Connect with Confidence: 5 Tips for Principals

Posted on Thu, Jul 10, 2014 @ 09:07 AM

While there are a variety of factors that contribute to our students’ personal and academic success, we’ve always believed that relationships, specifically relationships between principals and parents, is one that is most commonly overlooked and underestimated. Below you’ll find five tips to help you cultivate better relationsips with parents and connect with confidence.

Eliminate Barriers
This is a tip from Carol Judd’s book, Principal Practices: Addressing Human Needs for Successful School Administration. As Judd points out, many of us unknowingly set up barriers between parents and ourselves. The good news is that eliminating barriers is often simpler than we might think.

We can begin by asking parents to address us by our first names and do the same with them. This makes us more approachable and allows us to work with parents on more equal terms.

Another way to eliminate barriers is to keep an open-door policy and encourage parents to drop in anytime. Recruit your secretaries and encourage them to eliminate barriers as well. When parents stop in to see you, have your secretary skip the “screening” process where s/he asks parents their names, purpose, and any other questions that may be off-putting. Instead, have your secretary simply stop in and ask if you have a minute to talk to the parents.  

Ask more questions
We spend a lot of time with students, but parents have spent far longer with them—which means they know more about them than we ever will. When you meet with parents, use this as an opportunity to listen and learn. The following questions are great starters:

  • What is the student like at home?
  • How does she learn best?
  • Do the parents have specific hopes and dreams for her?
  • Does the student have aspirations that you might not know about?
  • What did the student like about her last teacher? What didn’t she like?
  • What learning strategies did this teacher use that worked well for the student?

Call parents—all of them
A personal invitation to major school events is a great way to connect with parents. While you can’t feasibly call every parent on your own, you can round up the student council, ask for teacher volunteers, and host an evening in which the group attempts to call every family and personally invite them to major school events. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right—but the payoff is well worth it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Parents work hard for their families, but in spite of their busy schedules, many of them are still eager to volunteer at the school when they can. Assume that parents want to be involved. Reach out to them and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of parents who follow through.

Connect with parents using the tools they use

Not all parents have home computers or access to smartphones, but many of them do and prefer electronic communication over monthly newsletters sent through snail mail. Start by taking advantage of all the free technology at your fingertips: Facebook and Twitter are both excellent tools to help keep parents in the loop. 


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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Parent Engagement, parent partnerships, positive school culture

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

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