It’s not uncommon for one news article or one parent rant about a school on social media to cause enough public negativity to leave the principal and staff feeling deflated. They are all working so hard to do what is best for their students, so why can’t the parents and community see that? Within the school walls, it is also not uncommon to find a bitter teacher voice to be a source of negativity affecting the school climate.
So, what’s a principal to do?
The importance of the Principal’s voice to create a positive school culture cannot be overstated. While schools often have many leaders without the official job title, it is the Principal who has the full responsibility and charge of the school and therefore, must create avenues to communicate the mission and vision of the school to all of its stakeholders.
Principals are constantly being inundated with the voice of students, staff, parents, and community members, both positive and negative. Even with shared leadership models, principals play the lead role in determining a school’s initiatives and focus that guides all decisions that are made for hiring, professional development, purchasing, etc. The best written plans (be it a school improvement plan, a school-wide student learning objective, etc.) can quickly change with any new initiative chosen at the district level, requests by the school board or new legal mandates from the state/federal level.
A lot of feedback and directives are filtered through the principal, and in order to maintain a healthy culture, must be done so in a positive tone. As Todd Whitaker says, “When the principal sneezes the whole school catches a cold.”
Suggestions to use your principal voice:
- Keep the focus on what is best for students. How can you go wrong on a decision if you know that it is best for students?
- Stay positive – Always share the positive news of the classroom and school for the community. The community loves positive stories about the local schools. Be sure to share any time you can.
- Don’t get distracted by every new flashy toy (be it a new program, tech tool, initiative, or mandate). If everything is important, then nothing is important. Pick 1-3 main initiatives for the year for your staff and do them well. You don’t want to be a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
- Protect your (school’s) focus. For example, if you are in a position where the district is asking your professional development to focus on something that doesn’t fit that focus, then speak up and tell them what your building needs. This may be a difficult conversation, but you know it is best for your school. This goes back to focusing on the students – be sure your decision and the decisions you have input on are based on what is best for your building, your community, and your students.
- As Todd Whittaker says, “Make your decisions based on your best people.” Find out what your best teachers need and advocate for them. They are having the most impact on kids and will set the example for the rest of the staff.
- Use social media tools to communicate the great things happening in your school. Don’t let the local newspaper and parents’ Facebook posts be the only news online about your school. Be sure to share the great things that you see happening – no one else will! Read more about this in The Power of Branding.
By focusing your initiatives and making decisions based on your best people and what is best for your students, your Principal voice will represent your school and be amplified through the community.