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7 Stress-Fighting Tips for Principals

Posted on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 @ 13:03 PM

principalsLeaving work at work is truly an art form—especially when you’re a principal. Sure, the stress becomes easier to manage with time and experience, but it never completely goes away, no matter how competent or passionate we are about our job.

Whether you’re a new or veteran principal, odds are that you could benefit from a few stress-fighting tips. Below, you’ll find 7 that work for us.

Play your favorite record
You may not be able to leave the office, but you can shut your door, lean back in your chair, and crank up your favorite song. Make this a meditative experience. Close your eyes, tune out everything else, and focus on the music.

Save positive notes
One of the best ways to counteract your feeling unappreciated is to look through cards, notes and emails from parents and teachers. Print your emails, save your notes and put them in a file folder. Reading through these is a great way to reaffirm that yes, there may be bad days, but you are still making a difference and reaching a lot of people.

Browse your favorite website or blog
The Internet can be an incredible time-sucker—but sometimes “wasting” time on Pinterest and eBay is the best cure for a bad day. If you feel the need to justify your web browsing, look for lesson plans, articles or YouTube videos that some of your teachers might find engaging. This will distract you, but still keep you productive.  

Eat lunch with students
When we’re stressed, often our first instinct is to shut down, close the office door and be alone. But that’s usually the last thing we need. Get out of the office, sit in on a class, join in on a recess game, or find a table and eat lunch with students. This will benefit both you and the kids.

Read and read for pleasure
When you read, you want to make it count, so you may tend to read about leadership, curriculum and scholarly articles related to education. That’s admirable and necessary—but you should also read for pleasure. Read to decompress. Read books that you can’t put down. Stephen King? Yes, please. Dean Koontz? Definitely. John Grisham? Of course you should.

Work from home
The office can be a refuge, but it can also be a source of distraction, especially when we have to catch up on major reports and other projects. Between the meetings, incessant phone calls, emails and visits from random visitors, it can be challenging to get anything done. If you can get approval from the board, we suggest taking an at-home work day once or twice a year.

Take an hour
There’s always more to do, right? There are meetings, reports, phone calls…but it can wait—all of it. Set boundaries; set aside a specific time every day to do something that nurtures you physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, etc. Go home! Revere this time like you would any after-school tutoring session or faculty meeting. The world and all its reports can wait—at least for one hour. 

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders

3 Ways to Nurture a Positive School Culture

Posted on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 @ 14:02 PM

positive school cultureIf the job description of a principal was put into writing, it would be of War and Peace proportions. Today’s principal is pulled in hundreds of directions at a moment’s notice—so how does s/he move beyond survival mode and create a successful learning environment? This was Shelly Habegger’s guiding question when she studied principals at three high-performing schools of low socioeconomic status.

Despite the fact that these schools had fewer resources and a disproportionate number of under-qualified teachers, Habegger found that these schools continued to succeed. How and why though? Habegger attributes their success to the power of a positive school culture.  

Creating a sense of belonging for students
When Habegger asked the principals about their major goals for their schools, their answers were unanimous: to develop positive relationships, not generate high test scores.

Most of us know that relationships are important to our students’ success, yet we may have underestimated them. Research suggests that when we nurture relationships with students, we actually:  

  • Contribute to the academic achievement and motivation of our students (Elias, 1997)
  • Decrease the likelihood of a student dropping out (Thurlow, Christenson, Sinclair, Evelo, & Thornton, 1995)
  • Help prevent and reduce bullying (Olweus, 1999)
  • Help prevent substance abuse (Resnick et al., 1997), and violence (Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998)

Creating a sense of belonging for teachers
In addition to creating a sense of belonging for students, these three principals also made it a priority to nurture relationships with teachers and support them professionally.

One way the principals achieved this was by facilitating a “common planning time.” Essentially, this was a weekly meeting where the principal and teachers:

  • Viewed achievement test data
  • Sought assistance for particular students
  • Discussed curriculum alignment, instructional strategies, how to enhance student achievement, and other job-embedded issues.

These meetings laid the foundation for a collaborative, professional learning community, but they also benefitted teachers in number of other ways:  

  • Teachers began to take collective responsibility for student learning
  • Increased efficacy
  • There was a noticeable reduction in teacher isolation
  • Teachers learned from one another and experienced higher morale and greater job satisfaction
  • Retention rates increased

Creating a sense of belonging for parents and community
Relationships with parents and the community were also priorities for all three of the principals Harbegger studied. Here’s what she found:

  • Each principal referred to the parent’s (and community’s) role as complementary to the school
  • Each principal strove to learn parental needs and welcomed and solicited parents’ questions and concerns
  • Informally, information was gathered through conversations principals had with parents as they dropped off and picked up their children from school and attended various school events, and in phone calls home.
  • More formally, the principals conducted a needs assessment survey of their school’s parents to keep in tune with what and how to best communicate with them concerning their children’s social and academic growth.
  • Each school displayed substantial efforts to invite, include, and demonstrate need for parents and various community members.
If you’re looking for more ways to nurture relationships and create a positive school culture, check out a few of our recent blogs: “Learning to Drive the Bus: 5 Ways to Build a Positive School Culture,” “5 simple ways to strengthen student engagement,” and “5 More Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom.”


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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders, positive school culture

Learning to Drive the Bus: 5 Ways to Build a Positive School Culture

Posted on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 @ 10:02 AM

positive school cultureThere’s been an awful lot of ink spilled on the benefits of building a positive school culture—and just as much on the importance of nurturing positive relationships with students. All that ink leads me to the conclusion that these things are important to educators.

But if building better relationships and creating positive schools matters to us, why aren’t more schools positive places?

According to Jon Gordon, author of The Positive School Manifesto, the answer is simple: Building a culture of care is hard work. Not only that, it requires a special breed of leadership—the kind that’s determined and passionate enough to make positivity contagious.  

Learning to Drive the Bus: 5 Ways to Build a Positive School Culture

Positive leaders required
Positive school cultures are created by principals who make the health of their organization a priority, lead the initiative, and are engaged in the process—even when it’s a struggle. Many of us start off with good intentions, but find it difficult to remain positive in the face of resistance and skepticism. Do not tolerate negativity! Weed it out and press on.

Build a positive leadership team
While principals can certainly be the spark for creating positive energy, they’ll need teachers and staff to fan and carry the flame. Invite your leadership team on the bus by setting up a workshop where you create a vision, a road map, an action plan, and a set of initiatives to move the school in the right direction.

Develop a fleet of bus drivers
You’ll be driving the bus at first, but you’re eventually going to need a fleet of bus drivers to join you. To recruit drivers, start talking. Share the school’s vision with everyone.

Conversations should happen between principals and teachers, teachers and staff, staff and students, students and parents. Each person needs to understand the school vision and identify how their personal vision, job and effort contribute to the overarching vision.

Tend to the roots of the tree
In a world driven by test scores, budgets and short-term results, it’s easy to be distracted by outcomes rather than the process. Don’t fall into this trap. Tend to the roots of your tree and you’ll always be pleased with the fruit it supplies. If you ignore the root, eventually the tree will dry up—and so will the fruit.

Weed out negativity
To create a positive school culture, you must deal with the cost of negativity head on. Ask yourself the following questions: How are we going to deal with negativity, challenges and energy vampires?

Dwight Cooper, the CEO of a nurse staffing company that was voted one of the best places to work by The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), asked himself this question; his answer was a company policy he called The No Complaining Rule. This rule states that “Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their co-workers. If they have a complaint, they can take it to a manager or someone who can do something about the problem, BUT they must also offer one or two possible solutions.”

Give this rule a try: it may lead to new ideas, innovation and success.  

Stay tuned for part II; we have five more tips to share with you next week!

 

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Topics: Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders, school culture, positive school culture, school climate

5 Things that Distinguish Excellent Leaders from Leaders

Posted on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

excellent leadersOver the years, we’ve spoken to dozens of teachers and asked them to tell us what made their principal an excellent leader. Some described small, but meaningful gestures that made them feel appreciated. One teacher told us how her principal would leave the office an hour early on snowy days, bundle up, and head out to the staff parking lot to scrape car windows. Others described the way in which their principals provided feedback or how they would receive unexpected thank-you notes in their mailboxes.

Excellent leaders lead in a myriad of ways, but according to Neila Connons, author of If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students, there are a few characteristics excellent leaders share that set them apart from the rest.

According to Connons, excellent leaders have:  

The ability to care and be concerned for others
Before anyone can make a difference they must care. The best schools are based on the premise that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. The leader of a school is instrumental in defining, developing, and designing a climate of care. From the moment you walk in the front door of a school, symbols of care must be prevalent throughout. It is the people, practices, positives, and performances that characterize the “caring-ness” of a school. An effective leader serves as the CARE police.

The desire to be successful
Effective leaders are persistently in search of ways to improve, grow, and strengthen. Success begets success. Consequently, in surroundings where leaders are focused on pleasant results, outcomes are frequently rewarding to everyone.

The ability to handle stress
Stress is an element of life and it depends on how one handles this stress that makes or breaks a situation. Successful leaders respond to stress rather than react to it.  

A general feeling of good health
Anyone who decides to take on a leadership position must realize the importance of good health. Our health is like sleep—we don’t miss it until we are deprived of it. Valuable leaders recognize the importance of cherishing the mind, body, and spirit.

The ability to think logically
The best leaders take the time to look at every decision with care, commitment, and connections. They take time to reflect and always ask themselves, “How will this affect others?”

The ability to have fun
Anyone who embarks upon a mission of leadership in education today must be able to have fun. Education is a tough business; it requires stamina and concentration. Therefore, the best leaders are those who have a great sense of humor and never let a day go by without laughing.

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders

5 Things that Distinguish Excellent Leaders from Leaders

Posted on Tue, Feb 04, 2014 @ 14:02 PM

excellent leadersOver the years, we’ve spoken to dozens of teachers and asked them to tell us what made their principal an excellent leader. Some described small, but meaningful gestures that made them feel appreciated. One teacher told us how her principal would leave the office an hour early on snowy days, bundle up, and head out to the staff parking lot to scrape car windows. Others described the way in which their principals provided feedback or how they would receive unexpected thank-you notes in their mailboxes.

Excellent leaders lead in a myriad of ways, but according to Neila Connons, author of If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students, there are a few characteristics excellent leaders share that set them apart from the rest.

According to Connons, excellent leaders have:  

The ability to care and be concerned for others
Before anyone can make a difference they must care. The best schools are based on the premise that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. The leader of a school is instrumental in defining, developing, and designing a climate of care. From the moment you walk in the front door of a school, symbols of care must be prevalent throughout. It is the people, practices, positives, and performances that characterize the “caring-ness” of a school. An effective leader serves as the CARE police.

The desire to be successful
Effective leaders are persistently in search of ways to improve, grow, and strengthen. Success begets success. Consequently, in surroundings where leaders are focused on pleasant results, outcomes are frequently rewarding to everyone.

The ability to handle stress
Stress is an element of life and it depends on how one handles this stress that makes or breaks a situation. Successful leaders respond to stress rather than react to it.  

A general feeling of good health
Anyone who decides to take on a leadership position must realize the importance of good health. Our health is like sleep—we don’t miss it until we are deprived of it. Valuable leaders recognize the importance of cherishing the mind, body, and spirit.

The ability to think logically
The best leaders take the time to look at every decision with care, commitment, and connections. They take time to reflect and always ask themselves, “How will this affect others?”

The ability to have fun
Anyone who embarks upon a mission of leadership in education today must be able to have fun. Education is a tough business; it requires stamina and concentration. Therefore, the best leaders are those who have a great sense of humor and never let a day go by without laughing.

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders

A 3-Part Exercise to Help Principals Make Better Hiring Decisions

Posted on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 @ 14:01 PM

principal hiring teachersHiring teachers is tricky business, but it becomes even trickier when a teacher suddenly announces his or her departure a few weeks—or even days—before the new school year begins.

When teachers move on unexpectedly, it’s easy to panic, but by deciding earlier in the school year what kinds of teachers we want to hire, we can avoid making careless decisions that conflict with our standards.

We’ve been reading The Rookie's Playbook: Insights and Dirt for New Principals and came across a three-part exercise to help you predetermine who you want to hire.

After answering the eight questions below, answer them again, only substitute the word “good” for “excellent.”  

  • Good teachers can talk to me about their subject matter or their classrooms in the following ways…

  • Good teachers demonstrate to me that they are passionate about students by doing these things…

  • Good teachers demonstrate to me that they are passionate about teaching by doing these things…

  • Good teachers say the following things about classroom management…

  • Good teachers must have the following qualities for me to hire them…

  • The following qualities are deal-breakers, no matter how excellent the teacher is…

  • These are the strengths that I personally have; I want to see them reflected in the behavior of the teachers I hire…

  • Good teachers demonstrate that they are good colleagues by doing and saying the following…

Now that you’ve completed parts one and two of the exercise, do the reverse: Replace the word good/excellent with the word acceptable. This will give you a wide spectrum of answers that illustrate your values about teaching and learning. When it’s time to hire a new teacher, refer back to your answers.

Photo credit: Nathan Stephens

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, hiring teachers, new principal

10 Qualities of Effective School Leadership

Posted on Wed, Jan 15, 2014 @ 13:01 PM

effective school leadershipWhen we think of effective school leadership, many of us immediately conjure up an image of the rebels we find on the silver screen: ego-driven lone stars who ride in on white horses, rack up bodies, and do it all on their own.

Effective school leadership, however, has little to do with flamboyance, charisma or a larger-than-life ego.

We agree with Dr. Robert D. Ramsey’s assertions about authentic leaders: They “give others credit while channeling their personal ambition into achieving a collective success. They are doggedly determined, realistic (willing to face hard facts), and terminally optimistic about the certainty of ultimate triumph.”

We’ve been reading Ramsey’s book, School Leadership from A to Z and would like to share 10 of the author’s qualities of effective school leadership.

10 Qualities of Effective School Leadership

An effective school leader:

Has a “can-do” attitude: Confidence gives you courage and extends your reach. It allows you to take reasonable risks and do more than you thought possible.

Faces reality and expects others to do the same: Effective leaders don’t kid themselves. They deal with things the way they really are, not just the way they wish they were. This attitude gives others permission to get real and deny denial as well.

Demonstrates faith in people: Without an attitude of trust, a principal or superintendent can be little more than a policeman constantly on the lookout for violators.

Holds a positive view of the future: Effective leaders are stubborn in their commitment to hope. Their realism keeps them from having a Pollyanna attitude, but they steadfastly believe that all obstacles can and will be overcome in the end.

Shows an open attitude toward change: Effective leaders are willing to shake things up, raise the roof, and—if necessary—turn the organization upside down to get desired results.

Values honesty: Effective leaders are authentic leaders. Anything less doesn’t work because students, teachers, parents, and school-board members have a built-in radar for detecting phonies.

Reflects an attitude of unselfishness: You can’t be your best as a school leader until you learn to “de-center” yourself—accept that you are not the center of the universe, or even of your own school.

Makes it clear that giving up is not an option: Winston Churchill’s “We’ll never quit” attitude embodies an attitude that saved an entire nation in wartime. Just think what it can do for your school.

Shows a willingness to accept conflict as a part of doing business in a public institution: Real leaders don’t back down from necessary confrontation and aren’t afraid of a fight when it truly matters.

Is passionate about the work and not afraid to show it: More than anything else, strong emotion—a passion that won’t let up—separates peak performers from the others. It’s true in all organizations and especially true in schools.

Photo credit: Photosteve101

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Role of Principal in School, new principal, effective school leadership

Simple School Bus Safety Education Can Nearly Eliminate Accidents

Posted on Thu, Jan 09, 2014 @ 09:01 AM

school bus safetyAccording to a recent article by Jeffrey Cassel, the president of School Bus Safety Company, there have been 92 child fatalities in the “danger zones” around school busses in the last eight years. Of these fatalities, 37 were caused by passing vehicles; 24 by being in front of a moving bus; 12 from staying too close to the side of the bus; and 10 from students chasing after busses.  

These accidents are tragic, especially since they could have been avoided by implementing simple safety measures.

Passing vehicles
You may not be able to completely eliminate students crossing the street after exiting the bus, but you can teach students and bus drivers that:

  • Students should only cross when the driver indicates that it is safe
  • Once the driver gives a predetermined signal, the student should stop at the bumper of the bus and look left and right before crossing

Crossing gates
Currently, 26 states have made crossing gates on busses mandatory—and for good reason. In the 20 years Cassel acted as Vice President of Corporate Risk Manager for the Laidlaw group, he oversaw a fleet of busses that grew from 15,000 to 38,000. In the first 10 years that the fleet did not have crossing gates, there were 15 child fatalities.

A decade later, after adding crossing gates to the busses, there was only one child fatality.

Even if your busses don’t have crossing gates, bus drivers can prevent accidents by “counting students away”: If five students exit the bus, the driver should know where each student is before pulling off.

Stay away from the side of the bus
Once students exit the bus, teach them to take at least six steps directly away from the vehicle

No running after the bus
Running after the bus is extremely dangerous and cannot be tolerated. If drivers see students chasing the bus or banging on the side of it, they should stop, but not allow the student on board. By showing the student that there is no benefit to chasing the bus, students will quickly learn not to do it.

To listen to part I of Cassel’s webinar, School Bus Safety Begins and Ends with the Drive, click here.  

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Role of Principal in School, new principal, school bus safety

5 Tips to Successfully Implement School Improvement Programs

Posted on Fri, Jan 03, 2014 @ 16:01 PM

principalsIf you are an educator, you’re well aware of the fact that:  

  • We live in an era of high-stakes testing
  • Our evaluations are tied to student growth
  • We are expected to quickly turn around low-performing schools
  • We must ensure that every student is career and college ready

In an effort to fulfill these demands, many schools turn to “new and improved” programs intended to quickly improve student achievement.  In spite of our good intentions, though, many of these programs fail—and it’s not simply because the programs are flawed.

According to Jason LaTurner and Dale Lewis, authors of a recent article in Seen magazine, programs fail because we are “unable to effectively manage the implementation process.”

Based on their research and experience, LaTurner and Lewis offer five key insights to help educators move beyond the initial adoption phase of a program and successfully implement it.

5 Tips to Successfully Implement School Improvement Programs


Don’t simply adopt a new program. Implement it
Receiving grants and adopting a new program is an excellent first step, but it does not guarantee successful implementation. Say, for example, that your school receives funding for a new one-for-one program that gives every student access to tablet technology. This is great news, but consider the following questions:

  • Is this new technology tied to specific learning objectives?
  • Are these objectives and the learning tools grounded in research?
  • How will teachers and students use this technology?
  • How will you train staff to implement this new program?

Change must be personal
Most likely, your staff will respond to the new program in a variety of ways: some will be enthusiastic, others will be skeptical, overwhelmed, and perhaps even hostile about these changes.

In addition to training your teachers, survey and interview them. This will not only give you data, it will also give you a better sense of the kind of support they need.

Define the Change
In addition to the initial training sessions, LaTurner and Lewis suggest that administrators “provide staff with a clear, specific, and shared description of what implementation of a new program or practice should look like.”

The description should look at a range of behaviors. Define what ideal, acceptable and less acceptable forms of implementation are. Additionally, provide detailed descriptions of the materials that should be used and the types of activities students might engage in.

Use data before, during and after
This tip could (and perhaps should) be number one on the list of to-do’s.

Before you implement your new program, collect and analyze data. This will help you determine if the program is even necessary; it will also help you set realistic achievement goals.

During implementation, you should also be collecting data to ensure that you know what is going well and what needs improvement.

Data collected after the program has been implemented will obviously help you determine the impact of the program.

Commit for the long haul
Many new programs start strong, but momentum and enthusiasm can quickly deteriorate if the administrator shows little interest in the program and chooses not to take part in training sessions. Commit for the long haul. Talk to your teachers, support them and don’t give up when things get tough. 

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Role of Principal in School, new principal, school improvement programs

5 Ways to Turn Challenging Parents Into Allies

Posted on Fri, Dec 13, 2013 @ 15:12 PM

challenging parentsParents can be our most important allies—and while most of them rise to the occasion and meet us halfway to resolve student behavior issues, there will always be parents who refuse to believe that their child could ever behave badly. To help you transform these challenging parents into allies, we’d like to share five tips from this month’s issue of Think Teachers.

5 Ways to Turn Challenging Parents Into Allies


Speak in Private
It’s not uncommon for parents to have their child in tow when they meet with us to discuss their concerns. While the student may have his or her side of the story to share, meeting with the parent and the child at the same time is usually counterproductive: It can lead to interruptions, emotional outbreaks and often makes parents feel more of a need to defend the child.

While you’ll eventually wish to speak with the parents and student together, start by meeting with the parents first. 

Wait Until the Fire Cools
Some parents schedule meetings; others simply show up. We’re always wary of having impromptu meetings with parents. More often than not, parents who just show up are still heated and unready to discuss the issue in a calm, collected manner. Even if you have an open-door policy, there’s really no reason to meet with angry parents.

Preface Your Observations
When speaking with parents, preface your observations with subjective language. I feel,”It’s my understanding,” and “it’s my belief” all suggests that what you are about to say is open to interpretation; it also suggests that you are interested in hearing the parents’ perspective. Prefacing your observations will keep parents from becoming defensive and give them the opportunity to share their perspective.

Have Tangible Evidence
Many parents are in denial because they haven’t seen any tangible evidence of the behavior in question. Always document every instance of the child’s behavior and have the list ready to show the parents. You may wish to include disciplinary write-ups and test scores on hand as well.

Listen and Be Empathetic
Give parents the necessary and uninterrupted time to give you their side of the story. They may have information that puts the behavior into perspective. And keep in mind that parents may be experiencing stress that is only compounded by dealing with those of their child.

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Parent Engagement, Role of Principal in School, new principal, parent partnerships

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