Dear Soon-to-be New Principal,
Welcome to the happiest place on earth! Oh, wait -- that’s Disneyland, isn’t it? Well, we aren’t exactly an amusement park, but as far as middle schools go, we are a pretty happy place. And we want you to know that we’ve got some great things going on. We are a hard working, innovative, and enthusiastic staff, and we hope you will find our school to be as great as we know it to be.
I’d like to offer some suggestions as you gear up for your first weeks on the job. I haven’t met you yet, and I don’t know what kind of experience you have, but after 25 years teaching middle school, I’ve learned a little bit about what makes for effective school leadership. I want you to be successful in your new position, and I know that my own success (and the success of my students) will in great part depend on you. So here’s what I know:
Effective principals genuinely care about kids. That means that when you are roaming the quad and cafeteria during break and lunch, you are chatting with the kids, smiling, high-fiving, getting to know their names, their cliques and their idiosyncrasies. Our kids need you to establish relationships with them, to show them that you care. Your relationships with them will go a long way toward motivating them to work hard, be respectful, and enjoy their time at our school, and that will directly impact the work we do with them in the classroom.
And if you genuinely care about kids, you will care about their teachers. You will value what we do, you will trust us to be the experienced professionals that we are, and you will support us in our work. So what does that look like? The best principals I’ve known make time to be in our classrooms. They pay attention to who does what on campus. They notice the programs and clubs and activities that make a school so much more than the standard classes. That way they know what matters to us, they know our individual passions, they know what makes us such a great school. And because they know us that well, they are able to speak about us with authority when talking with parents, and they are able to defend and support us when necessary.
And if you are a principal who cares about and supports teachers, we can count on you to respond to our needs. If we send you an email, you will answer. If we express concern about something, you hear us. If we have big, bold visions for our students, you will find ways to see those visions through to reality. An effective principal knows that if the teachers aren’t supported, the kids will suffer. And so, Soon-to-be New Principal, my colleagues and I look forward to sharing our exciting work with you, and we trust you will do what you can to support us and our students.
Finally, I hope that when you join our staff, you will watch and wait before jumping in with any changes. One of the best principals I’ve known told me that in her first year at a new school she didn’t try to change anything except the landscaping. She watched her teachers work, she listened to what they said, she chatted with students and parents, but the only changes she made were to trees, shrubbery and flower beds. She knew that the staff would resist any significant changes coming from someone so new to their school, so she focused first on relationships, got to know the school and its culture, and built trust before bringing in her new ideas.
Now it’s your turn. How can we support you in your new role? What do you need from us to help you become an effective leader of a really big, really cool middle school? What are your visions for your new role? Please let us know in the comments below.
One of your many enthusiastic and innovative middle school teachers
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.