Survival Tips for New Principals
Post written by Ashley Allen, a master's student in communication management with an emphasis on marketing at the University of Southern California. She received her bachelor's degree from San Jose State University last spring and hopes to use her writing skills to make a difference.
Susan Kessler, April Snodgrass, and Andrew Davis of Nashville (Tenn.) Public Schools discussed the struggles of being a new principal and shared valuable insight for surviving the first year during their 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session "When Do You Sleep: Surviving the First Year as a Principal." The dynamic trio each shared tips that have played an integral part in their own success.
Davis advised participants about the first few days as a new principal. "Assume nothing," he said, "but that doesn't mean that you don't know anything." He noted that although it is imperative to walk into the position with no presumptions, it is also necessary to review available data. Take time to analyze any reports left behind by your predecessor, interviewing them if possible, to learn about teacher's strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Doing so will allow new principals to understand how best to work with their new team.
Another important step is to get varied perspectives about the position. Interview your immediate supervisor to find out what he or she thinks about the current status of the school and any expectations or goals they may have. This is crucial because they will judge your performance based on those expectations. Getting input from staff, parents, and students about their own beliefs and visions for the future will also be beneficial. However, it is important to filter this information before applying it.
Next, Snodgrass explained how to create a vision using the collected information. The vision should build a culture, set boundaries, and engage students. It should encompass the needs of each of your stakeholders and be defined by a clear set of short- and long-term goals. You should incorporate your personal philosophies, and they should drive your decision making.
Snodgrass stressed the value in defining your own non-negotiables, such as providing high-quality education. "That may mean taking one of my best teachers and having them work with a new grade level, which often makes them feel uncomfortable. However, sometimes difficult decisions like these must be made in the best interests of the school." To help determine which actions to pursue, Snodgrass suggested vetting them past the following three points:
- Is it good for children?
- Is it good for student achievement and growth?
- Is it good for teachers?
Finally, Kessler shared tips on how to successfully communicate with all stakeholders. Communicating high expectations consistently is integral, and information should come in a consistent, timely, and positive manner. Considering your audience is important too; how you speak with students, teachers, parents, and the board will vary. To build trust, principals must communicate both good and bad news, and admit when they are wrong. This communication must also be a two-way street; new principals should make themselves available for feedback.
The session concluded with the important point that although all this advice is essential to becoming a good leader, none of it will matter if you haven't taken care of yourself. You won't be perfect, but you have to keep trying, and you have to care for yourself if you want to care for others.
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