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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Five Ways to Develop a Partnership with Your Principal

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Rarely will a new principal leave things at a school just as they are. Sometimes those changes do need to happen, but the teacher perspective might be the principal is coming in and trying to fix things that aren't broken. Instead of saying, "Throw the bum out!" I have some suggestions to help teachers get off on the right foot with a new principal. (As a principal new to a campus and recently experiencing this.)

Number One: Have a Face-to-Face Meeting

Whether you like it or not, your principal can be your greatest ally in helping you inspire high-performance learning in your classroom. He cannot do this if he does not know what your goals are for student learning. The first weeks of school are going to be hectic for him, so to make it easier for the principal to get to know you, make an appointment with the school secretary and sit down and have a conversation with your principal. If the principal is wise, he will listen and appreciate the insight into the school and the students that you provide, and he will learn how to better support your efforts in the classroom. Perhaps, most importantly, he will see your passion for helping the students be successful and will see you as the highly capable professional that you are. I am grateful for the many teachers that took the time to do that with me. I will eventually get around to chatting with each teacher about their goals. Not only having a face to put with a name, but also knowing a teacher's goals is invaluable in helping me be an effective support to my teachers.

Number Two: Make Your Resource Needs Known

The new principal knows that you need the appropriate materials and tools with which to create effective learning environments and inspire learning in your classrooms. But if she does not know what tools or materials you are lacking, she cannot help you. I had a teacher send out a request for a toner cartridge, something that if missing can put a large crimp in lesson plans and learning activities. In rousting about in a closet, I happened to find a stash of toner cartridges, and since I had been informed of the simple need, I was able to quickly get it to the teacher. Another teacher requested personal white boards for his math students. In that same closet, I happened to notice a set gathering dust, so I delivered them to him. After all, and I am sure the teachers would agree with me, I would much rather have teachers making good use of tools and materials than having them sit in a closet.

Number Three: Write It Down

It can be frustrating for a teacher to not get what was requested after talking to the new principal in the hallway. A new principal is bombarded with information from all sides and may feel that his attention and time is fractured into a thousand pieces the first few weeks of school. One of the best things that some of my teachers did for me was to not only talk with me about their needs, but they also wrote out their needs on a piece of paper. It sounds simple, but if I have a written record of our conversation, literal or electronic, there is a much greater chance that I will actually make time to act on my teacher's requests.

Number Four: Invite Her into Your Classroom

One of the best ways for a principal to get to know you is to see you in action in your classroom. Especially the first few weeks of school, a new principal is hesitant (ok, I felt hesitant) to intrude in your classrooms. What helped me to take the plunge was that several teachers enthusiastically invited me into their classrooms to see the wonderful things they are doing to inspire learning. Classroom visits, observations, or walk-throughs should never be adversarial experiences, and if you put a welcome mat out for the principal, this relieves a lot of pressure for both of you! You might not think that it would make much of a difference since the principal can come and go as she pleases, but having that invitation helped me to feel more at ease knowing that the teachers wanted me in their classrooms.

Number Five: Offer Encouragement

Your new principal will make mistakes, take missteps and in general flub things up the first few weeks. He will be very aware of this and will get feedback telling him this from all sides: parents, students, central office, and especially the staff. In the course of trying to please as many stakeholders as possible, a simple note of gratitude, a pat on the back or a word of encouragement can be a huge stress reliever and provide the new principal with the extra energy to "keep moving forward" as my son's favorite character in the film, Meet the Robinsons would say. In my case, it was a tasty piece of cake placed on my desk that brightened my day and gave me hope that I was making progress.

Since I am new to my campus as principal, I am anxious to develop partnerships with the teachers in my school. As any new principal would, I want to be able to help them be successful in helping students learn. Making it easier for a principal to develop that connection will help you and the principal find the success you both need.

What other ways have you found effective in breaking the ice and forming a partnership with a new principal?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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