I just finished reading Todd Whitaker’s book What Great Principals Do Differently – Fifteen Things That Matter Most. I am eager to learn all that I can on this topic as I have recently obtained my Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, and while I don’t have an ‘official’ role in this area yet, it’s not too soon to learn from those who have figured it out already. Between this book and the role model my current principal, Ron McAllister (@rondmac) have been, I feel I am off to a good start.
I found myself taking notes while reading the book as if Mr. Whitaker was going to reveal a magical formula at any moment. What I realized though while taking in his stories and advice is that at the core of everything he shared was that we need to remember that we need to never lose sight that we are in the people business, not just education.
While he shared 15 important things principals need to intentionally focus on, they all come down to one overarching theme – people matter.
Everything from hiring the right people, to investing time and training into the people, to listening to the people, and to respecting the people play a role in being an effective principal. Mr. Whitaker does a much better job at explaining all of these areas than I can, but he definitely made an impact on me.
It’s not just rolling out a new initiative to your staff, or checking off a checklist of things that need to be done, or handling discipline issues during the day, it goes much deeper than that. As a principal you need to seek out the best teachers in your building to filter your ideas and to learn from them, and when there are staff openings you need to fill those positions with teachers who can contribute to the building from day one. A teacher may be very knowledgeable in their content, but are they what’s best for students in that classroom? I don’t think any teacher wakes up in the morning with bad intentions for teaching their students, but the most effective teachers wake up with having higher expectations for themselves as a teacher each day. When those teachers realize that everything they do for their students needs to try and be better than it was in their classroom the day before, they take to heart their job and make that personal connection with their students to help them learn the content and let them know they care about them as a person.
The same can be said for effective principals. When teachers realize that their principal takes time to get to know them both professionally and personally, supports them when needed with students and parents, and models for them what respect looks like in all situations, then there are no limits to what that school can achieve. If relationships are the focus, then I believe the test scores will take care of themselves. Teachers will feel valued and want to do all they can for their students, and students will notice the effort their teachers are taking and they will want to participate in the engaging lessons.
Running a school is a daunting task I’m sure, but as long as you keep what’s best for all students at the heart of what you and your staff are doing, then you can know that you are on the right path. There will always be room for improvement, but by concentrating your efforts on the people in your building, then you will know what needs to be done and will find ways to model for them what they need in order to grow to become the best person they can be both in and out of the classroom.