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Ask Dr. Karen - June 25

Dear Dr Karen,

I’m taking on a new role as a school principal in a 600 student elementary school in a predominantly low income part of my city.  Although I’ve had experience as a vice principal I haven’t yet done a principal role. I am also a bit of an introvert so the leadership thing will be challenging.

The school and the leadership situations are not easy. There have been two principals in the last year.  I don’t know much else yet about the issues except that the old principal shifted the classes and teachers around on paper before she left. The teachers are not happy about her choices.

I’m old enough but small and slight of build. How can I look like a leader?  Also, I like to read things and think them over carefully.  Do I have to answer questions on the spot?

Thanks for your support, Patricia

Dear Patricia,

Keep in touch as you transition into your new role. 

You’re taking on one of the more challenging leadership roles.  Teachers and professors are difficult to lead.  They are more like cats who all want to go their own way and feel that is their right.  There is also the tenure issue which makes it hard to change the roles and responsibilities without a lot of planning and paperwork and maneuvering.  It may be easier to move administrators than teachers.

Your job is to establish your authority and vision early in your tenure.  Since your first meeting is with a small group of summer school teachers and administrators you can use them as your consultants.  Here’s a way to think about your first meeting. You:

1. Decide in advance what you want them to be saying about you after the meeting

2. Get very clear that you are in charge and can not be their “friend”.  There must always be a supervisory distance between you and the staff.  Remember, two other principals have no been successful in the last year.  You are the new staff sergeant getting them into shape.

3. You can be warm and open with what you say and how you say it but not have an open door policy.

4. At the first meeting you need to be your most professional in a dark suit.  This is your “power” look.  Your tone of voice is “command tone.”  Practice projecting your voice as if you were a teacher in a large classroom with unruly students or as a staff sergeant. 

5. At your first meeting set your expectations for how things will work with you. [Adjust these to meet your needs.] This is the time to share a few of your initial hopes for this organization, including the students.

a. Since you mention you’re visual and like to read things and think about them, let the group know that you need something in email or in writing when anyone wants to talk with you.  You may be a deep thinker who likes to have a chance to do that to do the best for your staff.  So they need to give you a day or two before talking.  You don’t make “corridor” decisions, or decisions on the fly, unless it’s a REAL emergency.

b. Your job will be to talk with all of the teachers in the staff of the school in person, by email, by phone or in small groups.  They need to get to know you.

c. You will be setting up THE BIG RULES for how the school will run and asking that the small team in the room give you feedback on what should be included.  (This is usually about 3-4 items like:

1) Every kid has more potential than they’re using.  Look for ways to personally motivate each one of them.

2) Staff members apply themselves to planning and innovation in their curricula every week;

3) All staff speak positively about the school and the students

4) They need to know about their kids and how they are doing every week. Their job is not just teaching but also general social work to ensure their kids are in school and to support them in their home lives.

5) The teachers and administrators are the role models for the kids.  They need to show their commitment and caring so that kids can do the same. 

6) Kids and teachers treat everyone with respect everywhere.  This means in the school yard and during recess.

Be sure to read Truth 17 in my book "The Truth About Being a Leader":
“What’s the Big Idea?”: Bring Your Guiding Rules Into Everyday Organizational Life

 

d. There had been some changes in the class assignments before you got there.  You expect to discuss these with the teachers, one on one, by  email and in small groups and get input on the thinking of your staff before putting the changes into effect. 

e. Ask for volunteers among your staff to work with you on setting up the school’s Big Rules and in articulating your vision.  You will talk with as many members of staff as possible but need a committed group to help you know what’s best for the school and get input so that the staff feels they have been heard.  This is a time consuming and overwhelming job but worth doing. 

f. You will always be “on” in this job.  You are the leader of the school even when you go home.  Now you will be doing back to back meetings while you are also mentoring, coaching problem solving and dealing with emergencies.  Make sure that you give yourself some short breaks during the day to read your email and think.

g. You will need a really good vice principal.  If you don’t have the right one in place get one and move the one you have to another position or out the door.

h. If you need to get funds to bring in a good teacher or administrator go out and raise the money.  That will go a long way to showing the school staff your commitment.

Thanks for writing,

Karen

 

 

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