Sunday, June 1, 2014

How to Train Your (New) Principal

I hope that the blog title got your attention. It was designed to! But you may ultimately find it misleading. Please keep reading!

Before any admins out there start sharpening their pitchforks for me, I gotta say that I really don't think teachers need to train new principals.
Principals come to us already accomplished, trained, vetted, and hand-picked.
Nor are principals really dragons...but then again dragons ARE protective! And a new principal does sorta have to take control of the school which may include a little fire breathing now and then.
Are you still with me?
The conversation I really want to have is with YOU - or rather, with US!  The classroom teacher, school librarian, and educator of any subject who is NOT in charge of a whole school.   I actually think it's the teachers and staff that needs to be trained to be more tolerant!

Cut Me Some Slack!
Why do we seem to give all kinds of slack, assistance, mentoring, and help to the first year teacher but we are all too critical of a first year principal?  I don't think that's fair!
Administration, of ALL jobs, is one that you can only learn while doing. I imagine you can take all kinds of grad courses in Administration but until you sit in that office, walk the halls, bust a move at bus duty, take the parent phone calls, lead a back to school night, or manage a lunch shift - you really don't know what it's like to be an administrator. Because really? Shouldn't we have empathy for that job?
And whew! I don't EVER ever want to be an Admin! That's one job I know I would fail - obvi!  And that's....OK! I think it's working for me as Teacher Librarian and tech leader! See? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Here's my Tweet last week before starting this post.
Teachers: Be Kind. Be Patient. Be Positive.
We teachers can talk....a LOT! But when we do, I think we need to remember to be positive. We also need to also be kind and patient. I have always believed that a principal doesn't really "own a middle school" until the 6th graders become 8th graders and that any kid who knew the old principal was gone. That's right, it takes three whole years! So, I don't think you can't really judge a new principal the first year. Give them two - three years...like tenure, to settle in! 
If you're an "experienced" teacher (20+ years) like me, new or younger teachers will look to you either unconsciously or subconsciously to learn about your school culture. How does what you say reflect you and your school? A LOT! Don't be the teacher that is a toxic bad mouther or Debbie downer.  Snarky is OK, just try and direct it towards situations or the Kardashians and not students or fellow teachers.

Don't DIS! Talkin Trash & Throwing Shade.
I try to never to "dis" my admin.  It's not honorable, it's not professional, and it's just not cool to be disrespectful or disloyal to your leaders - past or present. This can be challenging if you had some admins who were umm quirky. I've been blessed with having principals who were very supportive of me and our library media tech program. Were they perfect? Nope. But I'm not either!  I try to appreciate and focus on the best in people. I know, pretty Pollyanna, right? [cue eye roll] Which doesn't mean I'm a saint, or that I don't like to gossip now and then. I'm human! But I try to keep the tea and the shade relegated to the idiocy of the Bravo Real Housewives franchise!  Oh and and I hope it goes without saying that social media venting is verboten!

A Few Principal Tips:

• Get to know your new administrator - what they are like as a real person (but don't stalk them!)
• Don't compare them to previous principals (Never say "Well, Mr. so and so always did this - or Mrs. never this did that")
• Listen when they talk to you - without thinking of what you are going to say next (this is hard for me - I get nervous and start to babble)
• Be positive about your situation (Don't bemoan or whine)
• Advocate for yourself, your program, your class BUT be a team player (Yes, I'm doing lunch duty for the first time in 17 years and though it limits teaching some classes, it's great seeing the kiddos in a different venue! Being a cheerful not begrudging team player is good thing.)
• Be understanding if they stumble or fumble (Wouldn't you hope for that, too?)
by maggie khun
• Don't go to them with a critique or complaint without a suggestion on how to fix it (I learned this from my former awesome principal, Mr. Vince Catania)
Don’t be afraid to speak up and share an idea! (This is from my Midwest friend Dr. Justin Tarte, who wrote: "You bring a new perspective and a fresh set of lenses to the table, so be sure to share your thoughts and insights in a collaborative and collegial manner." - 10 things I want all new teachers to know)
• Get Admin permission before you try anything radically new, out of the box, or daring (You never want to take your principal by surprise by a parent phone call! IE:  I'm daring - not stoopid!)
• Document and share the cool things going on in your class or area (This might be a good time to start an Edublog!)
• Don't waste their time with small change or piddling issues (Teachers don't like it when Admins micromanage them, so try not to Macromanage your principal. For example, don't CC them on every email, that's not CYA - that's just annoying.  Don't use them to circumvent a teacher you may have issues with -that's just passive aggressive and will make you look petty. Save your principal for the mountains not the molehills  -Wow, I'm using a lot of cheezy idioms today!)
What should I add here? What did I forget? Add em in the comments and I might edit & add them in!

Haters Will Hate
I know it's not cool to look like a suck up, brown noser, or sycophant, but if you get unwillingly caught in a "let's bash the principal conversation" - say your piece or just "remember a task," smile and walk away.
Here's an example of what your piece can be:  "give the guy/gal a chance - so far he's been fair to me and I like how he's seen in the hallways and talks to our kiddos"  Or something both truthful and positive. 
Got a lot of hating going on in your school? There are always "that group" of toxic people - and they LOVE to recruit!  Don't give it energy! And don't for a minute believe that it won't somehow, someway get back to your admin, too! 'Cause it will.  Also, after a long time principal leaves his followers and those who he has brought in will most likely leave. I've experienced that a large turnover of a school's teachers happen every 5 years or so. If you want to move, move. If you want to stay - have an open mind & always keep the kiddos a priority. Lady Gaga on Twitter, Haters, & Change 

Even though my new principal, Mr. Joshua R. Wasilewski, has said we could call him by his first name, I don't feel comfortable doing it. I'm afraid I will slip up in front of the kiddos plus - there's a respect factor there for me that I really believe in. No matter that's he's a few [cough] years younger than me (When did that happen? When did principals get younger than me!? LOL) I really respect my new principal and he's doing a great job! He's there - in the hallways, in the classrooms, he smiles and talks to the students. He has even gone out during recess and played hoops with the kids.  He shows true interest in our staff and our community.  He's been supportive of me, our library media program, & our TV Studio. He's also Tweeting AND he's even helped me with my SLO's!
Now if he could only take away my lunch duty.....Just kidding!
Let's give first year principals time to get their feet wet, grow into the job, bond with the kiddos and always remember to be loyal and supportive. Teach your principal that they can trust you.  Every day.  Be kind. Be patient. Be positive. Be Professional.

New Principal Resources:

The postings above are from The Connected Principal blog - which is an amazing site that comprises the "shared thoughts of school administrators that want to share best practices in education. All of the authors have different experiences in education but all have the same goal; what is best for students."  I really think this blog is a "must share" with your principal. Maybe even encourage them to contribute! I just wish they would get a slick graphic blog header - it's too plain, it doesn't embody it's awesomeness! But then again, you know I have issues where graphics are concerned

I also really admire Principal Eric Sheninger,  his Tweets & blog are truly inspiring! I consider him as one of my online Principal leaders. Thank you Mr. Sheninger for your generosity and vision for our schools and our kiddos!

On a Personal Note: Turn Challenges into Blessings
OK, I put this last because it's a little personal - you can stop reading if you wanna, I'll just cry on the inside! J/K
This school year I had a triple challenge which turned out to be triple blessing.   Last summer I had a total knee replacement fixing a knee that was hurt 10 years ago in an impact injury, my (only ever) Media assistant of 20+ years had the nerve to retire [grins ruefully] and I had to train a new assistant for the first time and one I wasn't given a chance to interview or help hire. Oh! and I got a new principal.
I was really nervous about all three. And guess what? It all worked out AWESOMELY! Knee feels much better, my new assistant Ms. Kathi Bell is amazing and every day is fun learning with her, and my new principal rocks! SO WIN! Whew! I originally wrote 3 long paragraphs here going into detail then I realized it was WAY too much information! LOL When blogging, try and differentiate between sharing and cathartic unloading!

Thanks for reading!  This time of year I seem to get reflective. And maybe a bit verbose.  I even wrote a blog post called Time and Tide Reflection that gives some thoughts to teachers about a "mental wrap-up" for the school year.
I always think and try to say to as many who will listen, that we have the BEST JOB in the whole world! I truly celebrate the passion and the privilege that I have to be a teacher and a librarian.
Why? Because every year we get a new start! All the mistakes we made or things we forgot to do we can do next year!  And the kiddos....they are amazing! Yeah, Pollyanna. Sickening. I know.


 

4 comments:

  1. Brilliant, inspiring, and refreshing, thank you...

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  2. Great post! How long do you think it takes an elementary principal to "own" the school? For example, I'm at a Pre-K through 6th....so potentially 8 years? Or do you think it moved faster when the kids are so little?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Karen, dear!
      Thank you for your comment. I would say 3 years The time it takes for 3rd graders to move to 5th graders. Pre-K-2nd grade aren't really baked quite yet...
      Cheers!
      ~G

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