Leadership Lessons for a New School Year

Use these lessons on building connections and community, taking care of yourself and your staff, and resiliency as you embark on a new year of school leadership.

Topics: Mental Health and Safety, Principal Leadership, School Culture and Climate

We asked NAESP members what the past year has taught them about leadership and how they plan to take those lessons learned into the new school year. Building connections and community, taking care of yourself as a leader and your staff, and resiliency are just a few of the topics. As schools open across the country and welcome back students and staff, keep these lessons in mind as you embark on a new school year of leadership as a principal or an assistant principal.

Taking Care of Each Other—And Yourself

“We need each other. So it is critically important that we take care of one another and nurture our relationships so that they are healthy and fruitful.”—Aqila Malpass, @teachonpurpose, Alabama

“That the social and emotional well-being of everyone is very important.”—Justin Swope, @JustinSwope, Arkansas

“Empathy and patience has been a valuable skill set as I learned how to lead through a crisis.”—Amy McCaw, @TLIMPrincipal, Michigan

Building Connection and Community

“Being with and connecting on that personal level helps recharge me to do the other leadership stuff. In this past year, so much management of tasks and to-dos took over the time, leaving me drained and unsure of my longevity in this career. It was all the work without the connection and what I love—which are BOTH important during a pandemic year. As I return to the school year ahead, I have to keep my sights set on what brings me joy because that feeds the whole system!”—Jessica Hutchison, @jesshutchisonAW, Illinois

“I have learned that leaders have to rise to the occasion despite the circumstances looming around them. We choose our attitude each day and can always look for ways to create the best learning environment for students, teachers, and parents.”—Amy Mason, @AMasonPrincipal, Alabama

Resiliency in Leadership

“Things fall apart, but our attitudes or mindsets toward circumstances can always be inclined into positive directions. Here are five lessons I learned about my leadership:

  1. I was selling myself short. I am built with resilience reservoirs. While many experts were selling us the idea that somehow we were devoid of resilience and that we needed to learn all about it to help ourselves and our staff and students, I discovered that we actually have a built-in coil of resilience in our spirits.
  2. I learned that although as a leader I value order and security. None of us were ever in control of anything during the pandemic and “wait and see” was revealed as a strength. Immature leadership … thrives on the need to know everything in order to plan and succeed, but all through the pandemic, I discovered that my strong suit was hidden in my ability to let go and let be.
  3. My staff and I are a powerful source of support in our school community. We built a strong community, despite the fear of the pandemic.
  4. I am a doer and I have DIYed my way through this pandemic. Yes, we can, was my pandemic motto! Whether we organized classrooms, got rid of clutter, or simply started a blog or a virtual book study, our willingness to press on is what makes us great leaders.
  5. As a leader, I have come to learn that “normal” is whatever it takes. Waking up and immediately logging on to a computer became normal. Seeing students in unexpected places doing their school work or rediscovering their artistic strengths made me like our new normal. As a leader, I fully accept that normal is whatever it takes to meet the needs of your students and staff.”—Diana Brown, @joyful_brown, Virginia

“I am a fearless leader. I wasn’t able to name this until later in the spring while my leadership is focused on vision, but also serving daily, as I lead in the moment. As I have matured in my leadership, I have become more aware of self and practice self-care and this was very important in the last year. I have given myself boundaries and this modeling allowed my staff to see the importance of self-care as well.”—Stacey Green, @usd271sgs, Kansas