Based on a comment I received on my post, “10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #ClassroomCulture“, I was asked to write a post about what a principal can do to promote school culture. Thinking about my own past practice, but also by many that I have been inspired by, here are some simple ideas that could really set the tone for a year.
- Be outside and welcome people in the morning. One of the best ways to start the day as a principal is to be at the front of the school (or in a central place) to welcome students and staff every single morning (not just the first day). Dave Pysyk, principal extraordinaire, was known for welcoming people every single morning at his school. It set an amazing tone for the day and was an immediate investment in people.
- Go into classrooms and hang out. One of the things that I truly believe in, is that principals should be in classrooms a lot more than they are currently. Not just stopping by and saying hi (although this is hugely beneficial), but just spending time and hanging out, observing the environment. The world is so mobile now, that we are not tethered to an office, so take your laptop, and answer your email or do your “paperwork” in a classroom. Your presence means a lot to the school community.
- Make a YouTube video to welcome people back. A great way to greet people back, is to make a quick message like this one from Travis McNaughton on YouTube. People get to hear your voice and see your face, and sets a different tone than any letter home would. Or you could be like Tony Sinanis, and create a school newsletter on YouTube with your students. Awesome way to make connections before families start your school, and continue them after.
- Twitter videos to share awesome things happening in classrooms. One of my favourite options on Twitter is using video. It is a great way to capture quick moments in the classroom and make great teaching and learning go viral in your own community, not just globally. There is no need to wait for the next staff meeting to share awesome ideas happening in your own school when you have access to technology like this. Former principal Carolyn Cameron told me, that as a principal, you can become one of the best teachers, because you can always see great teachers. Make sure you share what you see with others constantly and consistently.
- Learn the names of all students. If a student is ever sent to the office, the worst way to start off a conversation is “what’s your name again?” Spending time in areas where students convening, and making a huge effort to know the names of your students, makes a huge difference. It is not easy, but it should be a goal for every principal.
- Make a spreadsheet with every staff member’s name and list their strength(s). People that are new to the principal position always ask, “What would you change first?” My answer is always, “nothing”. The best thing you can do is learn the strength of every staff member in your community, write it down on a spreadsheet, and share that you see that in them. This reminds principals that people are more likely to move forward when they feel valued.
- Fill the halls with pictures of kids that are there right now. Schools spend a lot of time honouring the past (graduation pictures, principal portraits, etc.), but not enough time honouring the present. Going into schools often, I notice that the ones that really stick out to me, are the ones that have active pictures and media of kids plastered all over the school. It is a great reminder for all of the students that you are there for them.
- Have lunch with students. I am all about having food together. Having lunch with the principal is such a great way to get to know your students and connect with them. Sometimes you might do it to find out what kids want from their school, but sometimes it is just about finding out about the kids. Very simple, yet very powerful.
- Call families of colleagues to thank them (Thanks Jimmy Casas). I remember when Jimmy Casas told me about the time he spent calling the parents of his staff, to tell them how awesome their children were. No matter how old we get, we are always somebody’s kid, and parents never get tired of hearing about the accomplishments of those that they have raised.
- Treat the school like family. Schools can be tough places to be. There are lots of emotional ups and downs, and people have shed many tears being a part of a school community. This is why people need to feel that you will push them, but always have their back. When schools become like family, what the community can do is absolutely amazing.
One of the elements that is not on the list is to simply be available. Don’t be the principal that needs an “appointment” to connect with others. You have the mobility to move around the school in ways that many staff can not, and it is important that you are visible. Amber Teamann is very transparent principal, exhibiting her continuous learning in her role, modelling her willingness to grow for her school community. Patrick Larkin had his desk in the hallway of the high school in which he served as a principal, and it was an awesome reminder of who he was there for. Principals like Sanee Bell, seem to go out of their way to make kids feel like part of their community.
To be a principal is a true blessing. My best advice is to enjoy every minute you can openly, as you see that your joy will become infectious with others.