[This blog post was originally published on NASSP's blog: "School of Thought."]
Dear Principal: I suspect you’re tired. It is easy to get discouraged. Some principals may even be disillusioned. As Tim Messick noted, “Job descriptions are written in such a way that a principal needs to be a superhero. A principal needs to have the power and strength of Superman, the intelligence of Albert Einstein, the popularity of Princess Diana, the political savvy of a presidential candidate, and the care and compassion of Mother Teresa.”
In a time when public schools do not always enjoy the support of policymakers and public schools are at risk of being undercut by vouchers and charter schools, principals are still charged with raising test scores in their buildings. They are tasked with leading schools that prepare students for an uncertain future. They may feel buried in mandates and distracted by controversies and negative press. How do principals respond?
We keep our eye on the ball.
We come to work each day to remove barriers for our teachers. We strive every day to create a safe school environment for students. We commit to leading a school where teachers want to work and students want to learn. We create a vision for our school community that encourages students to dream big and ensures teachers can help students achieve those dreams.
We remember that we actually play a role in raising student achievement. We embrace the responsibility of creating a school culture that elevates expectations for students and fosters meaningful collaboration among teachers. We sit with our teachers to analyze data, but we remember that each data point represents a student, their future, and all of their hopes and dreams. We work to increase student achievement, but we remember that we did not get into the business to raise test scores; we became educators to make a difference in the lives of our students.
We demonstrate every day, through what we say and how we spend our time, that meeting the needs of our students is the most important thing we do. We know that we have students walking our halls who need us. We advocate for the student who has been picked on. We are patient with the student who does not have any support at home. We make time for the student who is lonely. We are relentless about connecting with the students in our school, and we remind our teachers that they leave a legacy that transcends the curriculum. We remind them that there is not one magical instructional strategy, but there is magic in connecting with kids. We remind them that students may not always remember their lesson, but they will always remember their kindness.
We’ve all written school improvement plans. But we remember that people don’t follow plans; they follow passion. We have all been involved in the development of mission statements, but the best mission statements are not framed; they are lived. The job of a school principal is challenging—and at times it is certainly stressful. But we keep our focus. We keep our eye on the ball. We come to work every day to empower our teachers and inspire our students, to create for them a brighter future.
[This blog post was originally published on the site, www.leadupnow.com]
As school leaders, we understand that one of our most important responsibilities is building school culture. We want to lead a school where kids enjoy learning and adults enjoy working. We want to lead a school where teacher capacity is enhanced and student achievement is elevated. We want to foster a school culture that empowers educators and inspires kids. So how do we do that?
Here are my 7 secrets for building a strong school culture:
Connect with your values
It’s easy to get into a routine. We go to work everyday; we teach lessons; we lead faculty meetings; we email parents; we supervise carpool … and the list goes on. We make a million decisions every day, and many of them, we’re barely aware of. We get bogged down in the minutia and the mundane, so we need to continually remind ourselves why we do what we do. At our school, we have each written our own professional oath — modeled after the physician’s “Hippocratic Oath.” These oaths are posted on our websites and outside our classrooms. They keep us connected to our core values, and they remind us why we come to work each day.
Identify your vision
Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” It’s important for every school to have a vision that drives the faculty — a goal that propels the school forward. We understand the importance of “learning targets” for students because we know that when kids understand the destination, they can own the journey. Adults are no different. The vision provides the goal around which everyone rallies.
Cultivate the collaboration
I believe teachers are stronger when they collaborate. “Iron sharpens iron,” “two heads are better than one,” and that sort of thing. The term, “collaboration” has actually become something of a cliche. But in my experience, this cliche is rock solid. At our school, we have started a competition called, “Collaboration Bling,” where teachers are recognized for observing each other’s classrooms. We have conducted a faculty meeting via “Twitter chat,” and our last faculty meeting was conducted “Edcamp” style. The best professional learning does not take place in a workshop, it takes place when teachers are hanging out with their colleague down the hall.
Raise the expectations
There is a robust body of research around the role of high expectations in school. The conclusion is clear. Kids rise to the level of our expectations. In our school we talk about expectations during morning announcements. I have gone into classrooms prior to testing to talk to the kids about my expectations for their academic growth. We also encourage students to have high expectations of themselves, so students set their own academic goals in conferences with their teachers. We don’t limit our hopes to the realm of academics, however, because we also asked all our students to write their dreams on our “Wall of Dreams” in the hallway.
Personalize the data
I’ve told my teachers many times: “We don’t want to get better by accident; we want to get better on purpose. Data is what allows us to be strategic.” I am proud of how my teachers use the data to drive their instruction and increase their effectiveness in the classroom … but it is my hope that they never lose sight of this: ultimately, it’s not about the data; it’s about the kids. We did not get into education to raise test scores; we became educators to make a difference in the lives of our students.It is easy to be bogged down in the numbers, but we must remind ourselves that we are not analyzing “data points” … we are talking about children. Analyzing the data is useful, but we must never lose sight of what that data represents.
Engage with the students and teachers
People know what you value by how you spend your time. I believe that the best school leaders are not consumed with managing programs, they’re preoccupied with people. They are passionate about connecting with the students and the teachers in the building. School culture is not built through emails and memos; it is built through relationships — one conversation at a time. You don’t shape school culture sitting behind your desk; you shape it in the halls, in the classrooms, the lunchrooms … doing whatever it takes to engage with those around you.
Bring the positive energy
Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” And as Todd Whitaker quipped, “When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold.” Without a doubt, the leader of the school sets the tone in the building. The enthusiasm that we bring to work every day will be contagious. And the positive energy that we inject into the little moments of the day will make a big difference. A positive school culture is not built overnight, and it is not the result of a single program or initiative. It is achieved by taking advantage of the little opportunities to make a difference and elevate the positive energy in the school.
Good School culture is not accidental; it is the result of intentional decisions. The seven strategies listed above are all VERBS. They are things that we can all choose to DO! Every school can have a culture that rocks! It’s a matter of choices.