Our principal walked into a really tough situation this year. The school culture was in serious trouble and we had a mass exodus of teachers who left. We had unfilled positions along with new initiatives that could have been really unpopular. And yet, the school feels drastically different right now than it did last year. Here are a few things he does well:
- Trust: Our principal trusts the staff. Part of this trust means we are given a decent amount of autonomy without our work being constantly questioned. However, another part of this is that when we screw up, he trusts our motives. This has an empowering effect on the staff.
- Conflict Engagement: Although he trusts us, this trust doesn’t mean he is avoiding the unpleasant reality of conflict. I’ve seen him navigate some contentious situations by tackling the conflict and helping come up with a solution.
- Communication: I’ve never felt blindsided by something that’s going on, because my principal lets us know what’s going on. There’s a culture of transparency even when the reality isn’t pretty.
- Avoiding Shame: He corrects individually and praises publicly. We don’t get the all staff emails saying, “Just a friendly reminder that some people are failing to . . .” When we screw up, it’s not a shot at someone’s identity.
- Listening: He listens to our input, but he doesn’t rule by committee. In other words, we know that our principal is ultimately the leader. He doesn’t wait until every person is on board to make something happen. However, he often solicits input from the staff.
- Understanding Identity: Some teachers need to be left alone. That’s not a sign that they’re up to no good. They just like space. Some need more encouragement. Some need explicit directions while others need freedom. I’ve watched our new principal approach the staff with an eye to identity of individuals rather than just leading a whole group.
- Humility: Our principal is the first to apologize and own up to any mistakes. He’s also the first to admit when he doesn’t know something. I feel like the longterm effects of this is that he is establishing a school culture of humility and that speaks volumes to students and staff.
- Respecting the Community: Although teachers feel that he “has our backs,” I feel like he is also protective about students and what they need. He is approachable with parents and he has a high view of the community that feeds into our school.
Although he isn’t perfect, I am realizing how much of an influence a quality principal can make on the school culture. As a teacher, I feel trusted and respected and ultimately that changes how I do my job.
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