The job of a first year principal is one that very few people can understand until the first day of in-service when you realize that all the preparation in the world could not get you ready for the days ahead. I cannot begin to express the gamut of emotions- excitement, apprehension, joy, and nervousness. All of these things together make for a wonderful experience when coupled with the proper perspective.
There are some key factors to remember as a first year principal that will help you have a successful and effective school year.
Remember Past Teaching Experiences
The first and I believe most important thing for a first year principal to live by is their experience in the classroom. One of the most common complaints with first year principals and administrators is that once they have “power” they forget where they came from. In order for you as a principal to identify with your teacher’s concerns, you must know what they are facing. When facing decisions involving the classroom experience, especially with issues like discipline and class sizes, it will serve your teachers well to ask yourself this question: “Would I be okay with this decision if I were the teacher?” Gaining a position as an administrator does not disconnect you from the classroom; in fact, it is an opportunity to see what works in classrooms.
Stay Connected to the Classroom
This leads to key factor number two – spend time in teacher’s classrooms. Over the years, it has become common for principals and administrators to darken the doorway of a classroom for evaluations or discipline issues. As a first year principal, you will set your teachers up for success by letting them know that you will be spending daily time in the classroom getting to know their teaching styles and how their classrooms work.
If they do things well, make sure to point those things out, not only to them, but also to their co-workers. Positive affirmation is critical in an environment where criticism has become the main form of communication. Your presence in the classroom will let your teachers know that you support them and are seeing what happens on a regular basis, not just on a yearly basis. This will also hold those teachers accountable who need to be “checked on” because of their lack of enthusiasm for their job. They will know that walk-ins are not just a once a year occurrence, but that it could happen at any time of the day. This will encourage those teachers who lack the motivation to give their best even when no one is looking to try a little harder.
Encourage and Welcome Suggestions
The final piece of advice I would give a first year principal is to be open for teacher input and ideas. This is not saying that you let people control you or tell you how to oversee the school, but it creates a safe place for teachers to feel like their concerns are being heard.
One of the best ways to do this is to create a written forum or web document where teachers can leave comments. This takes the pressure off of you to have conversations with every one of your staff members or to have to respond to a hundred emails. Put up poster boards with different topics on them where teachers can share ideas anonymously or otherwise. Once or twice a month, get together with your administrative team and sort through the comments and suggestions and see what changes you can make.
For many teachers, just knowing that they are heard, even if nothing changes, will ease tensions and dissatisfaction with their job. Remember, your main goal is not to make rules, but to create an environment where students are safe and happy, but more importantly, to have a staff that wants to work for you and the school to the best of their ability.
If you can do these things, then you will increase your odds of being successful as a first year principal.
image by celalteber