Week 3 – Starting Off Right #SAVMP

Instead of asking people to share in a blog post this week, I am hoping we can use this blog to start a comment thread to share some ideas in one space.

As a new principal, it was imperative that I started off right with my school or I could easily lose them right from the beginning.  It takes a long time to build trust, but you can lose it an instant.  With that being said, I spent time just observing the culture and listening to the ideas of others and trying to build on strengths.  In my first year as an assistant principal, I got into a small argument on one of the first days with a strong teacher on our staff.  I was actually very upset and looked poorly upon the person, but later when I reflected, I was much too pushy for coming into a new environment and didn’t listen as much as I needed to at that point.  Two years later when I was promoted to principal at another school, I chose that very same teacher as my assistant principal.

There were lots of mistakes and learning along the way, but my focus as a principal was on learning the culture of the school as a whole, while also understanding individuals.

So I ask you, to share what are some important thoughts that you have on either starting at a new school, or starting a new year?  What has been successful and what didn’t work?  Please share your comments below.

Have a great week!

George

43 Comments on Week 3 – Starting Off Right #SAVMP

  1. Andrew Maxey
    August 17, 2013 at 11:57 pm (4 years ago)

    I was named principal three weeks before students returned. The first thing I did, though, was send an email to all employees inviting them to meet with me in person. I asked them to be prepared to comment on three questions: what do we need to keep doing (things we do very well), what do we need to do differently, and what do we need to stop doing immediately. I also asked the same questions to several parents I was able to speak to before the start of school. I took lots of notes. The ONLY changes I made that first semester were things from that last category repeated by many people. I asked that same question at our faculty retreat the next summer.

    In my opinion, a key to building trust is to find a way to say yes as often as possible. I have built a reputation of asking tough questions and asking teachers to be thoughtful and reflective. At the same time, I say explicitly to teachers that it is their job to make me say no. Crazy and non-traditional doesn’t faze me as long as it is good for students!

    Reply
  2. FManning
    August 17, 2013 at 11:58 pm (4 years ago)

    Starting at a new school- I think the most important lesson is to give time…. don’t rush into wanting to make an impression. Give time to learn the people-the individuals and the group; learn the culture of the school, learn what’s important to them as individuals and as a whole group. Learn from them their needs and wants and how you and your work will serve and support them. Ask questions, talk and observe. Without this understanding, everything else becomes irrelevant.

    Reply
  3. Patty Korchinski
    August 18, 2013 at 1:07 am (4 years ago)

    I became Vice Principal in the school I was teaching at so feel that I had a bit of an advantage. I learned early on that technology was going to be my niche in the school and I jumped on that opportunity. After I got the VP job but before the end of the school year I asked everyone to get a gmail account and explained why. I went to each individual teacher to explain the process. Once school began in the fall, everyone was on board and we started using google apps. I would rather explain to small groups or individuals why we are going in a specific direction. Teachers are more likely to ask questions if the number of people in the room is small. Establishing trust with the staff is essential. It is easy to lose and difficult to earn so treat it with respect.

    Reply
  4. ddrinkwalter
    August 18, 2013 at 1:17 am (4 years ago)

    Invest- invest time and energy in listening and observing.
    Communicate well, ensuring you articulate yourself and make sure you are re-stating what you hear from others to ensure clarity of messages being received.
    Build relationships and trust through daily creation of emotional deposits.
    Be true to yourself and you will always be authentic.
    It is okay to not have answers to all things and it is more than appropriate to say “That is a good question, I would like more time to think on that and I will get back to you, as I want to make sure I take quality time to consider all your points/idea.” …..and then get back to them the next day.
    Be out and highly visible all day- be with staff, in classrooms, outside in morning talking with students and parents daily.
    Listen, observe, listen, observe. Remember paperwork can wait until after hours when students are gone.
    Compliment-spotlight and highlight great things that staff, students and your school as a whole does.
    Support everyone to be ambassadors of the school.

    Reply
  5. Tiffany Wright
    August 18, 2013 at 1:18 am (4 years ago)

    As a new admin, I started in early August at a high school. I called the “frequent flyer” students from the year before to introduced myself and find out what I could do to help them and their families feel more connected to the school. That ensured that the first contact with those students and families would be a positive one, perhaps something they hadn’t experienced in a long time.

    Reply
  6. Jo Earl
    August 18, 2013 at 5:03 am (4 years ago)

    Starting at a new school – When I started in my current position I was given the same advice as many others – Don’t go racing in and changing things until you have spent a lot of time listening and getting a feel for the place. Sometimes school communities have been waiting for change and are really hopeful that a new principal will see that change is needed in some areas.

    There are many stakeholders; Staff, Board of Trustees, Students, Parents, Parish Council (we are a state integrated Catholic school) to name the main ones in my situation, and I wanted to get a feel from them all about how they felt things were going. I was also reading a book at the time – You’re in charge – now what? written by Thomas J Neff and James M Citrin. One of the things the authors recommended doing was asking four main questions of the stakeholders – allowing them to answer anonymously and I found this really helpful.

    What about (school name) do you want to preserve and why?

    What do you hope I do?

    What are you most concerned I might do?

    What are you concerned I might not do?

    I used these questions with all stakeholders and was amazed at what information was shared with me. I got a real feeling very quickly for what I needed to be very careful with and with what people wanted changed really quickly.

    Reply
  7. Jennifer Hogan
    August 18, 2013 at 8:56 am (4 years ago)

    For both of my assistant principal positions, I have been a teacher in the school prior to those roles. The summer that I was hired as a principal in a school where I hadn’t taught, I sent a survey to all of the teachers and asked them what they would like to see changed and what they wanted me to know about the school culture. I also scheduled appointments with each teachers and met individually with all of them to learn more about them. I always asked, “What can I do for you?”

    To anyone starting in a new school or position, I would share this: build relationships, get to know your staff, be visible, be consistent, be vulnerable and transparent, be supportive, be pro-active, and be positive!

    Reply
  8. Adam Welcome
    August 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm (4 years ago)

    Visibility Visibility Visibility!

    Change takes trust, trust takes relationships, and the best way to build relationships is be visible. My first year as Principal was last year and I was in EVERY classroom, EVERY day for the first 90 days. After those first 90 days I was in every class at least three days a week.

    Being visible allows you to know every students name, keep teachers accountable and show them you support their work, it’s much more fun that being stuck in your office!

    Reply
  9. Michael Wetzel
    August 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm (4 years ago)

    I am really struggling with this question as I am entering my first principal assignment. All the advice I have had says to just be patient and not really change anything for a year. Take the time to get to know the landscape of the school and then start the process of change in year two.

    I think my situation is different in that I was VP of this school for 2.5 years and this is the school I went to for high school. I know the landscape and the key players. I know what needs to be done and am pretty sure of some of the landmines.

    That being said, how do I get a balance of progress and patience? What do I start with? I think I am going to start with the idea that my job is to support their efforts for innovation but I need to know what their learning goals are so as to support them. This means they are to complete their Annual Learning Plans and then move from there.

    I would love to hear about some suggestions from the more experienced principals and was planning to ask this question of my SAVMP mentoring group. Amazing how George is truly on the pulse of what leaders need, when we need it.

    Reply
    • Linda Green
      August 21, 2013 at 8:47 pm (4 years ago)

      Having just finished my first year as a principal, the advice you were given is sound. Don`t rush to make changes….Ì was in a similar position, being familiar with the school prior to being appointed principal, I used my established relationships as a jumping of point to re-establish trust and build new relationships with some of the staff that I didn`t know as well. I was mostly an obbserver for the first month or two…the assistant admin were able to deal with most of the day to day — and I asked them to, specifically, so that I could be in classrooms all the time in the beginning. I told staff that was where I would be, so if they needed my ear they would need to book appointments in advance, or find me before or after school or during their lunch hours. In addition, I asked staff to choose 3 areas of focus for the year that would ultimately contribute to the improvement plan, they choose obvious, but simple , high leverage areas to focus on. They chose and therefore saw the value in expending time and energy in those areas…it wasn`t the `new girl` coming in `telling them what to do`!
      Good Luck this year!

      Reply
  10. dcorr
    August 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm (4 years ago)

    My focus as I begin as a new school leader this fall is communication and climate.

    I began by meeting with staff individually at the end of last school year and getting their views on the strengths of the school, and their ideas on change priorities. I have been spending my time in August ensuring that both staff and students know what to expect and where to go their first days. Information packages have been sent out to parents and students. Tour the School day, Welcome to Grade 7 evening, and parent-student meetings for our at-risk kids have been arranged for before school starts. Very excited about the invitations sent out for our Welcome Back Breakfast for staff on their first official day of work.

    Another key for starting off right will be the Administration day for staff. Using this day to build a sense of team, and a unified vision will be critical in making our year successful. Would love to hear how experienced principals organize this day to support and inspire staff.

    Reply
  11. Kyle
    August 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm (4 years ago)

    I entered my new school in January a few years back, which by the way is a great time to transition between Principals. I did as many of the previous comments said and spent the first few months building relationships and getting to know the people and the school. Then I tried to build a “culture of yes” as described by Andrew in his comment.
    Be patient at first, but also make small changes to show you can get things done. My first move was to get the gym repainted.
    New principals are hired because they are capable, so trust and have confidence in your self and your abilities.

    Reply
  12. John Wiedrick
    August 18, 2013 at 3:35 pm (4 years ago)

    My response to this post is very similar to the themes of visibility, communication and relationships that appear multiple times. As I start my work as an administrator in a new school I like to communicate the reason behind my ongoing visibility. Douglas Reeves wrote that effective educational leaders engage in treasure hunts, not witch hunts. As you visit classrooms or complete observational walkthroughs communicate only the positives for the first months of the school year. This type of communication helps build high quality relationships with your teaching staff and improves your credibility as an Instructional Leader.

    Reply
  13. Bonita Deamicis
    August 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm (4 years ago)

    I am starting at a new school and district next week! I hae been reviewing the strengths and pitfalls of my start at this school three years ago! Much of what is being said here, matches my experience: go slow, build trust and relationships, ask the few questions that will reveal where the staff may feel confident and where they may feel anxious and concerned.

    I will certainly do those things. The situation is slightly different because the school I am coming to had an interim principal for a few years and then a principal who was only able to stay one year due to an important promotion. So, the staff needs some consistency of the path, rather than a “start all over” or “wait to see” sort of approach. I have spoken with the principal and AP to learn what was in place and as I meet folk, I plan to reinforce the instructional elements that were in place, reminding everyone as a team that we need to keep moving forward and looking for thoughts and ideas to keep us on track.

    I liked answering here instead of a blog because I found I read the thoughts of others more in this space than I would have by clicking on various blogs. Is that a strength/weakness of different mediums issue?

    Reply
  14. Becky Ince
    August 18, 2013 at 4:40 pm (4 years ago)

    On August 20th, I will begin my first journey as a principal. In early August I sat down with individual teachers and ask the three questions. 1. What are we doing well? 2. What do we need to improve? 3. What do you need from me as your building leader? I learned so much about the school and it helped me establish some goals and also recognize what the culture is like. I also made sure to be visible at registration. This was a great opportunity for me to meet the families and the students. Right now my greatest challenge is truly understanding the day to day operations of the school. I feel I need to see what occurs before I make any changes, even though teachers are making suggestions. I can tell this year I will be learning on the job! I can’t thank my PLN enough for all the support they have given.

    Reply
  15. Darren
    August 18, 2013 at 10:41 pm (4 years ago)

    I’m still two weeks out before another school year starts. This will be my 2nd September as an elementary Principal. I have been at my current school for a year and a half and the changes within the school culture, both staff and students, have been great. It’s been exciting to watch my passion actually take shape with the staff, who in turn transfer that to the students.

    What has made the biggest difference in fostering new ways of thinking in the approach to teaching is what Adam said repeatedly – Visibility! My first 6 months was teaching along side each staff member and sharing what mobile technology can be used for in a classroom. More importantly was allowing the teachers to see how engaged the students are and what they could create. Awesome! The only word that describes what was taking place with the staff and students this past year.
    This passion and strategy continued the following year, with more of the staff teaching each other. My role then turned to getting the parents on board and trying to promote our school to alleviate any more loss in enrolment.

    My goals for this coming year are to continue pushing staff to using the mobile technology I have built and really embed it’s use in the curriculum. I also want to move more towards a culture of inquiry as the Connectedca in May 2013 really opened my eyes to a new way of educating students.
    So starting off right this coming 2013-2014 school year is more about ramping up the excitement I have started with staff and seeing how far things can go. My challenge is promoting the school to the community and modelling that we are a 21st Century place of learning.

    Reply
  16. Julie Duthie
    August 18, 2013 at 10:42 pm (4 years ago)

    Thank you everyone for your comments and George for another insightful blog. As someone who is a newish leader (not in charge of my own school) and is in a school that is struggling with many issues, I am trying to maintain my positivity and focus and work with other leaders to re-engage staff so it vital for me to me able to tap in to all of your knowledge and re-affirm I am on the right path (and nudge me back when I stray). I hope we all remember to tell you how grateful we are George – the #savmp is certainly helping me to continue moulding myself in to a strong, supportive and engaged leader – thank you !!!

    Reply
  17. Brandi Robertson
    August 18, 2013 at 11:57 pm (4 years ago)

    I would have to agree with the being visible and present. Talk with your staff, students and parents. People do notice what you do and you need to make sure you are taking the time that is needed with your staff. You want to know what is going on every day. Get into classrooms, be available during start and end of school day, and get to know students. They are the reason you are in a school to start with.
    My first year as an AP, I spent most of it building relationships and I think that is still something I do going into my 6th year. You need to know your staff and your community. What is the vision for your school? As I begin this year, I will meet with grade level PLC’s and I will ask them, what they need from me. This includes what I can do better from last year. If I want them to make changes I need to be open as well. I have learned that waiting to the end of the year doesn’t help change things in the present.
    Just remember, get to know staff and the school culture before jumping in and making drastic changes. I found that each year after year one, I have been able to make changes and they have been embraced much more.
    I had a great 1st year and I am hoping that that will also be the case in year 6.

    Reply
  18. Ramin Mehrassa
    August 19, 2013 at 12:10 am (4 years ago)

    I believe building and maintaining trust is very important. In my first year as a VP, one of the first things I did was to tackle a difficult issue that was important to many of my teachers and, in the end, I believe that I won their trust. It was important for me to show them that their voices were heard. I also really work hard at doing what I say I’m going to do. Having a high “say/do” ratio shows my staff that they can count on me.

    Reply
  19. Robin Dubiel
    August 19, 2013 at 12:53 am (4 years ago)

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these replies. I am beginning a new position this fall, and these reflections have confirmed my gut feelings: 1) take time and build relationships; 2) ask how I can best be of support; and 3) be visible. As a new Instructional Coach for our division, I plan to spend my first three weeks meeting with school admin and the teachers with whom I’ll be working most closely. And at our first PD opportunity, I plan to have lots of time for personal reflection, team building, and affirmation of the things we do really well. Our goal will be set collectively as we are in this together.

    Again, thanks for your thoughtfulness and willingness to share, #SAVMP team. I’m learning and reflecting a ton. Go #PLN!! @RobinDubiel

    Reply
  20. leading2learnmore
    August 19, 2013 at 4:12 am (4 years ago)

    Moving back to the US from China has been a real eye opener for me, especially as an educator, administrator, parent and learner. I am just starting my first middle school principal position, I have been an elementary principal for nearly 16 years so I was ready to shake things up. I have also been in public ed for nearly 20 years and overseas at an international school for 3 years so coming back to an independent school has felt truly unique for me.

    My staff will show up tomorrow. We are doing a lot of work around Design Thinking and trying to frontload as much as possible. I have asked my staff to fill out two quick surveys so I can learn more about them:

    Strengths Survey: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/home.aspx

    Learning Style Survey: http://www.edutopia.org/quiz-school-subjects-learn-about-yourself

    I plan to embed a lot of strengths based work with our teachers so they may use it with their kids or in their advisories as we continue to work on a Developmental Design approach.

    I have already picked up on some great ideas from this cohort and really appreciate George pulling us together!

    Reply
  21. Mick Kerin
    August 19, 2013 at 4:52 am (4 years ago)

    These are things I still try to do each year (day in day out).
    Smile a lot, particularly to children, parents and staff.
    Move slowly through the school, never rush, small children have trouble catching up.
    Listen to respond not for my turn to speak.
    Not take myself too seriously, even make a joke at my expense.
    Greet the staff, students and parents everyday and thank the staff for their day.
    Enjoy myself, it is the best job.

    Reply
  22. John
    August 19, 2013 at 10:22 am (4 years ago)

    I was just hired to start my first Vice Principal position at the beginning of August. To try and start off on the right foot I called every teacher in the building to introduce myself and let them know I was there to help them if and when they needed it. I wanted to make sure the teachers knew we were on the same side, the side of the students.

    Reply
  23. Mark Dodge
    August 19, 2013 at 10:58 am (4 years ago)

    The first admin position I was in the same building where I first taught. I was named the principal, without a feedback process from the staff. I had to work very hard to listen to staff, while finding the balance between “input” and “influence.” In the end, when thought decisions are made, I had to remain confident in my decision, knowing I had gathered as much information as possible. Each decision made has to be in the best interes of kids, not that of the adults.

    Reply
  24. Victor Cisneros
    August 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm (4 years ago)

    For the second year in a row I am starting at a new school within the school district – where do I begin?

    Growing up as a transient family – moving from one place to another was nothing new or out of the ordinary for me. In one instance I attended a school for only one day before we were moving again. Going from place to place made me the person I am today – resilient! I had one of two choices, be outgoing and make friends or be the new quiet kid that had no friends. I chose the first of the two; I always made friends as soon as I arrived to any new school – even it was just for a day!

    Fast forward to today and here I am, at a new school with new people to meet and 2400 minds to look after. Every school has its own culture and set of values. I will listen carefully and be ever observant to get to know every individual and every student by name, by path, by need.

    Reply
  25. mcguirp
    August 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm (4 years ago)

    Two things are important. First, it is important to go slow with staff; maybe you can’t wait to get started, but teachers may not be there yet so keep the e-mails etc to a minimum!

    In the weeks leading up to the start of school, I am using my time to do as much professional reading as possible. I find that once the year gets started this is hard to do. I am also working hard on my Twitter so that I will have a stronger PLN this year.

    Also, this year I am trying to complete as many administrative jobs early (scheduling etc) well before the teachers come in so that in the last week I will have more time to talk with teachers and parents.

    I am also going to try to ‘flip’ my staff meeting so when we meet before school this will be a short session – teachers hate long meetings before the beginning of school and I don’t think they should go over 45 minutes.

    Just a few ideas.

    Paul

    Reply
  26. Cristina Runkles
    August 19, 2013 at 7:43 pm (4 years ago)

    I have not been an administrator yet, I am in a program this year through Johns Hopkins to learn all about effective leadership strategies. After reading through the list above so far some ideas that really stood out to me were the following –

    * Andrew Maxey – Asking staff and parents – What are the “things we do very well, what do we need to do differently, and what do we need to stop doing immediately.”

    * ddrinkwalter – “Remember paperwork can wait until after hours when students are gone.Compliment-spotlight and highlight great things that staff, students and your school as a whole does.”

    *Tiffany Wright – Frequent Flyer student/parent positive communication

    *Adam Welcome – “I was in EVERY classroom, EVERY day for the first 90 days.” Wow!

    *John Weidrick – “effective educational leaders engage in treasure hunts, not witch hunts. As you visit classrooms or complete observational walkthroughs communicate only the positives for the first months of the school year.”

    *Darren – “Visibility! My first 6 months was teaching along side each staff member…”

    *Mick Kerin – “Listen to respond not for my turn to speak.” Very powerful for teachers to do as well.

    *mcquirp – “maybe you can’t wait to get started, but teachers may not be there yet so keep the e-mails etc to a minimum!”

    These are such great tips and I am so excited to be learning from and with all of you!

    Reply
  27. Denise
    August 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm (4 years ago)

    I want to make sure we get a chance to reflect on our last year and celebrate the successes we had. We need to take time to remember what we do well as a school and then decide what we can do to improve.

    I want to be visible to the students and staff in the hallways and in the classrooms.

    I want to continue to build strong relationships with students, staff, and parents.

    I want to be available to truly listen and then provide any needed support that I can.

    I want to continue to work in a school that is safe and caring and always puts the needs of students first and will do whatever I can to keep this culture growing.

    Reply
  28. Joe Scozzaro
    August 20, 2013 at 1:11 am (4 years ago)

    I am employing the same strategy in my new role as AP as I am here in #SAVMP: Listen (read) much more than you speak. Listen to individuals to be able to comprehend the voice of the school culture.

    Reply
  29. Kenneth Saranich
    August 20, 2013 at 2:25 am (4 years ago)

    My advice to any new administrator is when you get into your new building to stop and “smell the roses” by getting to know your people. Educators are people people and we work in a very humanistic job. Your staff and students need to know who you are and you need to get to know them. As the school year hits its stride, it will become extremely difficult to take the necessary time to build relationships. People will not follow a leader that they cannot identify or connect to. The better you know your school community, the better it is for you to know where you need to lead them. Simple steps go a long way. Taking five minutes to talk to a staff member about your personal life and get to know theirs. Every start of the school year, I do a potluck luncheon with my staff. We take the time to socialize together and prepare for the year. It is an easy, quick and simple way in transforming a staff into a family. Once that aspects is established, you maintain your relationships with what you built the first day.

    Reply
  30. Jay Posick
    August 20, 2013 at 3:03 pm (4 years ago)

    As this is my 7th year at my current school, I continue to work on developing a positive school culture. Staff now has between 39 and 45 minutes of common planning time every day for collaboration and planning. We developed and tweaked norms for each grade level at our Summer Academy in order to provide the best opportunity to discuss student success and struggles.
    I will be meeting with each grade level on the first day of school, without the staff, to discuss what our expectations are for the students and staff. I have not done this before but my hope is that it will provide the necessary direction for our students to be successful this year.
    I hope that all of you have a wonderful school year filled with great relationships and learning with students and staff.
    Jay

    Reply
  31. Joe Sanfelippo
    August 21, 2013 at 3:19 am (4 years ago)

    The most important piece in my two moves was visibility. Getting into open spaces, meeting parents on playgrounds, going beyond offering times to have people meet and actually going to them was really important. I also think “getting a win early” helps a great deal. We rolled out a red carpet for our teachers and had students surprise them by screaming their names and asking for autographs. The news story hit CNN.com (only for a day) but everyone felt really great about the direction. Also-take the time to listen-change will come in time, but listening first is so important.

    Reply
  32. Carol Rine
    August 21, 2013 at 4:00 am (4 years ago)

    I am starting my 2nd year as Principal, and one of the things I have worked diligently to do is create a theme for the entire school year that unites our faculty and our efforts. Last year, I selected Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go to imply that we were “going places” and it lasted us the whole year through even till the end of school when the staff presented me with my own book of poems they created called Oh the Places You Have Taken Us.

    This year, we are using the rally cry of Champions based on Rita Pierson’s YouTube video that emphasizes EVERY CHILD NEEDS A CHAMPION. The theme has resonated with the faculty, and we have been giving out awards to each other, we start the school day off for faculty with Olympic music, and we have t-shirts that have CHAMPION on the back highlighting that each of us must be a champion for every child.

    These themes get folks excited, they create energy, and they provide focus for the mission before us. This has been very effective for us thus far.

    Reply
  33. Cheri
    August 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm (4 years ago)

    I have really enjoyed reading the comments on this blog post. I’m about to begin my third year as a VP in an early years school. The advice I was given when starting out, was to be myself and to be true to my beliefs. I was also told that it was ok to sit back and listen and to take it all in. I think there is something to be said for observing and listening. Being the new ‘guy’ on staff has it’s perks…you have to ask questions! Trust takes time (earned) and if I could go back to my first year I think I would have done things a bit differently. It’s not easy to ‘get into’ every classroom. Getting to know teachers on a personal level allows for that transition to happen more easily. I’ve learned to start small and to work on common beliefs and practices. It’s been such an adventure and I love it! I’m excited for this #savmp project! Can’t wait to learn and share my learning.

    Reply
  34. Emily Eguchi
    August 23, 2013 at 4:38 am (4 years ago)

    What I learned in my orientation as a new administrator in my district was that as soon as you can, there are three stories to tell: my leadership story (I pretty much shared my first SAVMP blog entry!), the story of the organization, and how the individuals fit in to the vision. So far, the first two have worked well for me, though the last one is more tricky. I shared my leadership story and I think it helped others get to know me better and it helped break down some barriers as it showed that I am willing to make myself an open book. In addressing the story of the organization, I helped the new year start right by trying to address the elements in my school’s history that might make teachers anxious. The former principal was removed in the middle of the year and there has been a yearly turnover in the people who were in my position. I felt like these “elephants in the room” needed to be addressed early on, and I have heard from teachers some of the relief they have felt as a result of this coverage of the “story of the organization.” In terms of how everyone fits into the larger vision, I think I have at times moved too fast to try to “blow up” ways and habits of the school when I should, as George mentioned, be more about observing the culture and getting to know personalities. I have stepped (lightly, but still stepped) on a few toes already by letting myself get frustrated with what I just need to understand better as a larger culture. When I feel as though all teachers ought to be willing to “suck it up” and sign up to supervise events to ensure that students are safe during our activities, I fail to recognize the families they have at home and the other ways they are positively contributing, though it doesn’t fit the mold I have in my mind as a “supervisory” role. I think the more I communicate my vision and reiterate what in my leadership story makes me believe the things I do believe, the more people will know where I am coming from and the more I can have an open mind as to how they are fitting in to my larger vision.

    Reply
  35. Amber Darroch
    August 23, 2013 at 5:08 am (4 years ago)

    My advice would be “ditto” to all the themes around building relationships, being approachable, and being someone who can be counted upon to follow through. I also look for ways to serve and support the staff in enable highly effective teaching and, finally, I believe that creating a learning environment that is responsive to student needs – vs. forcing students to fit into the structures of the system – yields success for all.

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  36. Wendy Hood
    August 24, 2013 at 3:52 am (4 years ago)

    Thanks for all the advice and tips given. As a “first year” Principal it is great to learn from the experiences of so many. Much of what has been highlighted here (building relationships, spending time, going slow) are strategies that my “gut” instinct tells me to do. I am going to remember to reread many of your posts when I am feeling impatient or frustrated to remind myself of what is really important as I begin my new role. Thank you.

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  37. Prue
    August 24, 2013 at 9:22 am (4 years ago)

    I think there is such a fine line in listening, learning but also making sure people are aware of your standards and expectations. I think people need to feel valued and given a voice (both students and teachers).

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  38. Sandra Trach
    August 24, 2013 at 10:38 am (4 years ago)

    To echo others, I recommend being patient and visible, both of which may seem difficult when everyday demands and expectations begin to tug at your time. Find natural and consistent ways to engage with students, staff and parents. Wish staff good morning and have a brief exchange over morning coffee, greet students as they disembark the bus and arrive to school, circulate throughout the school and be visible, attend to needs as they arise and follow through, interact with students at lunch, and support and engage parents. The hardest part of all of this will be taking time for you. Go slow…remember to eat, keep a good sense of humor, lean on others (ask for help!), show vulnerability and be rested. All of this is necessary to be present and centered.

    This is my second principalship (12th year as principal). I can’t express enough how much I love my students, staff, district and parent community. I feel blessed. While there are no secret ingredients to opening well in the principalship, I do think just being yourself is key! Show how much you love children, faculty and parents in organic ways.

    My thanks to George and every leader in #SAVMP. I am learning from you everyday!

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  39. Jim Renzelmann
    August 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm (4 years ago)

    I really like all the comments and great ideas above. While I have not had the experience of moving to a new building yet, as a veteran teacher of 17 years, I have seen quite a bit of turn around. Two things come to mind when I think of being new in a school. First, one must refrain from saying, “At my last school…” too often. That is the first sign that you are looking for change. Second, I read quote about being a new principal that has stayed with me through my Graduate work, “The ghosts of the past still rule the school”. Although you may be new, past leadership, good or bad, is still a presence in the school.

    With that being said, I think it is important also to realize as a new administrator, people are looking for opportunities to change. As many have said in the comments above, good leaders listen to the staff and work together with the staff to bring about change.

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  40. Tami White
    August 25, 2013 at 12:50 am (4 years ago)

    As I sit here at my new desk, in my new office, at my new school as the elementary principal, I wonder… will I make it a good start? I still have a long list of things to get done before school inservice on Monday. Will I be ready? I try not to listen to the voice that says you can’t get it done. Instead I procrastinate, but in a good way. I take a moment to look to twitter for inspiration and words of encouragement. You all have such good things to say, good advice and words of wisdom, it helps. I reflect on the last few whirlwind weeks. I turned in my keys to my classroom and got new keys to a new school. I presented my first training with my staff on common core math standards and we had a chance to get to know each other. I traveled to meetings on new initiatives and got to network with great people. I sent my daughter off to college. We had orientation and set up her dorm room. I moved, well am still moving. I said goodbye to old friends and hello to new ones.

    And from all that, I take away that I am strong enough, smart enough, prepared enough and ready to listen and learn, so that together we can build a community of learners in a great school. I bring with me lessons from my classroom: I look for the strengths of each person, I always fall in love with the kids, I remember to have fun and to communicate the joy of learning. I guess I’m ready after all. Thanks to everyone.

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  41. Kelly Christopherson
    September 26, 2013 at 3:54 am (4 years ago)

    I’ve stared new school years in 9 different schools in my career as an administrator. In a couple of them, they knew that my purpose was to bring about change because that was what they were told. The only time I didn’t have this as an administrator was in my first job as a principal. Keeping this in mind, I’ve learned that the most important thing is to begin to build trust and then continue to focus on that at the beginning of each year. I meet with the entire staff at a back-to-school bbq that I hold each year – we share our summer with one another.
    I ensure that each opening staff-meeting is a shared experience with different people leading. If it’s my first year in a building, I make minor changes – instead learning about what works and what doesn’t from the students, parents and teachers, gathering input from these groups. Because my role has been to enact change, I first began by doing that – failed miserably. Now I know that building trust and relationships is the key – takes time but will make things go much more smoothly over time. Right off the start each year I spend a great deal of time visiting classrooms to get a sense of what is going on in the building. I’m visible in the morning, spend time with students and staff at lunch, am around for discussions after school.
    I also have learned to try to take care of myself and my family as the demands of the job can become consuming. I have days where I go home for lunch with my own children. I take one day off – no school. I have learned to plan for this and unless there is an emergency, I am pretty good at this – except during basketball season when I coach! I’ve learned that eating right, exercise and pursuing my own hobbies are essential as a leader – they demonstrate to everyone around you that you need to have balance.
    After 13 years as an building principal, I know that each day I will learn something new – something I didn’t know the day before. Currently, I’m learning that being a leader isn’t confined to the building you are in or the place where you work – I am a stay-at-home dad with a 4yr old mentor. Instead, being a leader means being willing to share what you know, reach out to others, learn from those around you (my 4 yrold is a great teacher) and seek to be better than yesterday. You don’t have to be in the building to be a leader – you can lead by how you connect and how you share. This project and its members are a perfect example.
    Best of luck to each of you through this year and in the years that follow. Do what’s best for students, be a better person today than yesterday and do small things with great heart. Thank you for sharing with me on this journey.

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  42. Jason Taylor
    April 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm (4 years ago)

    To reflect back on the start of my first year as a principal and also anticipating the next school year ahead…I can’t stress enough how important it was to relate with my staff and create a vision that all of us are pulling in the same direction. I wrote all of them a personal letter introducing myself, talked about the mission of our year, and asked each of them to share with me what they appreciated most about our school. While I’ve taken much of this first year to learn how things are run and how things look I have also done my best to offer tips and suggestions staff members can use to make their daily work more efficient. As I move towards year #2, more initiatives will be introduced that all staff members will support and ‘buy in’.

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