Having served a school community as a principal, it did not take long to realize how many hats I was expected to wear from day to day. The weather nor the occasion were ever factors because everyone looked to me for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. Juggling Hats: How Principals Survive is a resourceful article that provides tips on how to manage the many hats of the principalship, however, I want to discuss the seed that helps principals determine which hats are most important to increase their effectiveness.
image from Russ Williams
As an aspiring principal, I envisioned myself working as a selfless instructional leader. I assumed I would inherit happy hardworking teachers and well-behaved students with cooperative parents. I designed templates to organize my time and effort to lead professional development and weekly meetings with teachers and staff. I planned criteria to identify and celebrate teachers and students of the month, and scheduled family events to showcase student talent. I used a calendar to track my appointments and due dates, along with staff birthdays. While I did not expect perfect days, I was clueless of the number of impeding interruptions I would encounter from day to day.
Day one with teachers brought the first reality check. I had the perfect theme to “build children instead of repairing adults”. Teachers received construction themed items to remind them of their duty to build engaging lessons that made learning fun. They sat through professional development sessions and participated in corny ice-breakers and team building activities, however, I underestimated their desire to spend time in their classrooms preparing for students.
By the time the students arrived, we were all exhausted from long days and late nights. There was little patience left for the parents who waited until the first day of school to register their children without proper documentation. My dream of spending time on instruction quickly began to fade as my days became consumed with non-instructional tasks. Despite the unexpected interruptions to my plans, my drive to support teaching and learning kept tapping me on the shoulder until I figured out how to protect my time to do what mattered most.
The Leadership Seed
Leadership blooms from a seed inside people who want to make a difference in the world. In his blog, Planting the Seeds of Leadership, Matt Tod presents tips to help improve one’s capacity to lead. What resonated most for me was the statement, “Just as taking care of others starts with taking care of ourselves, we must first lead ourselves if we hope to become effective leaders in our communities.”
As an educational leader, I have a driving force to improve student outcomes. My seed serves as a constant reminder of my purpose to positively influence the educational experiences of children as it blossoms into resilience, perseverance, and servant leadership. When I was a principal, nothing was ever enough as I paid attention to every detail of the campus. My seed motivated me to keep working until my purpose aligned with my practice. It helped me sift through unexpected interruptions as I aimed to serve as the instructional leader I strived to be.
Cultivating your leadership seeds means you are working to figure out a way to do what matters most. From protecting your time to attend weekly professional learning community (PLC) meetings to building relationships with stakeholders to opening car doors in the rain during dismissal, everything you do matters. However, the more time you spend in classrooms, the more you will be able to positively influence student outcomes. What is your system to conduct daily, focused walk-throughs? How do you follow-up with feedback to communicate strengths and areas of growth to teachers? How do you hold everyone, including yourself, accountable for improving? Effective schools have a positive climate, focus on student growth, maximize instructional time, and perceive parents as partners. Principals are responsible for it all, but according to John Hattie’s 250+ Influences on Student Achievement, teacher efficacy is the number one influencer to considerably accelerate student achievement. When you know this, what can you do to ensure teachers have confidence in their ability to improve student outcomes? The article, Teacher Efficacy: Why It Matters and How Administrators Can Help provides meaningful guidance on what administrators can do to promote teacher efficacy.
image from Legacy Society
Environmental conditions influence the lifespan of a tree. While some trees can live 50 years, others have lived for thousands of years. How do you prioritize time to reflect on your legacy? A previous supervisor once asked me what I ‘stood for’ as a principal. I recall being taken aback because I thought it was obvious what I ‘stood for’. Nevertheless, being the over-thinker I am, I belabored the question and self-assessed my actions to determine whether or not my purpose aligned to my practice. I also reflected on what I wanted to be remembered for.
Spending more time in classrooms allowed me to cultivate relationships as I noticed and acknowledged what teachers did well. It also allowed me to provide meaningful feedback rooted in frequent observations. My seed led and continues to lead me to what mattered most…teaching and learning.
Once all is said and done, I want to be remembered for my passion to create conditions that allow children to thrive and achieve their potential to do whatever they aspire to do. I could not wait to become a principal, and once I obtained the position, I had an opportunity to influence educational experiences for over 600 students across seven years of service. While changes in leadership and staff shift the culture of a school, my legacy remains in the physical aesthetics of a school where children can thrive in a positive learning environment designed to stimulate their thinking.
Now that you are the principal, follow your purpose and allow your leadership to bloom. Start with data, and protect your time to do what matters most. Cultivate your leadership seed. Water it with your actions and allow it to increase your effectiveness to be the best principal you can be for your school community.
Kettisha Jones is the Lead Principal Coach for Ensemble Learning. Continue the conversation with her at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to explore how Ensemble Learning an partner with your school, district, or organization to support leadership development, please contact Ensemble CEO, Elise Darwish, at email@example.com.
Featured image from Getty Images