then ultimately a leader. 
  • There is not a common archetype for exceptional leaders. However, there are several things they are NOT. Exceptional leaders are not hypocrites, jerks, unreliable, or fearful. 
  • Expertise = consistent doing + ongoing training + cuing + coaching + time  
  • Your school compass communicates your values to everyone. What do the interior and exterior of your school look like? Do you pay attention to details? Each morning and afternoon, do a lap of the building. In terms of facilities, it’s the little things that communicate your minimum standard. 
  • Climate vs. culture. Climate is the positive or negative effect that culture has on students. Culture is the action and practices of the adults on campus. When decision making, you need to identify the impact on staff and students. 

What is one strategy that you will implement immediately?

Exceptional leaders attend all staff trainings and actively participate. They do not multitask or check emails during professional development. Your presence at instructional coaching, PD, etc. communicates a message that this work is important and teachers will behave differently both during the session and back in their classrooms if you are present and engaged along-side them. 

What is one strategy that will help you with instructional leadership?

  • Act as the head coach of a professional sports team. Invest in the development of your educators and consistently communicate the message that you are dedicated to their growth and in the school. Communicate, train, monitor and support your teachers through changes.
  • Teachers grow through correct training, which is ongoing, small bite training over consistent and aligned topics over multiple sessions throughout the year, ideally every 3-4 weeks. Focus Professional Development on the fundamentals of teaching- what do all teachers need? For example: pedagogy, classroom management, building relationships, data analysis, lesson planning.

What are resources you will check out?

What is a relevant or surprising stat you learned?

70 percent of new teachers are coming from alternative routes to certification.

Notes by Jennifer DeRagon, principal of George Hersey Robertson School in Coventry, Connecticut.