Wednesday, July 13, 2016

10 Ways Teachers Can Support Principals

This blog post was co-written with Todd Nesloney.  You can find Todd's website and blog here.

Together we recently wrote a blog post called “Top 10 Tips for First Year Principals”.  The post got a great reception and lots of conversations were started.

One of the comments that was made on Twitter was from Mr C and it said “Great post guys! I often wonder how I as a teacher can support my principal better?  Any ideas?”  And right away that got us thinking…..

As a principal, it’s our job to steer the ship.  To lead the way. Did you know that nearly 30% of Principals who lead troubled schools quit each year? And that by year 3, half leave their job? You can read more about it here.

But a school runs as a team.  As a family.  It takes every single one of us.  There are ways that we could all support each other.  But we wanted to write a post with a few ideas on how teachers can best support school principals! (Do you have your own ideas? Share in the comments below!)

1. Ask your principal how they are doing or how things are going
As principals it is our job to check in with people and build relationships with everyone in
the building.  However, it is great when a teacher stops by in the morning or comes up to us during recess and asks how we are doing.  It might not seem like much, but we can both remember the people who have taken the time out of their schedule to come say hello and check in on us.
2.  Talk to them when there is an issue
There will be times you will disagree with our actions or decisions.  Always come to your principal first when there is an issue.  We have to work together and trust each other.  For example, some states like California have a union.  If you go to the union before talking to your principal first that immediately breaks trust.  Same goes for going to the district office with an issue before talking to your principal.  We are both lucky that we have never had a problem with this at our school sites.  Our teachers have come to us anytime there is a concern.  There might be times you need to get others involved, but always talk to your principal first.  
3.  We don’t mind complaints, but bring solutions too
As leaders of the school, we don’t mind hearing complaints at all!  We all need to grow and continually get better.  But one thing that everyone can do is when you bring complaints to the table, be prepared to bring potential solutions as well.  There’s nothing worse than hearing someone tell you how much they don’t like something, while offering no ideas on how to make it better.  Share your frustrations but also share ideas on how to make it better!
4.  Help promote your school
One thing that everyone wants to do is promoting the great things happening at your school.  School administrators should be leading this charge in sharing your school story, but we need help!  As teachers, any time that you can share the story of your classroom, students, and school, it benefits all!  Share, share, share!
5.  Connect with other teachers to bring new ideas to your school
The principal is only one person.  No matter how connected they are, how many conferences they go to, how many books they read, they still need your help bringing new ideas to the school.  The more connected you are with other teachers, the more great ideas you can bring to your campus.  You will also have a different perspective than they will.  So connect with other teachers either in person, or on social media like Twitter and Voxer and bring those great ideas to your principal.  
6.  Do your best to understand all the directions they are pulled in
Teachers understand how hard it is to meet the needs of all the students in their classroom.  As a principal it feels the exact same way but instead of let’s say 30 kids in a class you have the needs of all of your teachers, secretaries, librarian, custodians, aides, psychologist, resource teacher, nurse and those are just the members of your staff.  You then have usually over 1,000 parents that have different ideas of what needs to be happening at a school.  There are so many people who need the principal and we are pulled in so many different directions.  Just doing your best to understand that helps out your principal a lot.
7.  Understand they are not the previous principal
This could be a good or bad thing depending on what you thought of the previous principal.  We have no problem letting us know of traditions or great things the previous principal did but just know we are not them.
8.  Never talk bad about your principal (or any staff) to members of the community
There might be frustrations with what is happening with your principal or a different teacher at your site.  This goes back to the trust we talked about earlier.  As soon as you talk about about a staff member to someone in the community you are breaking the trust we are working on building at our school.  There are enough other people that like to bash educators, we need to be the ones being positive to the public about what is happening at our school and all of our staff members.
9.  Let them know when something is going well
As a principal, a large portion of our day is spent dealing with upset staff, upset parents, upset central office, or disciplining students.  Sometimes it can feel like we’re doing everything wrong and that everyone is angry or frustrated with us and we begin to lose sight of the great things going on.  One way teachers can help with that is by letting us know when something is going well.  When you had a great day, when you like an activity, when you just want to tell someone ‘thank you’.  We want to celebrate with you.  We need those moments so we can feel like every decision we’re making isn’t a terrible one.
10.  Invite them
As principals, we’re constantly being pulled a million different directions (just like teachers!) and when that happens we forget or don’t know about every event going on on campus.  We love being invited into classrooms.  Whether that is to a class party, science experiment, to read to class, to team teach, whatever!  We know it’s our responsibility to be seen and actively involved, but we also like when we’re invited too.
BONUS: If you have a first year principal just know they are going through a lot adjusting to their new job (especially the first two months)
There is definitely an adjustment when you become a principal.  It doesn’t matter if your principal is coming from an assistant principal job or straight from the classroom.  By doing your best to try and understand this adjustment will help them.  It is especially important that you ask them how they are doing (tip number 1) the first month or two.  They might not tell you, but it will mean the world!

This list is just a start.  Everyone wants to feel needed, valued, supported.  We may have been able to come up with a few ideas on how teachers can best support principals, but really this list could fit any position on a campus.  The whole motivation and ideals behind this post was that we wanted to provide ideas for all of us to best support and build up those we work with.  

Both of us love the ways our campus staff make us feel.  We know we’re at the campus we were meant to be at.  But we’ve heard so many stories from other leaders who don’t feel that way (for a variety of reasons).  It’s going to take all of us, but together we can build a school where every individual feels valued and important.  

In the end we know it is on the principal to support teachers and staff.  But anything you can do as a teacher to help support them as well will help them be a better leader, and in turn will make your school a better place for our students.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Is This Real Life?

If you would like to check out other blogs about #NAESP16, please read these great posts by Todd SchmidtLiz GardenLindsy StumpenhorstNick ProudMark FrenchJen Kloczko, and Lynn Colon.

David after Dentist is a Youtube video showing a kid who is still feeling the effects of medication and isn't really sure what is happening right after he left the dentist.  The video has over 133 million views on Youtube.  If you have never seen it, here is the two minute video:

Why am I leading my blog post about #NAESP16 with this video clip?  I had so much fun, laughed so hard, met so many amazing people, did so many cools things, that the one question that kept coming to my mind was, "Is this real life?"  

So in honor of David After Dentist here are my top moments using some quotes from the video:

"Is this real life?"
I got to present with someone I greatly admire in Jennifer Kloczko.  I was able to write a blog post with #KidsDeserveIt author Todd Nesloney (we actually wrote two blog posts, second one coming next week).  I was able to get video editing tips from Brad Gustafson.  I was able to talk and hangout with the authors of #HackingLeader Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo.  I learned and laughed with Todd Schmidt on our very long water taxi ride to and from the baseball game.  I got to talk writing and blogging with Ross Cooper.  I was able to hangout and connect with everyone in our amazing PLN: Andy Jacks, Jessica Cabeen, Julie Vincentsen, Kas Nelson, Kathy Melton, Kyle Hoopes, Lindsy Stumpenhorst, Liz Garden, Lynn Colon, Mark French, Nick Proud, and Theresa Stager.  Forget just being some of the best educators I know, these people are some of the best people I know.

"Don't touch it!"
Sometimes you have to just go for it.  After our PLN all first met in person at the keynote we had the idea that we should go up on the stage and get a picture.  Were we supposed to get up on that stage?  Probably not, but it did lead to this awesome picture.

Connected leaders on stage at NAESP

"Stay in your seat."
Not sure how to explain the ferris wheel right other than my stomach hurt the next stay from laughing so hard.  This is the power of being connected.  To have so many laughs with people you just met cannot happen without being connected in someway beforehand.

"You have four eyes."
I tried writing this about 20 different times and still not sure what to say about the picture below.  Sometimes at a conference you just have to have some fun.

"I can't see anything.  Yes, you can."
As much as I love learning and making new connections, I also love to explore new places.  Our nation's Capitol is an amazing place, one I hope to be able to take my family to soon.  Between the Monuments at Moonlight tour and getting to explore the last day, I was able to see more of D.C. than I thought I was going to be able to see.

"Why is this happening to me?"
All of the opportunities to present, write, and hangout are due to the fact that I decided to become connected.  Obviously if you are reading this you are probably connected in someway.  If you are not connected, it is amazing the opportunities and friend you can meet just by deciding to connect on Voxer and Twitter. 

"Is this going to be forever?"
Obviously the conference is over so that doesn't last forever.  But what I am always amazed about is how these connections start on Twitter and Voxer and turn into so much more.  I didn't even know Jennifer Kloczko or Todd Nesloney a year and half ago and now they are very good friends.  Todd Schmidt is coming up to visit in September.  I also have no doubt that these connections and friendships will last a long time.  We will be there to support each other, ask advice, and hopefully create more memories.  So while the conference is only 3 days, the laughs and memories will be forever.  

Friday, July 8, 2016

Top 10 Tips for First Year Principals

This blog post was co-written with Todd Nesloney.  You can find Todd's website and blog here.

The first year.  We all remember it, and some of us remember it more fondly than others.  Both of us remember our first year as principals.  It was fun, scary, exhausting, exhilarating, full of laughter, and yes even some tears.

As we sit at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), we were both reminded of our first year.  And as we were reminiscing and sharing stories, we had an idea! Why not share some of our ideas on how to make your first year as a principal be the best it can be!  We’ve both made plenty of mistakes and learned tons of examples of what TO do and what NOT to do.

So here are a few of our favorite ideas on how to make sure that your first year (or any year) as a principal is the best year ever!

1. Before making any moves stop and have a conversation
At some point in the year you will have to ask staff to help you or your school.  It is so important to start your relationship with them by getting to know them.  Learn about their family, what they love about the school, what they would change about the school, and how you can help them.  Staff will appreciate you taking the time to hear them out and get to know them.
2. Learn every staff member’s name before you start working with them
There is something powerful about hearing your name.  Knowing that someone knows your name.  But also that they know how to pronounce it correctly.  It’s so important that when you become a principal that you utilize tools at your disposal (yearbooks, website, school secretary, etc) to learn the name of every staff member before you even meet them.  Set the tone immediately that they’re important to you.
3. Be a servant
One of the best ways to lead is by serving.  Every chance you get take time to serve the staff, students, and families around you.  One thing we both do is morning, lunch, and afternoon duty every single day.  It’s so important for your team to see that you’re willing to get down in the trenches with them. It lets them see that you’re willing to get your hands dirty and that you’re not just sitting in your office.
4. Be visible, every single day
Your reputation will get set pretty quick with parents, students, and staff. It is important that they see you everywhere, especially the first few weeks.  Talk to teachers before school to see how they’re doing.  Greet students as they arrive.  Go out to recess and lunch.  Especially the first few weeks, go into every single classroom even if it is only for a few minutes.  Be so visible that parents, students, and teachers are tired of seeing you everywhere.
5. Find Ways to Lighten Loads, Not Weigh them Down
Your job as a principal is to move your school forward and improve the school.  There are many ways to improve your school without adding to all that your staff already does.  Find those ways.  When the load becomes too much, listen to your staff about what adds to their stress, and take what you can off their plate.  They’ll respect you so much more when you notice those “extras” and remove what you can.
6. Read with Classes
One of our favorite things to do is to read with classrooms. We make it a point to get into every classroom a couple times a year and read.  We read books we like, books that cover our themes, or even books recommended by students or other teachers.  When a principal reads to a classroom it shows that literacy is important.
7. Feed Them
It is amazing how food can change the tone of a meeting or a Friday.  We both know that budgets can be tight and there are sometimes rules around spending money on food.  But find a way to treat your staff.  It might be something as easy as popcorn and chocolate at a staff meeting.  Or maybe a nacho bar on a Friday.  Find a way to treat your staff from time to time.
8. Listen More Than You Talk
One of the most important things you can do as a first year principal (or any year for that matter), is listen more than you talk.  And genuinely listen.  Ask people how their day has been, and wait for an answer.  Ask how you can help, and then help them! Ask your staff for feedback, ideas, and more!  Listen, listen, listen.
9. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’ll get back to you”
There will be parents and teachers that want answers to their questions, and want them immediately.  As first year principals we both didn’t deal with that pressure well and would give answers too quickly.  It is important to know you can tell a staff member or parent that you don’t know or you need more time to think about it, and that you will get back to them.  Make sure you do get back to them in a timely manner, but just know it is ok to step back and give yourself time to make the best decision possible.  
10. Stop and Take Care of Yourself
As principals, whether we’re a first year or not, we can forget to take care of ourselves.  Sometimes the load becomes more than we can bear.  It’s important to remember to stop and breathe sometimes.  Schedule in time to sit and eat if you need to, take a moment to close your office door and have 5 minutes to clear your head, go sit in the middle of a kindergarten classroom and be surrounded by wonder and awe.  Whatever is “your thing”, find time to do it.  When we don’t take care of ourselves we injure the whole team.  It’s like the saying goes, “when the principal sneezes, everyone gets a cold”.
BONUS: You’re not in this alone
It’s incredibly important to remember this point: you are not alone. Being a principal can be one of the loneliest education jobs out there. There is a constant incredible amount of weight placed on your shoulders.  Find your people.  Utilize social media (twitter, voxer, blogger groups, etc) to connect and surround yourself with others who will lift you up, hear you out, and challenge you all at the same time.  Don’t try to do this job alone.  

Being a first year principal brings many ups and downs.  There will be days you leave school thinking you are the greatest principal in the world and days you leave thinking that there has to be a better leader for your school.  Just know being a principal does matter.  The job you’re doing is an important and worthwhile job.  You will make a huge difference for your students, your teachers, and your staff.

Being a principal is hard. It’s not meant for everyone, and can often feel like a very lonely position, but we wouldn’t change our decision to step into this role for a second.

As you begin getting ready for a new school year, we hope you consider using a few of the ideas we’ve come up with above. Both of us absolutely loved teaching in the classroom but we can honestly say that being a principal is the best job in the world.