Thursday, March 3, 2016

Get Your Principal to +1 You in Five Easy Steps

One of the biggest struggles of a classroom teacher is to have a negative relationship with your site principal. Sometimes, you may just not see eye to eye. For other moments, you may not understand why they're making the decisions they do. Hopefully, you often agree and can work together to best support your students.

Most teachers want to be liked by their site principal. That said, many teachers don't know how to be liked. Often, they assume that their principal may not trust them or have concerns about their status as a staff member. This couldn't be further from the truth. We want you to be nice to kids. We want you to respond in a timely manner to parents. We want you to give us the benefit of the doubt, just like you want us to trust you as the expert in your classroom. Here are five ways to get your principal to "like" you as a classroom educator.

First and foremost, be that teacher with the best lessons. Have them be dynamic. Include current events or risk-tasking opportunities that incite a learning love for your students. We compete with YouTube, KIK, and every other non-classroom activity for our students' attention. If you have great lessons, you're going to win over your students. After all, the best behavior management system is a talented classroom teacher with stellar lesson plans. We principals don't just love these teachers; we flock to their classrooms and praise them uncontrollably in the community. Fewer kids sent to the office is always a good thing. Don't be the teacher who sends kids to the office frequently. This speaks volumes about your classroom talents. Develop the best lessons you can. Trust me: there's a teacher at your site doing just this right now. Visit their classroom and learn everything you can.

And yes, there's going to be times where you'll have a problem that will need to be brought to your principal's attention. Don't just arrive with the problem. Make sure you have a solution to share as well. We don't mind problems. They happen. Join your principal in figuring out a solution. Be careful to not pre-marry or excessively champion your idea; just suggest it and let it marinate. A good principal will listen but still may not adopt your suggestion. Often, teachers will approach us with solutions that benefit them, the teacher, and not their students. We see through the "hey, maybe I should have that period for my prep" that only serves you and your lunch schedule. Don't be that teacher. Come to us with viable solutions that put students first and support your colleagues. We listen.

At every school site, there's a group of negativity centered around some students, a parent subset, or even part of the teaching staff. Don't get warped into the negativity. These individuals love to add new members to their group. Perhaps they're upset with the math pathways. Maybe they don't like how the principal has set up the master schedule. It's even possible that they're discussing ways to undercut the principal's effectiveness with snide lunch conversations. I've seen a lot of great teachers get brought into these conversations and it can take years for their career and colleague relationships to recover. Give your principal the benefit of the doubt. While not true of all educators and principals, assume that your principal likes kids and are sincerely trying their best to make your school the best it can be. There will be gossip and maybe even some staff members who constantly spew hate. Don't buy into it. Your principal will notice if you do. I've been fortunate to work with amazing teaching and classified staffs where these issues don't always exists. However, if you're at a school site where these negative factions reside, be careful to politely avoid their black holes of negativity.

When you do have a concern that you want to bring to the principal, don't hesitate to do so. It doesn't matter if you're a long term veteran staff member or it's the first month of your teaching career. What matters is how you address the concern. Even more, it's okay to disagree with your principal but be careful how you share your thoughts. Publicly? At a staff meeting? Figure out how your principal wants to hear the constructive criticism and approach through that lens. Challenging a practice publicly may have the opposite result that you're hoping for. These public disagreements divide staffs and alienate your principal. Instead, figure out how your principal wants to discuss these topics and go that specific route. Be respectful of their wishes, just as you want them to be observant of yours. Just know... your principal may listen but, in the end, they might disagree. Just because you think it's best for the school doesn't mean that your principal will concur. Learn how to accept that you'l disagree with some decisions that your principal makes. Don't take it personally because it isn't personal.

And most importantly, don't "throw shade" (as the kids would say) toward your principal. Speaking ill of your site principal only damages the work the entire school tries to do every single day. It creates a hostile working environment for those teachers who may want to support the principal. Sharing these often flippant comments with the parent community can create a huge division for your school. It also paints you, the dedicated staff member, as someone who complains. Don't assume whomever you share your concern with will remain silent. Assume they'll speak with the principal. Once, when one of my staff members make a "not nice" comment, I had close to a dozen staff members and parents let me know within the next 48 hours what was said. You don't have to agree with your principal. If you badmouth them, however, you're going to possibly permanently damage whatever professionally relationship you could have had with them.

It isn't hard to have a good relationship with your principal. Have great lessons. Care about kids. Arrive with solutions. Avoid the negativity. Figure out how they want to hear feedback. Don't be mean. Truthfully, it's what we expect from our kids. Try hard. Be nice. Communicate well. Be kind.

Words to live by... and words to get the +1 from your principal.

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