Three Keys to Principals’ Changing Roles

When I first got into teaching, my principal’s role was very clearly to manage a building. Making sure staff showed up for work, the building was kept clean, and school rules were followed were the things he seemed to focus on—not what was being taught or how it was being taught. How students felt and getting parent support also did not play into the daily activities of my principal.

In my 20 years as a school administrator, I have seen the numerous roles a principal must take on to grow and change. Here are the three domains I focus on as I strive to be more inclusive and collaborative.

Instructional Leadership

Essentially, a school’s job is to provide relevant and rigorous instruction to its students. To help staff achieve that goal, I need to be up to speed on best practices in classroom instruction, I need to be in classrooms enough to see teachers instruct, and I need to be able to have the skills to help teachers improve.

I coach teachers. Exposing teachers to best practices, facilitating collaboration with their colleagues, and encouraging honest reflection are some of the strategies we use to help our teachers continue to grow and improve their instruction for our students. Having a growth mindset and encouraging that from our staff is vital to our mission. Like any coaching situation, it has been important for us to have spent time building trust with our staff. Because of that trust, conversations about instruction are seen as opportunities for growth.

Student Growth

I believe it is important to be proactive in building relationships with students. I want students to know I care about them and want to help them grow academically, socially, and emotionally. Being visible throughout the building is important—but more than that, actively seeking out students to talk to and interact with is vital. It is also important to have high expectations and communicate those expectations.

When a student makes a bad choice, I strive to find a consequence that not only lets the student know the choice was bad, but also that I still care about them and am working with them to support their growth. This does not mean I am soft on kids—in fact, it lets me be firmer because I have worked to build their trust. While handing out consequences, I never forget to separate the behavior from the student. All kids make bad choices at different times. I believe kids become what we believe they can be and expect them to be. We show this every day in our relationships with them.

Partnering With Parents

In my effort to help students grow academically, socially, and emotionally, it has also become extremely important for me to create genuine partnerships with parents. Some of the best advice I ever received in my career was that “parents get to be right sometimes.” Being able to appreciate and understand that statement has helped me in partnering with parents.

Finding every opportunity to allow parents to know you and what your goals are for kids helps in building the trust needed when tough times come. I take every opportunity to let a parent know good things about their child and how much I appreciate them. I have learned that my words have a lot of impact with parents because of my position, and that understanding has been important in building those relationships. Parents appreciate proactive phone calls home asking for input about things at school. It feels good to work that closely with parents because I know we are going to make a difference for that child.

While the importance of the principalship has not changed, the skills required to be successful in the role have. Collaboration has become vital to success. One common factor in partnering with teachers, students, and parents is building trust. What are ways that you build trust with the other members of your school and its community?

John Hayden is the Assistant Principal at Buffalo Community Middle School in Buffalo MN. He is the 2019 Minnesota Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@Jhayden0206).

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