As a former coach, the value of team and usage of each person’s strengths has always been etched in the forefront of my thinking and planning. Now as a school leader, this same concept has been a driving force in my thought process. My field is my school, and my team is my teachers. Instead of winning a game or a title, our victories are measured by student success. Though my title says principal, to me I am nothing more than the school’s head coach.
Like every good coach, a good principal needs a strong game plan. My game plan centers on teacher leadership. My job is to foster an environment where a team of leaders feels empowered to make suggestions and changes that play a role in our school’s victory. Win or lose, we are all in it together. Here are the best plays—or the necessary components for this plan to thrive—from my school leadership playbook:
Just like we practice fundamentals with any sport, we must practice daily the following traits in order to ensure a culture of leaders.
- Is your staff willing to collaborate before, during, and after school—both formally and informally?
- Is there a shared vision that the entire staff, not just a chosen few, can speak about?
Problem Solving Orientation
- Is your staff more interested in solving problems than complaining about them?
- Are students on your campus “ours” and not “yours/mine”?
- Are teachers comfortable to offer solutions to problems?
- Do teachers and administrators have open-door policies that welcome communication?
- Is there no expectation of perfection? Mistakes are okay.
- Is everyone in the loop? If not, you may have to show them the way.
- Is two-way communication encouraged?
- Do you have clear, predictable, and reliable communication structures in place?
Receptive School Administrator
As a school coach, are you willing to relinquish a little bit of control? While it may seem a little bit scary at first, the dividends it pays are well worth the initial stress. For me, this has been crucial in the five years of sustained growth in all components of our school performance score.
Here are essential questions that you as the school coach must be able to answer yes to:
- Do I have a growth mindset for all staff?
- Am I able to be humble and reflective?
- Do I know how to be a community builder?
- Am I approachable and flexible?
- Can I step out of my comfort zone as a leader?
It is my responsibility to find the strengths and weaknesses of my team. I use google forms surveys and a teacher google classroom to ask frequently for opinions and suggestions to current challenges. I also use ED Camp practices at faculty meetings for others to give solutions and opinions. This is my opportunity to adjust my game plan using the input of my team.
As hard as it may be for administrators to answer yes to the above questions, it is just as difficult for teachers to take leadership roles. You, as the coach, must create the culture and the opportunity for others to lead. This challenge has to start with you.
The final and most important piece of game plan is the teachers. Like any player, our teachers need to practice—they must practice the act of leadership. When you hire teachers, the teacher leadership expectation must be clear and concise before people choose to take a position.
I am looking for teachers that can:
- take small steps to improve the school’s culture
- communicate issues and help encourage a reluctant principal
- take initiative and push through the fear of failure
- help others become leaders
You Are Not Alone
While a principal wears numerous hats and many times it feels like you are all alone, that is a choice you make. At times, it is the only way, as you are the ultimate decision maker, but by sharing leadership amongst your entire school, you will find support when it is most needed. It will also allow you more time to be with your students and experience the successes that all of you work so hard for. Remember, we all got in this business for the kids. Anything that will help us to be better for them is worth the effort. So, go out, and “Coach ‘em up.”
Have you created an environment where others are willing to lead? If not, adjust your game plan today. Use your people and just be the “head coach.”
Tommy Byler is the principal at North Vermilion High School in Maurice, LA. He is the 2018 Louisiana State Principal of the Year. He currently serves as the Vice President of the Louisiana Association of Principals and is the Vice President of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Executive Committee. He served as a varsity coach for 24 years before entering administration. Follow him on Twitter @2018LAPOY.