Response: Principals Should Be 'Connecting With Kids'
(This is the second post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here.)
The new "question-of-the-week" is:
How should principals spend their time?
Part One's guest "responders" were PJ Caposey, Stephanie Brant, Megan Allen, Sanée Bell, and Rachael George. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with PJ, Stephanie and Megan on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.
Today, Mike Janatovich, Ann Mausbach, Kim Morrison, Otis Kriegel, Jonathan Eckert, Dr. David Geurin, and Robert Cunard contribute their thoughts.
Response From Mike Janatovich
Mike Janatovich is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. He is currently the principal of Leighton Elementary School in Aurora, Ohio. Janatovich believes that educating the whole child is critical to ensuring academic success and is an advocate for supporting middle-level learners. Connect with Janatovich on Twitter @mjanatovich:
The role of the principal is continually expanding and, unfortunately, the day is not getting any longer. There are many responsibilities that must be done during the school day, but principals should spend most of their time during the day focusing on kids and student learning. Of course, there is the management side of the principal job, but I would argue that there is time before and after school to do some of these tasks. When students and teachers are in the building, a principal should be focusing on learning.
Each day for a principal is going to be different, but we must make sure that we are first and foremost connecting with kids. We need to let kids know that we support them and are they to help them. Principals must schedule time to be with kids during their unstructured time (eg. hallways, lunch, recess). Some would say this is for control and behavior, but I say that it is a great way to get to know the kids. This is a time where kids really share who they are as individuals. We can learn their interests, personalities, and friendships by being apart of these times. This is also a time for us to let our human side be seen, so students will feel comfortable as we are involved in their learning.
After unstructured time, principals must spend the majority of their day inside of classrooms. As instructional leaders, it is critical that we know what the learning experiences are for students on a daily basis. The more opportunities that we have to be apart of student learning, the more effective we will be as instructional leaders. These experiences will allow us to have deeper conversations with teachers to help improve instructions. These experiences will also allow us to have a stronger connection with parents when we give first hand examples of student successes and failures, which will lead to deeper collaboration and growth.
We cannot be everywhere, but the bottom line is, if it is for kids, it must come first on our list of priorities. We can do managerial tasks at other times. Building connections with your staff and students can only happen when all are present and we cannot waste this precious time.
Response From Ann Mausbach & Kim Morrison
Ann Mausbach is an assistant professor at Creighton University and can be reached at annmausbach.com or @amausbach. Kim Morrison is a middle school principal and can be reached at [email protected] or @kimmkaz
Ann and Kim are authors of the book School Leadership Through the Seasons: A Guide to Staying Focused and Getting Results All Year published by Routledge Eye on Education:
The job of the leader, like that of the gardener, is to develop supports and structures that help everyone in the system grow and develop. Like the well intentioned gardener who fails to water and weed on a regular basis school leaders can also get sidetracked from their main job of leading teaching and learning. The challenge for school leaders is committing to the work, making it happen, and continuously thinking about how to improve or refine practices.
Principals need to spend their time upholding three important commitments: implementing school improvement processes at high levels, developing a school culture that promotes learning, and using a growth mindset to develop and enhance professional capital. So what does this look like in practice?
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the enormous task of caring for and nurturing a school. By upholding the critical commitments, leaders plant seeds of excellence, inspiring, and engaging those around them. Like wildflowers, this enthusiasm spreads resulting in an empowered staff working together to make sure all students learn and grow.
Response From Otis Kriegel
Otis Kriegel is the author of Starting School Right: How do I plan for a successful first week in my classroom? (ASCD). Kriegel has taught elementary and middle school students for 15 years. He has taught in dual language (Spanish/English and German/English), monolingual, and integrated coteaching classrooms. Connect with him on Twitter @mynameisotis:
I am not a principal. But I have had the good fortune of working with more than a few very talented administrators. They all had a few things in common.
First, I saw them a lot. No, I didn't visit their office everyday. They were out and about, seeing classrooms, talking to kids and actually taking part in the school they run.
Second, they identify the strengths of their teachers. They encourage the teachers who are good at organizing to be grade level heads, the ones who are great with families to help out other teachers at Meet The Teacher Night. The list goes on. They look to see who can play what position well and they support them to do that. No point in having your fastest baseball player play catcher. Get them out in the field.
Third, they are open to feedback and new ideas. Whether they follow the advice they are given is another story. But principals should be constantly asking teachers and students what is working and not working and using these immediate ideas to help to keep the school growing and changing. The school is like a garden; if you let it sit for too long it gets covered in weeds.
Response From Jonathan Eckert
Jonathan Eckert is the author of The Novice Advantage: Fearless Practice for Every Teacher (2016) and Leading Together: Teachers and Administrators Improving Student Outcomes (November, 2017). He is an associate professor of education at Wheaton College. He earned a doctorate from Vanderbilt University, served as a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow in the Bush and Obama administrations, and taught outside of Chicago and Nashville for 12 years:
Tweeting, Bridging, and Buffering
Yes, the leader of the free world tweets his personal opinions and vendettas at 3:07 AM.
No, not every leader should be tweeting in the wee hours of the morning.
However, after spending much of last year conducting research in schools for a new book (Leading Together), I have become convinced that great principals tweet, bridge, and buffer.
What is the most common complaint I hear from teachers and administrators?
It's not testing.
It's not student behavior.
It's not parent behavior.
It is lack of time.
As finite human beings, the most precious commodity we have is time. Teachers and administrators who perpetually fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent are acutely aware of the preciousness of time.
So, how should a principal use time?
There is no prescription for how to use time because every individual and context is different.
However, an answer does reside in the observation that leadership is contextual and grounded in "equifinality" - many paths to a solution. It is well established in the organizational science and school leadership literature that good leaders bridge and buffer (See here, here, and here.), and now I am convinced they tweet - at least metaphorically and preferably when most of us are conscious.
When I follow good principals on Twitter, I get tired. It is amazing how many classrooms and school events they get to in a day. They provide positive feedback to teachers, students, parents, and the community based on what they see - in 140 characters or less. This is a great, time-efficient way to offer specific, public praise of the things we should be celebrating in schools. Obviously, this does not need to occur through Twitter only, but it is expedient and free.
Principals can be bridges in and out of the school if they answer these three questions:
- What external initiatives require teachers' attention?
- Which initiatives require their leadership?
- What resources do teachers need to spread their good work?
Good principals recognize that leadership not about them, but it is about the work that supports student outcomes. They use this as a filter to become catalysts for that work. A catalyst is powerful metaphor for the principal as bridge. In a chemical reaction, a catalyst is a substance that causes a chemical reaction to occur at a faster rate but is not involved in the reaction.
The catalyst is:
- Responsible for supporting a change.
- Does not cause the change.
- Not the focal point. The change is.
Repeatedly, teachers sing the praises of the administrators that keep needless paperwork or initiatives out of their work lives. Buffering means saying "no" to things that are not right for a given context. Buffering means having patience with initiatives so there is time for success to come to fruition. As one leader told me, "'No' is a complete sentence."
In the end, we need leaders who tweet, bridge, and buffer because schools face adaptive challenges that require adaptive, not technical, solutions. Adaptive solutions require a change in mindset. That does not happen through simply testing more, adopting the initiative du jour, or the next educational acronym. Schools get better when the collective leadership work of teachers and principals is prioritized.
That is leadership that deserves a tweet.
Response From Dr. David Geurin
Dr. David Geurin is principal and lead learner at Bolivar High School, a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School. He is committed to developing future-driven, student-centered schools. He shares his ideas on learner empowerment, leadership, and innovation via social media, blogging, speaking, and consulting. He was recognized by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) as a 2017 National Digital Principal of the Year:
The job of principal is build for distraction. There is a never ending stream of emails to answer, problems to solve, and requests to handle. It takes discipline and intentional planning to ensure that time is used in ways that lead to greatest impact. Here are three areas I believe are essential for dedicated time.
The first is serving. Principals need to work to clear barriers, meet needs, and help others. I do this by checking in with people on a regular basis to see what they need and how I can help. I ask them, "What would make your job easier? What do you need from me? How can I help you?" These conversations are important for me to know how to support them. When they share new ideas or have big plans, I respond enthusiastically and try to encourage the forward movement. To me, serving is about helping, but it's also about empowering. When people feel you believe in them and support them, they are more likely to move forward boldly.
The second is learning. Principals must always continue learning. We must model the continuous learning we want to see from students and teachers. If we are going to truly create a culture of learning in schools, everyone should be seen as a learner. I like to share what I'm learning with my staff in our monthly meetings or through my weekly staff email. Everyone in our building has a personal learning plan. It describes how we are aiming to grow. For me, I am striving to learn by reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and reflecting on my experiences. I also count on the input and experience of others to help me continue to learn.
The third is connecting. Principals are only as strong as the relationships they build with stakeholders. It's important to be visible, approachable, and interactive. I start each day greeting students and talking with as many people as possible. But I want to continue to improve. I still need to reach out even more to students and staff in my building. Handwritten notes can be a powerful way to connect. I address envelopes at the start of the school year to our staff, so I make sure to send a note to each person at least once in the year. I also use a newsletter, social media, and positive phone calls to connect with parents. I try to never miss a chance to say something positive about our school. I also look for every opportunity I can to offer an encouraging word to students and staff.
These are three important priority areas for me. Of course, to be able to do this effectively, I need to be in classrooms and hallways and not in my office. I try my best to be all around the building each day, but that's not always possible. Sometimes things happen that make it tough to accomplish these goals. It's important to delegate when possible. It's easy for problems to pile up that keep us from the work that makes the biggest impact.
Response From Robert Cunard
Robert Cunard was a high school principal in southern California for 10 years, leading two challenging schools. He was selected his county's Secondary Principal of the Year in 2016. His book, The Successful Principal: Concrete Strategies and Essential Advice, is being published by Rowman & Littlefield in September, 2017:
The best research study I've read about principals' actual use of time during the day was produced by Horng, Klasik, and Loeb in 2010. Their team of researchers from Stanford University shadowed 65 principals in Miami, coding what they were doing every five minutes for an entire day, constructing an accurate picture of how principals actually spent their time. They followed up on that data by then looking at outcomes at each school, which they measured through test scores, teacher satisfaction surveys, and community surveys. They found that principals in higher performing schools spent greater portions of their day on instruction, organization management, and external relations than did those principals leading lower performing schools. In this study, "organization management" included managing budgets and resources, hiring personnel, dealing with concerns from teachers, managing non-instructional staff, networking with other principals, maintaining campus facilities, and developing and monitoring a safe school environment. Old hands in school leadership will recognize these activities as key to maintaining safety and order - the essential underpinnings to academic achievement for all students.
To answer the question about how a principal should spend her time, I'll assume that our principal is not new in her position at the school, that the school is not new in its life cycle, and that the school is safe and orderly. The aim of school is to maximize student learning, and higher levels of learning will emerge from better teaching, which means that the principal should spend as much of her time as possible engaged in work which most improves teaching. She must focus on better teaching because that is the variable over which she can have the most influence. In my experience, the activities which have the greatest impact on teacher instructional practice are those in which they work together as learning professionals. One great way for a principal to be actively engaged in collaborative professional practice with her teachers is through her presence at and involvement in PLC meetings. Those small team meetings are where the nitty-gritty of instructional decision-making occurs, and the principal and her assistant principals can learn a lot and play a vital role in those gatherings.
While active engagement in PLC meetings is a great way to work with teachers during their non-instructional time, successful principals need to find ways to work with their teachers during instructional time in ways that will impact their practice. One of the most powerful professional learning opportunities for teachers and principals is the instructional rounds process. Best described by Elizabeth City (2011), instructional rounds begin with identifying a problem of practice, breaking into small teams to observe selected colleagues, de-briefing those observations via a non-evaluative protocol, and identifying the shared work the observing colleagues will pursue next, based on their learning from the rounds process. Done correctly, instructional rounds are highly effective at promoting professional learning. Rounds make the principal a learner alongside her teachers, and they better equip everyone to improve instruction in the school.
City, E.A. (2011, August). Learning from instructional rounds. Educational Leadership, 36-41.
Horng, E.L., Klasik, D., & Loeb, S. (2010). Principal's time use and school effectiveness. American Journal of Education, 116, 491-523.
Thanks to Mike, Ann, Kim, Otis, Jonathan, David, and Robert for their contributions!
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