10 Things Principals need to STOP DOING!

A post I wrote a while back, listing 10 things teachers need to stop doing was met with some positive support. The point of such a list is not negativity, but rather to ask people to consider that even if the move forward seems difficult, the first step might be as easy as simply to stop doing the negative, and allow the positive to replace it. Like teachers, there are some things that principals can cease doing that would automatically improve their leadership. Here are a few:

Please stop:

  1. Waiting for the world to change. Too many leaders sit on a wonderful plan, waiting for a change in administration, staff, students, politics, laws, weather, or myriad other factors. Proactive leaders don’t wait, they create-opportunity, vision, change.
  2. Pandering. There is nothing more insincere that reading a fluffy quote from a leader in the local media, or hearing a leader speak out of both sides of her mouth. One story, one statement, one persona is all the honest leader needs. No need for different approaches for different people, just well-spoken honesty. It is not ok for leaders to change their approach to avoid unpleasant conflict either.
  3. Allowing teachers to be thrown under the bus. A principal is in charge of two groups: students and faculty; and few leaders would stand for the media, politicians, or other community members to berate a student or student group under their watch. Sadly, however, many principals are very passive when it comes to the teaching corps being dragged through the mud. Divided we fall, and the principal is part of the team. Stand with teachers, and they will stand with the school. Conversely, if a teacher is ruining the culture or becoming a negative, leaders need to know when to prune branches to save the tree.
  4. Avoiding technology and social media. Teaching with technology is teaching. Period. An effective school leader cannot be helping teachers grow in these areas while avoiding technology. The school leader NEEDS to be a leader in technology use. Likewise, social media is here to stay, and is a powerful learning tool. School leaders have to get over the negative stigma and get to work on positive plans for integration.
  5. Building schools around sports. I think this is a problem in some areas much more than others, but it is common to find school administrators who are former coaches, who then hire staff to fill coaching positions, and then the culture of the school becomes more focused on sports than learning. In some schools, the same situation might be seen in the arts, but more rarely. Activities and athletics should have a place far secondary to the classroom, and every part of the school culture should reflect this.
  6. Sitting in the office. Too many principals spend too few hours in the school classrooms and far too much time on office trifles. Poor principals will use the excuse of having too many discipline issues, too much paperwork, or too many fires to put out. Great leaders delegate and prioritize, so a greater portion of their school day is actually in the core areas of the school.
  7. Making deals. Some principals see themselves as skilled negotiators who can leverage just about anything for positive gain. This is a big mistake. Leveraging anything creates pressure, strain, and wear. The principal needs to be decisive, and find the best compromise without falling into the trap of deal making. Better to take one for the team than to leave people feeling snookered.
  8. Judging families. It is very easy for principals, who sometimes know a lot more about a student’s family, to make assumptions, create stereotypes, and to misjudge people. No good comes from judging students by the makeup of the family, by the siblings that have gone before, or by how the parents behave. We have ownership of the student’s future.
  9. Dealing in trifles. How many rules are there in the school? How many of them matter? Are the members of your team cracking down on cell phones, hats, clothing, gum, language, and other relative trifles, or are the actively engaged in meeting goals related to respect, motivation, achievement, and kindness? Yes, expectations are important, but we sometimes spend so much time looking at the trees we miss the forest.
  10. Obsessing about data. Data is a snapshot, but the principal can and should see the reality. Test scores are not important. Build around culture and effective practices, and allow the tests to take care of themselves. Standardized testing is no way to evaluate learning, and nearly everyone in education knows that. Be the strong leader that sees testing and data is part of a flawed system and build the great school around it, rather than on it.

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