6 Strategies to Become a Present Principal

Engaging school stakeholders is just one way to become a more present principal.

Engaging school stakeholders is just one way to become a more present principal.
By Frederick Buskey
June 2019, Volume 42, Issue 10

How many walkthroughs did you do the last month of school? How many formal and informal observations did you conduct? How many deep and meaningful conversations about instruction did you have with teachers? In other words, how present were you with your teachers?

Principals help build teacher efficacy through the support and feedback that comes with being present in classrooms. Given the critical role that principals play in teacher retention and development, it’s time to take an honest look at how present we are for our teachers.

What Does Being Present Look Like?

Becoming a present principal begins with five key understandings:

  1. You do not have time to do everything. This means that (a) some things will be left undone and (b) some things will be minimally completed. It is the nature of the job.
  2. Everyone wants a piece of you. Teachers, parents, students, the district office, community leaders, and your family all want your time.
  3. You choose where you invest your time. While this is not always true, it is truer than you might want to believe.
  4. The time you invest in specific duties is largely a reflection of your priorities.
  5. You should be consistently investing most of your time doing what only you can do, not what other people can do.

Investing in being present is not easy. It takes planning and the development of processes and habits. It requires making difficult decisions and sometimes saying no to people who need you. Nevertheless, it is a choice. So how do you create space to make the choices that are in line with your values? Using these six key strategies will help you become a more present principal.

1. Be proactive. Present principals develop plans at the beginning of the year based on the needs of their teachers, students, and school. They schedule down to the week the number and types of observations for each teacher. They work with the leadership team to distribute responsibilities and set goals for the number of daily walkthroughs. Present principals build a schedule that includes time for each administrator to be present in hallways and classrooms.

2. Be process heavy. Delegate some office referrals, parent needs, district office phone calls, and visitors to other school leaders. For example, reserve set office hours for appointments. Administrative assistants can help concerned parents reserve a conference time and gather pertinent information from the parent. This strategy has three benefits: It protects time being present, it communicates to parents that their concerns are important, and it provides documentation that the principal can use to prepare for the conference.

3. Be managed. While the principal manages the building, the administrative assistant manages the principal. Administrative assistants can screen phone calls and email and help prioritize and schedule managerial and administrative tasks. With support and training, administrative assistants can take on additional tasks such as preparing PowerPoints and briefings. Present principals meet regularly with their administrative assistants to plan and schedule the week’s work based on priorities and deadlines.

4. Be average. Present principals embrace the C and are not overly concerned with producing superior work in areas that have little direct effect on instruction.

5. Be a conditioner. Present principals condition others. They teach others that the most important place for a leader is in the classroom. Leaders convince the people around them that observation time is sacred and that other duties can wait, thereby decreasing others’ expectations about the availability of the leader.

6. Be hour one. Present leaders make sure that they are visible at the beginning of the school day. They check in with high-needs students to help them get off to a good start. They are in the halls and classrooms to make sure students are welcomed by all and that classes begin promptly. The first hour of school sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Being a principal is not easy. The job demands constant juggling and prioritizing, and important events often conflict with each other. However, by using these six strategies, present principals exert a tremendous influence on school culture and create the type of school that draws teachers, supports them, and helps them want to stay.

Frederick Buskey is the founder of Strategic Leadership Consulting LLC and a former senior lecturer at Clemson University in South Carolina.

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