New Principals: Launch Your Leadership With These 5 Steps

Whether you are new to the principalship or starting at a new school, relationship-building is key.

July 2017, Volume 40, Issue 11

As a principal new to a school, there will be many demands on your time during your first few weeks on the job. Many people will want to meet and talk with you; teachers will be in the building preparing their classrooms for the start of the year; and the school district will have scheduled meetings and professional development sessions. In order to successfully launch your principalship, focus on building the relationships you’ll need to be successful.

We have found in our own work as principals and in our role in supporting principals, taking the time to build relationships is crucial for success. After all, leaders manage people and people need to feel a connection with their leader in order to follow.

Here are 5 crucial tasks that principals new to a school should do in order to begin to build relationships:

1. Meet with the office staff to discuss office operations and your expectations for the office tone and climate.
The first impression that visitors to the school experience is set by the office staff. A friendly, helpful, and competent attitude goes a long way in making a great impression with families, students, and other staff. Taking the time to meet with them and learning how the office operates will pay great dividends for you. Once you understand the office operations you can share your expectations for the tone you’d like your office staff to set.

2. Schedule meetings with your teachers and staff.
A time consuming but very beneficial activity is to schedule 20-30 minutes to meet individually with each staff member. During this meeting, you can ask them to share their thoughts on the school in general, some of the positive characteristics of the school, and areas where they feel changes need to be made. This activity not only builds interpersonal relationships with the staff, but provides you with valuable insights in order to develop your first year leadership plan.


3. Meet the custodial team. Have them take you on a tour of the building and grounds. Look for issues and areas needing attention.
Another very visible area in schools is the cleanliness of the building and the grounds. In your first week on the job, you should schedule time to meet with the custodial staff and take a tour of the building. During the tour, ask the staff or lead custodian to describe the major features of the school, point out any trouble spots, and share areas of pride. You should take note of what is being discussed as well as your own impressions of the school building. Since you are still new, your will see things with “fresh eyes” that may diminish as you become accustomed to the school over time.

4. Meet with the parent-teacher organization leadership.
Building relationships with parents is crucial to the success of principals new to a school. Find out who the leaders of the major parent groups are and schedule some time to meet with them. Set the agenda to give them a chance to get to know you but spend most of the meeting listening and learning about their unique parent group and its role in the school. Parent-group leaders might ask for your opinions or to make commitments in these initial meetings. Avoid making “promises” or major decisions until you have had a chance to get to know more about the school and its needs.

5. Start to design the agendas for your first meetings and ceremonies.
The first meetings, events, and ceremonies you conduct will set the tone for your priorities and your leadership style. Some new principals plan welcoming events before the start of school. These kinds of events help to provide the school community with an opportunity to get to know you. They also go a long way in establishing a sense of community that will be essential.

Your fist faculty/staff meeting is another crucial event to plan carefully. It provides a great opportunity to establish the tone and the norms for your future work together. A fun and interactive first meeting lets staff know that you plan to engage them in discussions and decisions throughout the year. A meeting where you do all the talking may convey to your staff that you are not interested in their involvement or engagement.

While many priorities will demand your time, those we outlined in this article will help you develop positive and collaborative relationships. These relationships will be crucial to your success and the success of the school in the future.

John F. Eller, a former principal, is a professor of educational leadership at St. Cloud State University and is president of Eller and Associates, which provides support to education leaders.

Sheila A. Eller is principal of Highview Middle School in New Brighton, Minnesota.

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