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Five Relational Strategies to Jump-Start a New Principalship

By Michelle Hughes
Communicator
September 2014, Volume 38, Issue 1

The first few years in an administrative position can be difficult. A new principal needs to tackle tasks with energy, vision, and a smile. New administrators must juggle student achievement, school board expectations, numerous meetings, and dwindling budgets. As a new principal, determining what issues to prioritize can be incredibly challenging.

In The 360 Degree Leader, John Maxwell writes that leadership is relational—it’s centered around the business of people. The following five relational strategies are tailored to support the early career principal focused on the business of students. These strategies can also serve as powerful reminders to rejuvenate a veteran principal.

First, get to know your faculty. Before you even step foot in your new office, get your hands on the school directory, study your school’s website, and flip through the school yearbook. Learn what you can about your faculty before you even serve one day on the job. As soon as possible in the year, meet with each faculty member to uncover their goals and dreams as educators. Additionally, and even more importantly, get to know each teacher as a person. Ask yourself these questions about each teacher: What are their hobbies? What are their outside interests? What are their favorite movies or meals? When you get to know your team of teachers, you make each of them feel valued and important.

A second relational strategy: be visible. The most successful administrators get out of their offices and are visible. They greet students at morning drop-off, visit classrooms, and talk with volunteer parents. When an administrator is visible, he or she demonstrates to the school community interest, investment, and availability. A principal can solve numerous problems and handle business with teachers and students when he or she is visible on the playground and in the hallways. Being visible at a school site promotes approachability outside the office walls; a teacher can casually approach you with a question or concern, rather than having to make an appointment or schedule through the school secretary. Being visible sets the tone for your school and affirms to the school community that you are invested in the daily activities on your campus.

Promote and model your lifelong love of learning and curiosity as a third strategy for success.  Continually share with and talk to teachers about what you are learning as professionals. Share professional articles in your teachers’ boxes; ask for their advice and opinions; read a book together as a faculty; and communicate your personal and professional goals with the school community. Your passion for learning can be contagious and can create a positive domino effect throughout your school community. Lifelong learning transfers from a principal to teachers and permeates classrooms, promoting an infectious campus culture of curiosity.

Next, consistently celebrate and sincerely thank your faculty. Teachers don’t get thanked enough. Take time to notice what your teachers are doing and appreciate them publicly at meetings and privately in the hallways. Recognize and acknowledge the extra hours teachers spend coaching, planning lessons, and meeting with parents. Take note of the little things. Write personal notes and emails, and take the time to leave the office, walk out to your teachers’ classrooms, and thank them for their dedication to producing the school play, maintaining the school garden, or organizing the safety committee. Sincere gratitude establishes trust and shows your investment in the powerful work that your teachers do every day.

Lastly, check in each day with your support staff. Nurture, listen to, and check in with your staff working behind the scenes to make your school tick. Greet your team members with a smile and cheerlead for them each day. Your secretaries, cafeteria workers, and custodians contribute to the daily workings of your campus. Your school can’t function without them! Make each staff member feel that they are a priority and they will enthusiastically go the extra mile to support you as principal.

Starting your first principalship can be daunting and overwhelming, but if you tackle the position with these five simple tools, you will build confidence, positively grow your reputation, and feel empowered throughout your administrative career. These relational strategies will kick off your principalship with gusto and affirm your school’s significant efforts for students every day.

Michelle C. Hughes, Ed.D., a former high school administrator, is an assistant professor of education at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

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