Leadership—“Your Image, Some Reflective Wishes”

Recently, I have spent some time reflecting on my time as a principal.  Before moving to Central Office, I spent 15 years as a principal in both a middle school and a high school.  Both of these experiences were very different, yet quite rewarding. Overall, I think, most students and staff thought I was a fairly good principal. I know I had my share of flaws and made some mistakes along the way, but at the end of the day, I think using today’s jargon, I would be considered an effective principal. On a daily basis I brought energy and enthusiasm to my school and always gave extra as far as my time was concerned.  I rarely, if ever missed a building event.  I was committed and professional. I was promoted ultimately and completed a contract as the district’s Superintendent.  However, as I reflect, I wrestle with a whole host of “would haves, should haves, and could haves.”  Listed below are some of those thoughts.  If you are a practicing or aspiring principal, I urge you to personalize these thoughts and perhaps make them part of your standard operating procedure.

I wish I would have…,

  • been a better communicator who was more open and approachable and followed up with people in a more timely fashion.
  • done a better job celebrating each person’s individual successes and more importantly acknowledged their hard work. It is important for you, as principal, to be cognizant of the events that you do celebrate.
  • been more aware of my non-verbal cues and how body language affected people. I also would have smiled and laughed a lot more.
  • provided more honest feedback to people in an appropriate manner working to be candid and truthful in a non-hurtful way. This is a skill every principal needs to practice.  I am also aware of the unintentional harm done to both teachers and to the students that they teach by not being more direct and forthright.  Some people just should not be teachers no matter how “nice” they might be.   I know I kept some people on staff, for all of the wrong reasons.
  • been more respectful of instructional time and done a better job protecting that time from  all of  those needless interruptions.
  • done a better job of soliciting input from an inclusive cross section of the school community before making decisions. This certainly would have provided better ownership for initiatives that we undertook.
  • been 100% present for each conversation that I had with someone. All too often I would be carrying on a conversation with someone and thinking about something I had to do or a meeting that was about to take place.
  • done a better job of communicating my academic agenda to everyone which would have enabled us to focus on it in a laser like fashion.
  • been more inspirational and more of a team builder for those staff members that came to work every day disengaged.
  • done a better job prioritizing what is really important to do. I think of how much time I wasted and time I wasted of my staff doing meaningless things.  We tend to respect those things that we inspect.  Let us inspect what is important.

Today’s article was not a catharsis for me.  I want it to be a lesson to those principals and those aspiring principals to not fall into some of the traps that I entered.  Navigating your career in educational administration is a minefield.  Around every corner is a bomb waiting to explode.  For whatever reason, I was never taught these things in “Principal’s School.”  Let me assure you that your success or failure will be the result of your people skills and your ability to build and sustain relationships.  Take a moment to reflect and think about how people see you as a leader.  What image do you portray?

Over the next several months, we will explore some of these ideas in greater depth.  For now, however, it gives you something to think about.


10 Key Word to remember:

Communication, Celebration, Cues, Feedback, Time, Input, Presence, Agenda, Inspire and Prioritize.

Leadership /First Year of Teaching

First Year of Teaching /Leadership

School Culture:  Who is responsible?

Most experts will agree that school culture plays a critical role in predicting and determining school success.  Who would argue that a collegial and collaborative school is more likely to yield high student achievement and a high level of both teacher and student satisfaction?  One could also argue that a healthier school culture will also produce a higher level of teacher effectiveness.


Even if we agree on the importance of school culture, there is a chance we will not agree on where the responsibility lies in the development and sustenance of a healthy school culture.  So who is responsible?  As a school principal for many years, I felt bombarded by the literature and expert opinions that the culture was the sole responsibility of the principal.  Many times, I felt that no matter what I did regarding this matter, I was “swimming upstream.”  It is now clear to me that the responsibility of developing a healthy school culture lies with every person in the school community.   As a new teacher, you cannot hide from this responsibility.  You cannot sit back and point fingers.  You are part of the system.  My time as an administrator could have been better spent in a more productive manner, working to develop a belief in a shared ownership of school culture and climate.

Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker in their book School Culture Rewired (2015) present one of the clearest and easy to understand messages on culture. They describe the culture as the school’s personality, based on values and beliefs that take years to evolve.  School climate is best defined as the group’s attitude that can be very changeable.  Climate is what you do, and culture is why you do it.

Each person in a school community must reflect and think about how the/she contributes to the school’s culture.  Each individual must also think about how he/she contributes to the climate in both a positive and negative way.  If this were an honest assessment, I would argue that many readily absolve themselves of any responsibility.  It is very easy to point fingers and place blame.  Please understand, this is not an anti teacher article.  I do not absolve school leaders and especially the principal, for allowing a deleterious culture and climate to continue.  The improvement of culture (personality) and climate (attitude) is impossible without an effective leader.  While trying to improve culture, one must think about it daily.  Thoughts must turn into collective positive actions.  If each individual became a personal caretaker for the culture, I believe that a positive culture and climate would be established first within the teacher, then within the classroom, then within a department or grade level, and so on.  The potential is limitless.  But it is hard work.

Gruenert and Whitaker (2015) go on to assert that one has three simple choices regarding culture. You can comply, you can work to change it, or you can leave it.  Staying to destroy the culture whether consciously or unconsciously hurts everyone.

Likewise, this message must be conveyed to parents and students.  School leadership has to include teacher leadership and the cultivation of teacher leaders.

In a school with a positive culture, teachers are motivated, teachers are collaborative, are heard and are evaluated fairly.

I will close this article by referring to a recent issue of Educational Leadership (Summer 2015) where the editors posed this question to teachers:  What one word best describes an excellent school you have worked in or observed? Teacher answers included: collaborative, community, family, trust, personalized, connected, awareness, professional, joy, collegial, innovative, and coherent.  Just think how exciting and productive it would be if you worked in a school that possessed these qualities.  How exciting would it be to be in an environment that made decisions based upon what was good for students and not what was best for the adults or local politics.  It would be a powerful and empowering place.

I remain convinced that by working together and by each person holding him/herself personally accountable anything is possible.  No one person can do it alone.

Good luck in your quest.


Gruenert, S. and Whitaker, T. (2015).  School Culture Rewired:  How to define, assess and transform it. Virginia: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Scherer, M., editor (2015). In a Word.  Educational Leadership, 72(9), 13.