An Open Letter to School Principals

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Dear Principals,

As a teacher, I want you to know that all of the educators and staff members in your building appreciate your extraordinarily complex job.

Principals create the atmosphere for the entire school community. Effective principals empower everyone to flourish, but poor administrators poison the environment. You live with this enormous responsibility, and your staff wants to contribute to your success.

Principals personify their schools, and schools take on the character of their principals. It is essential, therefore, you must foster a culture of trust.

Begin by trusting yourself to form a healthy leadership team. Individual leaders cannot do everything alone, especially in a field as complicated as education. Surround yourself with people who will complement your personality and professional expertise, and then let them do their jobs.

Principals must trust the wider school community too: students, teachers, parents, professional staff, paraprofessionals, administrative assistants, building maintenance crews, district personnel, community partners, and more.

At the start of each year, you always remind the staff to go slow so we can go fast. We’d like you to do the same. Get to know us and the students. Hear our dreams and struggles.You cannot know every person in detail, but the entire staff is grateful when you realize that everyone is human.

As much as we love the school, we have interests, hopes, and worries outside of the building. We have health concerns, financial struggles, and family concerts to attend. You build trust when you recognize our humanity.

This means that you will have to be vulnerable with us so we can get to know you. When we understand each another, we will have a better time appreciating the reasons behind your difficult decisions. When you invest yourself in us, you will be better equipped to make those challenging calls.

You demonstrate your trust when you support us during tense situations. We all want what is best for students, and we need you to have our backs — especially with student discipline and difficult parents.

You know how emotional this profession is. We need to be able to come to you to celebrate, cry, and complain. As our leader, we trust you with our deepest feelings.

Retaining good teachers is essential for the long-term health of the school. We, then, need to trust you as you evaluate us. You have a say in our pay, our position, and how we are perceived within the profession. So we are counting on your integrity. Be honest with us along the way, so we have no surprises at evaluation time. Capricious evaluations will cause us to look for employment in schools with better principals.

It’s no secret that you receive significant pressure from the district and the state. Superintendents, board members, and other officials delegate programs that you are responsible for implementing. We are here to help you. Share with us what is necessary and why this is important. If we truly are a professional learning community, we can achieve these objectives together.

Time is the most valuable resource in every school. When you respect our time, we will more readily trust what you want us to do with our time.

We all know teachers like nothing less than hollow professional development. As a principal, you can create meaningful professional learning opportunities when you ask for and welcome input from your teachers. Teachers will have ideas of what the staff needs, and you can share with your perspective with the staff. Healthy collaboration allows your teachers to participate in attaining the knowledge and skills they need to help students grow.

We are keenly aware that some of us can be difficult to work with, and others will not be happy with anything new you propose. Most of us, though, want to join you in making our school a community in which students can thrive. Forging a mutually confident partnership with the staff will help you achieve your vision for our school.

Problems with staff will arise. When they do, we will need to trust you to handle situations appropriately. When an issue happens, come to us individually. Calling out people (even difficult ones) at staff or team meetings typically instills a sense of fear and uncertainty. You would not expect students to succeed in that kind of environment, and teachers cannot thrive in that setting either.

We need you to stand up to staff bullies and not play favorites. Give everyone — even junior staff members — opportunities to participate. Prevent the same people from dominating meetings and building-wide decisions. We have to believe you care about all of us; otherwise, you are losing parts of your staff.

We also ask that you remember why you originally entered the field of education. You wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids. After some years in the classroom, you decided the best way for you to achieve that dream was through administration.

Good administrators like you are priceless, but please do not forget what it was like to be in the classroom. You might even want to teach some lessons occasionally. This will keep you fresh and help you forge relationships with staff and students.

In your heart, you are a teacher. Remember that the daily pressure of differentiating instruction for students who have unique academic, social, and emotional needs while utilizing the latest tools required by the district and implementing the curriculum with fidelity in order to exceed the building’s achievement goals carries some stress.

We will do our best because we are professionals, and this is what we signed up for. Sometimes, though, we feel that we are given more responsibilities without the time or training to get it all done.

If you are going to require something more of us, is there something you can take off of our plates? And please don’t say that this new thing isn’t something more to do when we can clearly see that it is. If it can’t be done any other way, just tell us. We appreciate you being forthright.

I’d like to suggest that you listen to your staff. You need people to tell you the truth — especially when you’re wrong. Good leadership requires honest feedback. If the staff is upset about a decision you made, you need to know why. If you need to change course, someone must tell you.

You don’t want a “spy” keeping an eye on everything for you. But you need a friend who cares enough about you and the school to tell you the truth from the staff’s perspective.

This is where cultivating a culture of trust will pay off.

This next request might be difficult. But I’m going to ask anyway. Do not overly focus on test scores.

In this day and age, everyone is looking at scores. You receive pressure from the district, parents, and the state to raise scores. You probably even look at reviews of your school on the internet.

You cannot ignore test scores. However, if you spend the bulk of your energy on testing, you will forget that you are dealing with human beings — teachers, staff, students, and parents. We want to do our jobs well, and students want to perform well on tests. If you give us the support and resources we need, trust that we will achieve and grow.

Please remember that you are in the people business, not the test business.

Above all, your presence is essential. This is your school, so you need to be seen, heard, and felt but not in an overbearing way. Walk the halls. Talk with students and staff. Show up for lunch duty, recess, before school duty, and after school duty. Reply to texts and emails promptly — not necessarily immediately. Make your office an inviting place for staff, parents, and students. These small acts of presence build trust because your school needs you.

Creating a culture of trust will empower you to catalyze all members of your school community to work together to make you a principal of excellence.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store