After having a couple of days off from school and be able to just sit back and relax, I wanted to look back at my own year and share my reflections. As a school, we had a great year and had a lot of great innovations in our school. If I learned one thing from my Superintendent (who is amazing but is unfortunately leaving this year) and my staff, is that you are as good as the people that you work with. I can not say enough good things about my staff. They work amazingly together and care so much about providing tons of opportunities for students in our school. Without them, I could not have had the year that I had. Thanks so much to them.
If I could say in one word what you should focus on as an educator it would be this: relationships.
Here are the goals that I had for our school year and how I tried to ensure that they were met.
As a principal coming into a building, I truly believe that you are judged mostly on your interactions with students. These relationships have to be real and sincere, and anyone who knows me knows that I genuinely love kids (sometimes they would say I might even act like one!). I believe in going out and knowing the students as an administrator as it easier to work with them when you know their personalities and their history.
A teacher I was speaking to recently said that they did not ever have to give students “heck” because they could always speak to them with an arm around their back as opposed to a finger in their face. This is my objectives as an administrator. Treat the students with respect and even in their mistakes (they will definitely make mistakes) show that you care about them. Work with them to understand the consequences of their actions but always start with a new day. It is more important that they learn from their actions than it is to ensure that “justice” was served. Our job is to ensure learning, not to simply judge mistakes.
As an educator, working with kids is an amazing gift. Ensure that they know that and you will be on the road to success.
My first goal coming into the school was getting to know the environment of what had already been there. I believe in strengths-based leadership meaning you focus FIRST on the strengths of your staff as opposed to their weaknesses. This is the same idea as working with the passions of your students. If as an administrator, you can focus on the strengths of staff and use those to the advantage of the school community, you will not only increase the expertise of your staff, but you will also improve morale. Saying to people “you need to improve this” first, is not as powerful as “I really value your strengths”. There is always room for improvement and a master teacher knows that, but you really need to work on the strengths of staff first.
Through our professional development plan we definitely focused on building upon the strengths of individual staff members, but also worked on the areas for growth as an entire staff. I had the opportunity to sit down with each staff member to discuss their professional growth plans which was not only a way to learn about their strengths and their areas for growth, but it also gave me the opportunity to learn more about them. This was so imperative to the climate of the building. As educators, our relationships with each other role model relationships with students, either positive or negative. Students readily know whether we get along with one another so it is important that we work to build upon these relationships. I am blessed that I have a group of people that work hard and care about one another. I could have not asked for a better staff.
Parents trust us with their kids everyday so it important that as educators we are transparent with them. It is also important that we take the time to talk with them and learn how to best serve their children.
My goal with parents was that they would know exactly what I stood for as a principal (whether they agreed with it or not) and to ensure that I gave them opportunities to take part in the school environment. Teacher and kids working together can produce amazing results but if you add parents into the mix, the opportunities for learning will grow exponentially.
Definitely parents were curious about some of the new directions our school was going in but it is important that you take the time to explain the “why” of your decisions. I tried to not only explain the why but help inform parents of initiative through our school blog and website, while also taking time to discuss any concerns in my office or at parent council meetings. If you really believe in what you are doing, there is never a reason to hide your thoughts.
I am still thinking about what I need to do next year to improve my practice as an administrator. The ultimate goal of any leader is that you will create an environment where if you left, you will be missed, but not needed. It is important that I continue to build upon the leadership capacity of the building (for staff, students, and parents), not only in developing ability of the community but ensuring that I work on identifying strengths. I also want to ensure that our goals for next year directly relate to improved student learning. We focused a great deal on improving staff ability in different areas (which will definitely correlate to improve student learning), but our goals need to be directly related to the students we serve.
I encourage all of you to take the time to focus on your year and your goals. I do not know how I got so lucky to work with such a tremendous group this past year but I am going to work even harder to serve them in the next.