How is your school climate this year? I was reading an article today which made me think about my own experiences. I do think principals play a vital role in school climate. During my twenty years of teaching, I have been very fortunate to work for some outstanding principals. When I began to reflect about my own experiences, I tried to narrow down some key ingredients that these principals possessed.
Trust is the key! Let’s be honest here . . . if you have a group of people, whether it’s a group of students or a group of adults, issues will come up. It’s inevitable! A principal who holds the trust of his/her teachers has a better idea of what is going on at his/her school than one who is hands off. A principals is better able to support a teacher when a parent calls or meets with them if they know the whole picture. In order to build trust, principals should be approachable and able to maintain confidences.
Management, whether it’s managing a group of students or a group of teachers, means you occasionally have to find the gray area. This is something that is hard for new teachers and some new principals to understand. Rules are guidelines that we set up for our classroom or school. Strictly adhering to a set of rules is fine if you are managing robots, but schools are made up of people. People are complex creatures and there aren’t enough rules to cover ever situation that will arise. Teachers and principals have to use their best professional judgement and cross over to the gray area from time to time. As a teacher, one of our goals is that our students turn in their homework when it’s due. Have you ever had a student that habitually didn’t turn in his/her homework? When you investigated the situation you found out that after school your student is babysitting his/her younger siblings while his/her parents work the late shift. The rules say that there is a consequence when students don’t turn in homework. You live your life occasionally in the gray so you find a way to work around this. You might let this student come early to work with you or you might shorten his/her assignments. This is called differentiating. Principal who differentiate their management are principals with positive school climate.
I had several principals that during the 30-45 minutes before school began could often be found wandering the halls of the school. They would often pop into teacher’s classrooms and chat. These principal were informally “taking the pulse” of his/her school. Are all the teachers here? Is there a problem that I need to know about? Because the principal is stopping by informally, teachers will often be more comfortable sharing a concern he/she has about a student. In the teacher’s eyes, this problem may not be bad enough to warrant a formal sit down meeting with the principal, but if the opportunity presents itself, they will often take it. This is the pay it forward philosophy. The amount of time principals spend chatting informally about small problem pays huge dividends in the time it would have taken if the situation escalated.
They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I think the same holds true for teachers. Smart administrators realize that you need foods from the three main food groups at meetings, especially if the meeting is after school. Those food groups are salty, chocolate, and crunchy. It doesn’t have to be a fancy spread, you just need to cover the food groups. You would be surprised at how appreciated a huge bag of popcorn or pretzel from Costco or Sam’s Club will be. There are a variety of ways principals can fund this. Most P.T.A.s are happy to help in any way they can. Money from the vending machine can also be used to fund this expense. The one thing I suggest is do not assign groups of teachers a month in which they are responsible for providing snacks. You need to be in charge of snacks. If you’ve read the book Love Languages, this would be your act of service and a gift.
What does your principal do that helps your school’s climate?