Principles of a Principal

Here I sit on the day before my first staff meeting in my new school, with a staff that I am largely unfamiliar with, putting the final touches on the agenda for our first staff meeting.  As one might expect of a principal and assistant principal who are both new to a school, we have reviewed the agenda several times editing and revising trying to make it the most effective use of time possible. 

We all know that teachers are extremely busy.  Let’s face it, as much as they want to have some direction and an understanding of the expectations that are going to be placed upon them, they really want to prepare for their students, AS IT SHOULD BE. 

While preparing for this initial staff meeting, I have repeatedly heard “share your vision”.  I have been thinking about this idea for a few weeks, going around and around.  In doing so, I have come to my own revelation.  Perhaps sharing my vision is not appropriate at this time.  I know that staff need to know my expectations and they need to be reassured that I have no intention of coming in and changing practices and traditions that support student learning and achievement.  With that being said, how can I possibly think that my vision for Blueberry School is complete?

I believe that it is imperative that my vision for Blueberry School is based on a sound knowledge of the needs of this learning community and all of the associated stakeholders.  Sure, I have read the Education Plan, the Annual Education Results Report and several other associated documents such as the Satisfaction Survey but these provide only a partial picture of the areas of strength and areas for continued growth for our learning community. 

Already over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to speak with several teachers and support staff of my school.  I have learned so much during these conversations that my vision and direction for Blueberry School has already been further developed from what it was several weeks ago. 

With all of these considerations, I have decided that as opposed to sharing a vision for Blueberry School, I am going to share a few of my principles.  These are some of the thoughts that guide my decision-making and work everyday.

1.  Servant Leadership.  I am here to serve my staff, students and parents to ensure that we are maximizing every learning opportunity possible.  When parents call with a concern, after listening to them I believe that it is my responsibility to ask  “How can I help?” The same can be said for teacher or support staff concerns.  When staff are facing challenges with curriculum, assessment or student discipline I want to know “How can I help?”

2.  Clear the path.  Yes, this is very close to the previous principle; however, I see a few small differences.  I consider it my responsibility to try to remove obstacles for my students and staff.  If they have an idea/strategy/plan etc. that will support student learning in some way, I want to support this by removing any barriers that I can.  Often the two biggest challenges we face are time and money.  If we are creative enough, we can often find that “hidden time” that is tucked away in our timetable.  Can I cover off a class for a teacher?  What about their supervision?  Can they be released during a school wide assembly?  If their idea has merit perhaps some of these strategies are appropriate.  Is the biggest challenge finding the funds to put the plan into action?  Can we get a grant?  Will our fundraising council support us?  Can we re-allocate funds to support this initiative? 

3.   Unleash Potential.  Others often view this as “developing leadership capacity.”  No matter how fantastic they are, an administration team cannot be experts in everything!  One of the most critical responsibilities of any administrator is to unleash the potential of our staff.  It is a conscious decision to use the word “staff” because our support staff are often overlooked and I have learned in my short time in administration that these people always have hidden talents and skills that are extremely valuable for our students.  Not only must we get to know the strengths of each and every member of our staff, but we must create a culture of support and risk taking that will allow staff to use their gifts to move our learning community forward. 

4.  Lifelong learning.  We must all be lifelong learners.  It is critical to model this for our students and staff and it must be obvious.  This learning can take many forms.  It may be formal education such as persuing a graduate degree.  It could be a professional development session or conference.  It might be professional reading or professional conversations through various social media like twitter, skype or facebook.  Whatever the form, we know that every school can improve but this will not happen if every educator is not willing to be a lifelong learner. 

5.  Will this decision improve student learning and achievement?  I have saved perhaps the most important principle for the end.  Every educator knows that there is always too much to do and not enough time.  It is with this in mind that we must always ask ourselves the critical question above. 

Taking the time to “formalize” these principles so that I can share them with my staff tomorrow has challenged me to really examine what I stand for as an educator.  What do you stand for?

Please take a moment to reflect on and share some of your principles.  We can all benefit from the experiences, expertise and wisdom of our colleagues. 

Have a fantastic start-up to another exciting school year!

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About Shaye Patras

I am a husband and father of two fantastic girls. I currently work as the Principal of Woodhaven Middle School in Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. I am excited to be continuing my administrative career in this learning community!
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12 Responses to Principles of a Principal

  1. Great post, Shaye.
    I too have considered what message I want to convey tomorrow. Although my message will take a somewhat different form as I’m not in a new school, formallizing these principles and (I believe) also tying them in to your school culture and branding is what makes a vision come to life, thus giving every member of the school community something to grab on to and identify with. Good luck tomorrow and all the best for a fabulous school year!

    • SPatras says:

      Shauna,

      Thanks for the perspective. Simply taking the time to reflect on our principles and formalize them is such a meaningful endeavor. It is certianly a prerequisite to creating a vision!

      Have a wonderful startup tomorrow!

      Shaye

  2. Great post Shaye! I really loved the first point about “servant leadership”. Teachers want to know you are in the trenches with them, not managing from afar. I think you are going to have a great year at Blueberry. Best of luck to you and your staff!

    • SPatras says:

      Marci,

      Thanks for the insights and perspective. I am excited to be joining such a fantastic team at Blueberry and look forward to learning alongside our staff and students. Enjoy your year!

      Shaye

  3. Good post and reflections.

    My most important principle in school (from Ted Sizer) is to “know the students well”. All our structures and practices at school should have this principle at the forefront.

    • SPatras says:

      Krzystof,

      Thank you for this thought. You are so right! This is something I certainly believe in and appreciate the reminder and perspective from a colleague! Have a great year!

      Shaye

  4. Kelly D. Wilkins says:

    I really enjoyed your post Shaye and totally appreciate where you are coming from. To share your principles and your take on education, is very powerful. And to roll out a preconceived vision for Blueberry (at this point) would not be respectful. You are experienced enough to know that you need to listen, to ask questions and to gain an understanding of the stories of your new school community. I am always reminded of how humbling it is to “start over” as an administrator or teacher. You have left a community that knows you and what you have done, they know what you stand for and what you believe in. Now before you, lies a great opportunity to build relationships and to provide that servant leadership that clears the path, unleashes talent, models lifelong learning and provides guidance that improves student learning. These are the things that you have deemed important. You have joined a great school community and I trust that you will find ways to contribute and to maximize the gifts and talents of those around you. Have a wonderful year!

    • SPatras says:

      Kelly,

      Thank you for the vote of confidence and the ongoing support. The Lead Team of PSD is fortunate to have such a strong Senior Executive.
      Here’s to a great year again!

      Shaye

  5. Glen Thiel says:

    Shaye,

    Some great words and reminder of what is important for us in our work. I’ve often said, “we are only limited by our own creativity!”. Your principles are a vision…a vision for how you will lead…collaboration will take care of the details. Wisheing you a great year.

  6. I enjoyed reading your post, Shaye. It caused me to thoughtfully reflect on what it would be like to begin a new school year in a different building other than the one I have been “coming home” to for the past 6 years. Your decision to share some things you stand for as a principal, in order to build trusting relationships with your new staff, makes perfect sense to me and I think it was likely an excellent way for staff to get to know more about you. I think you have shared some very important principles with your team – with your commitment to unleashing the talent and potential of others…the sky is the limit! I hope your first week at Blueberry went well for your school community. Here’s to an awesome 2011-12 school year!

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