When I first became a principal over forty years ago, the world was a very different place and I was a very different person. Having achieved my goal of being a principal at the age of twenty-eight, I was pretty full of myself and was proud that I had authority over 700 K-8 students and 55 employees located in two buildings in two communities. Thankfully, I did not realize what I did not know and I confidently went about my duties of managing the schools and giving instructions to my employees as needed. There were no Professional Learning Communities, common planning time or even monthly faculty meetings! The school culture was to have staff members work in their little “silos” of grade level or subject matter and that was it. I was not even required to do staff evaluations! My superintendent complimented me and said I was doing a good job because there were few parent complaints coming from my schools.
As my career progressed, I went to different schools in different districts and the ideas of school climate and working conditions started to come into vogue. As a result, I conducted a school climate survey with my staff. I was confident that all was well, but I was in for the shock of my life when the survey results showed low morale, low trust, and teachers did not feel they had a voice. What happened? For the first time in my career, I started thinking about my behavior and how I was treating the staff. I also formed a committee of teachers to help me to understand the causes of why there was so much dissatisfaction in our school. I learned that I was perceived as aloof, not listening, and not following through on requests. In other words, my behavior and treatment of staff was the major cause of the low morale. Up until that point, I thought I was a pretty decent principal. I now had a choice of accepting the feedback or becoming defensive. Fortunately, I was mature enough to self-reflect and make positive changes. A few years later, our school was recognized by the U. S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School. I was so proud of the turn around and credited my staff as the main reason for this great honor. So what happened?
Well, after my wake-up call, I read a new book by Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (Highly recommend that you read it.) After reading this book, I decided to get copies for my entire staff (including support personnel) and encouraged everyone to read it. We also did book studies with staff and parents. Applying the knowledge from The Seven Habits as well as several other books, I became a leader who demonstrated respect, listened, and reacted appropriately to staff questions and concerns. I found that the following principles began to evolve and guide my behavior. Here they are:
Budd’s Top Ten Principles for Principals
- Encourage everyone with a good word
- Build relationships by listening
- Think of your school as a sanctuary for all
- Develop an “abundance mentality” for yourself and your school
- Become a servant leader
- Build trust through integrity and competency
- Demonstrate love, kindness, and respect for all
- Teach leadership through professional development and service learning
- The climate and the culture of your school is mainly determined by you
- Have faith and pray for help
As an educational leader, I encourage you to examine who you are as a leader, Ask your staff how you are doing and make the necessary changes to nurture your relationships and come up with your own “Top Ten.”
I will close with a quote from Steven Covey: “People are very tender, very sensitive inside. I don’t believe age or experience makes much difference. Inside, even within the most toughened and calloused exteriors, are the tender feelings and emotions of the heart.”
This blog was written by Budd Dingwall, is the founder of Principles principal mentor and coach with Leaders Building Leaders. Reach out to Budd for a free coaching or strategy session at Budd.Dingwall@gmail.com.