Hey there new principal!
You’re either a brand-new administrator or just brand-new to our campus. Before you show up on campus like a ball of fire (and go down in flames), here are a few things teachers would like you to keep in mind.
Keep your door open and visit teachers’ classrooms. Pop in here and there. Studies show that relationships matter. This is true for students and staff members.
A formal observation should not be the first time you are in a classroom with teachers and students. Are you a shadowy figure behind your door or are you out in hallways and classrooms consistently? Are you another person sending out emails and speaking to us at meetings or someone we feel connected to? Teachers find it hard to support students when they feel demoralized or undervalued. Everything that doesn’t work with students––like fear-based environments or coercion––will fail with teachers as well.
Leave Clothes Out of It
Find out how many jeans days your new staff had before. At the very least, as the new principal, maintain this number. Want to make friends and win people over? Up that number for immediate “Big Cheese” status.
Make staff dress code changes as a new principal. If the biggest problem at your new school is clothing you dislike, you’re in great shape. At best, sending out a memo that reads: “Plaid is no longer acceptable.” (true story) makes you look focused on insignificant details. At worst, your new changes will cause teachers to spend money they don’t have on new clothes they don’t really need. Do not do this. In the South, we say that’s like putting lipstick on a pig. If your school has big problems, banishing plaid is not going to hide any of them.
Get a feel for the school before making sweeping changes. Seek input from teachers about systems and policies in place that they like or don’t like and why. A staff member who feels valued and heard will be much more supportive of the changes to come.
I know you’re ready to make this school the very best it can be, but please don’t give us whiplash in the process. We’re pouring every ounce of energy into the kiddos in our room. An avalanche of new committees, processes, rules, and meetings take away from that. Have you seen the crazed look in a teacher’s eye at the beginning of the school year? The intentions are good, but by creating resentment in the process, you won’t get as far.
We’re Watching You
Know that the first time you handle a mistake, you’re setting the tone for your relationship with the entire staff. Teachers are human, and we will drop the ball at times. I got pulled into a meeting once after a staff member missed a pretty big detail. The principal had every right to be incredibly angry about what happened. Instead she looked at us and said, “Okay. Let’s make a plan for what we’re going to do right now.” She has my undying loyalty, and I would go back to work for her again in a heartbeat.
Throw your teachers under the bus. You cannot support students without supporting teachers. Fix the problem at hand. Then, take a step back to see how it happened and what steps can be taken to see that it doesn’t happen again. When a principal bad mouths a teacher to me, or, even worse, to parents, I know he is completely untrustworthy.
As teachers, our number one priority is supporting our students. What we want most from a new administrator is someone to work alongside us to do that. Spend time getting to know us, our students, and the school. Work to build a community, so we can work as one to make this the best school ever.