Imagine that you are not an educator, and do me a favor. Close your eyes and think about what comes to mind when I say one word...principal. Most of the people that I know outside of the educational field will mention one, if not all three of these names: Richard Belding, Richard Vernon, and Edward Rooney.
Last weekend, I had the chance to spend some time with a few of my friends that I haven't seen in a number of years. The conversation was pretty typical, as we caught up on each other's work and social | family lives. Within this conversation and on two additional occasions in the last week, I was asked about my job and what exactly I do as an elementary school principal. When I explained my job and responsibilities to my friends, I don't think I highlighted the key points as much as I would have liked.
"So are you like a modern day Mr. Belding, or what?" This was the first question that one my friends asked during our conversation. We all know Mr. Belding, principal of the legendary Bayside High School from arguably the greatest childhood show ever: Saved by the Bell. I have seen every episode at least twice, and my best friend and I nearly developed a trivia game during our time in college, but that's a different story for a different post. Mr. Belding had a genuine interest in Zack, Slater, Screech, Kelly, Lisa, and Jessie, but he appeared to focus the vast majority of his screen time on managerial tasks, in particular, trying to catch Zack Morris in the act. Mr. Belding's heart was in the right place, which I can't say about Vernon or Rooney, and all three of their approaches differ dramatically from the 21st century principal.
I could write a post about all of the responsibilities of the principalship; however, I don't think anyone would read it, as it would be about 20 pages long. Whether it is chipping ice from the entryway sidewalk, leading professional learning for all staff members, facilitating an award celebration, or communicating with families about getting their child to school, the responsibilities are endless and change dramatically from day to day. I have thought deeply about my three most important responsibilities and will explain how these contribute to a culture of excellence within our schools.
I cannot see a more important role for a principal in today's schools. Families, community stakeholders, students, and staff members need to know what's happening, where we are headed, how our students are progressing, and what we value most. We are so fortunate in 2015 to have access to a wide variety of high and low-tech tools to disseminate information to various groups in an efficient manner. Mass text messaging systems such as Remind allow quick, concise messages to be delivered to families to a device that is with them almost every minute of the day: their cell phones. We also have powerful tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and comprehensive websites to share progress, provide updates, allow two-way communication, and engage people in the day to day happenings within our school. One of the most important lessons that I have learned over the years regarding communications and selecting the right tool to reach stakeholders is to meet people where they are. Our schools did not create Facebook pages until a year ago, and had been missing a significant group of people within the community. I was not a Facebook user, but needed to be, as this is the go-to communication tool for a great deal of our parent population. Clear communication allows schools to partner with families, engage them in improvement efforts, and open the doors to the wonderful events taking place on a daily basis.
Executive Director of Story Telling
NEWS FLASH: people are going to talk about your school and many times the information is less than positive and often inaccurate. The national media has openly criticized public schools for not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on standardized assessments, and have made claims that schools are failing. Nothing could be further from the truth, and as school leaders, we have an absolute obligation to share the wonderful events taking place each day. As a principal, I am able to do this in a number of ways, whether I am tweeting a picture of a student conducting an experiment, visiting with a parent about the exciting new books that fourth graders are reading, linking a video that students created to our school Facebook page, or posting progress toward school goals on the building website. If we are going to engage families, students, and community members we must take control of the rhetoric by feeding them with accurate information about the amazing things taking place in schools. The impact of school leaders can be increased dramatically by utilizing all of the tools that are at our disposal including Twitter, Facebook, Storify, Instagram, blogs, websites, home visits, parent meetings, phone calls, and informal face to face conversations. There is not a moment in the day when I am not thinking about ways to brand our school while engaging everyone in the learning community.
Administrator of People Development
We are in a people business, and must never forget that the success within our system comes from those behind the innovation, curricular program, or piece of technology. One of my key responsibilities as the leader of Epworth and Farley Elementary Schools is to guide our people toward higher levels of achievement and continual growth. This is a daily practice accomplished through scheduled professional learning sessions, impromptu conversations in the hallway, sharing an article about an instructional strategy, modeling a technique in the classroom, or simply listening to a staff member working through a difficult situation. It is my responsibility to motivate teachers and support staff while placing them in positions where they can have the biggest impact on students. It is critical that I connect with students and their families while letting them know that they matter to me. The positive relationships that we establish with all people connected to our schools serve as the foundation for success. Can you imagine if Vernon and Rooney invested time into people development, rather than revenge efforts?
Leadership is challenging, and there is no doubt that we are pushed on a daily basis with endless responsibilities. The roles within the principalship have changed over time, and hopefully when you hear the word principal, you immediately don't think of these three individuals.