Guest post by Robert Nolting
When I was hired as principal of Victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park, IL, in 2009, it was expected that I would bring needed changes to the school. Most of us in school leadership are hired under this same expectation, but principals succeed or fail based on one simple concept: Do they bring positive change to the school? If the changes we make are negative—or none at all—we tend to leave, either on our own or through the influence of others. So how can administrators be an agent for positive change in their schools? My advice for all school leaders is to leverage the Three Ts: talent, transparency, and timeline.
I’ll start with my most important “T,” the talent. Principals can’t be agents for positive change without talented teachers working together as a team to bring your vision for the school to life. One of the first things I did when I became a principal was get to know my teachers and all of their amazing talents. I spent time listening to and learning from them about how to make our school a better place. The next thing I did was to invest in our talent through professional development. We sent teachers to conferences, workshops, and site visits in large numbers. Of a staff of 165, we sent 78 people somewhere in one semester. The benefit of investing in your talent is simple: You empower each of your teachers to be an agent of positive change.
The next “T” is transparency. To get the best out of your talent and make positive change, a principal must cultivate a culture of transparency. A transparent culture means that your entire staff knows what is happening and why. Taking the time to communicate openly with your staff shows them that you are all on the same team and are working together for a better school. How does a principal go about creating a transparent culture? Have an open-door policy with your staff and engage in honest and real conversations about what is happening in the school. Help them understand all the challenges—socioeconomic, political, financial and more—that the school is facing. Share notes from all of your staff, departmental, and association meetings. Bring transparent means there are no secrets or surprises, no lost opportunities, and no complaints or criticisms.
The last “T” I share is timeline. Positive change does not happen overnight, and too often, school leaders rush changes into place—which ends up leaving teachers frustrated and, at times, overwhelmed. Recognize that every single person on your school team is limited on time. With this constraint in mind, you, as a leader, must prioritize your goals. Look at your overall vision for the school and break down your goals over a period of a few years, rather than a few months. Likely, it is going to take you five to seven years for your vision to come fully to life. Talk with your staff members and get their input about how to prioritize your plans, too. Since they are the ones implementing your goals, they can tell you how much they can take on and what steps need to happen first before moving forward with the overall plan.
Talent. Transparency. Timeline. Principals who leverage these three Ts will create positive changes that ultimately help make their vision for the school a reality.
How do you leverage the three Ts?
Robert Nolting is the principal of Victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park, IL. He is the 2016 Illinois Secondary Principal of the Year. His epitaph will one day read, “Class clown who never changed … then became a principal.”