Sometimes as a principal, you feel like you are saying the same thing over and over again all day. And that’s okay. If you want to create a shared school culture with shared values, these are conversations that you are going to need to have more than once. Still, what do you do when you feel like your staff isn’t listening to you— or they are, but they’re not truly *hearing* you. In my years as principal, it took me a while to learn to stop talking when no one is listening and change my own behavior. Here’s what I try to do now”
People listen to those who genuinely care for their well-being. Building relationships with staff members will let them know that you care and that you are working toward common goals.
2. Create a climate that encourages risk
If you want a teacher to innovate, you need to create a safe environment. One where they can try, make mistakes, reflect (often collaboratively), and try again. Teachers need to be allowed to stumble. If a small failure leads to a negative response from the principal, what incentive is there to experiment?
3. Encourage ownership
Encouraging ownership of the building, initiatives, and climate is key. Establishing common goals, hashing out strategies and policy together, and communicating about progress, issues and revisions helps build shared interest. People listen when they are a part of something.
4. Be an advocate
As principals, our primary responsibility is to advocate for students. Secondary is an obligation to advocate for our staff. Publicly focus on positives and share suggestions for improvement privately. The concepts that we expect coaches to apply to student athletes work really well with adults too.
5. Remember what it was like to be a teacher …
It is important in any conversation to consider the perspective of the other person involved. Most principals were teachers at some point during their career, so it is helpful to remember both how difficult the job can be and that the vast majority of teachers strive to do their best, putting a great amount of effort into their craft. Acknowledging this, choose your words carefully.
6. And remember you are not a teacher
Conversely, it is important for you to remember that you are no longer in that same world. That world changes so quickly and the issues classroom teachers face are not the same issues you may have faced in the classroom even just a few years ago. While you work in the same building with the same kids, you now have a different perspective. You must acknowledge this.
7. Use teacher-leaders
Find a teacher-leader with whom you can converse regularly about building issues. This will help you to consider the aforementioned perspective. It will also help you to keep the pulse of your building. Don’t keep this a secret either. Staff who may be reticent to share concerns or questions directly with an administrator may be more comfortable approaching a peer who can get them the answers they seek. The conversations you have with your teacher-leader will also provide you with ideas and thoughts you may never have considered.
8. Provide timely and useful feedback
When asking a staff member to do something, you need to be able to provide feedback regarding the staff member’s progress. As the teacher practices the strategies or duties you have suggested or requested, you must be present, observe their progress, and provide timely feedback.
This feedback must also be specific and actionable. It should include both positive feedback and specific suggestions for improvement that can be acted upon immediately. If a teacher hears nothing back after an initial request, the teacher will likely and reasonably assume all is well.
9. Do your job
As principals, a big part of our job is to remove barriers and allow teachers to teach. Wish your teachers would listen? Remove the barriers. Want teachers to try something new? Help them make it possible.
You also need to do the things you are asking of others. Do you expect them to take on more responsibility? You must be willing to do the same. If you want teachers to be on time or in the hallway, you must be on time and in the hallway. Model what you would like to see.
Telling someone “great job!” isn’t enough. Just like suggestions for improvement, praise needs to be specific. It is even better if your praise can be public. Acknowledge the positive things your staff members are doing with the whole building, your district, your community, and the social media universe. There are too many negative news stories involving education and educators.
Above all, getting a staff member to listen means that you too must also be willing to listen … actively listen. Engaging in a two-way conversation and working toward a shared end is certainly more helpful than issuing directives and hoping for compliance.
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