Be the change, principals, reflection

Dear Administrators, Have You Taken the Pulse of Your Building Lately?

image from icanread

“Yeah……I did it.  I goofed.  I pulled a Dufus move. No, it’s not the first time (that number wouldn’t fit in this post) but it was a mistake I should have known not to make. Granted, it was made out of zeal and innocence, but mostly it was made because I focused on my goals and not the goals of my teachers.”

So writes Tom Whitford, a principal here in Wisconsin I greatly admire, in his post “Learning With Your Mistakes” a must read post if you haven’t already.  Tom’s words have stuck with me.  It is not often that we teachers get to look into the mind of an administrator when they make a mistake.  It is not often that a private screw up becomes public knowledge because let’s face it, whether we are teachers or principals, there is some sort of expectation of perfection.  That we always know what we are doing, that everything we do is a good thing.

For years, I have blogged about the mistakes I have made and how it wasn’t until I started asking my students what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn, and whether I was doing a good job or not that my teaching truly changed.  Sure, being told that you are boring, or that something you feel passionate about is not liked by others, is hard.  But every time a child has told me their honest opinion, I have thanked them, what courage it must take for a 10 year old to tell an adult that there are better ways to teach something.

So in the spirit of Tom’s post, I wonder how many administrators keep a finger on the pulse of their building?  How many principals ask their teachers how they are doing, and not just at the end of the year, but monthly or more often?  How many principals create opportunities for their teachers to give them advice or to help them change something.  Sure, we can think that we teachers will tell our principals if something is not working, but let’s be real.  Many teachers are afraid of administration and what may happen if they do, even if they are friendly with them.  Some don’t think their words will ever make a difference, while others don’t want to take more time away from a principal’s already busy day. Whatever the reason, and there can be many, I think we need to encourage more open dialogue in our schools.

I am not proposing a free for all, but rather the chance to start a conversation.  That teachers be asked, “How are we doing, what should we change, or how can I be a better leader?” much like we should be asking our students.  Sure, the answers may be tough to hear but taken in the right spirit, like Tom did in his school, everyone will benefit.

When we are not afraid to start hard conversations, we can grow, whether in our classrooms or in our schools.  When we can create environments where teachers trust that they can speak to their administrators even about tough subjects, then we can grow.  We work so hard to create communities of open dialogue in our classrooms, why not extend it to the rest of the school?  We are all human, no one is perfect, and it is time we start talking about it more.  Not just at the end of the year or the beginning, but throughout, as we all create the type of school we would want our own children to be in.

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” can be pre-bought now from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

6 thoughts on “Dear Administrators, Have You Taken the Pulse of Your Building Lately?”

  1. For a principal, have open lines of communication is vital and challenging. I certainly like to think that I am approachable but I don’t fool myself, the position power creates boundaries in certain instances. The principal can periodically take the pulse of the staff by using an anonymous survey through Google forms or something like that. Same with parents and with students, everyone needs to have a voice.

  2. I currently work for a principal that has a growth mindset, and it makes a world of difference! She is not worried if teachers try new things, and is acutely aware of what is going on in the building. As a result of her presence, and growth mindset, teachers feel comfortable trying new things and admitting when they need help in a certain area. Having worked with the opposite type of principal, I can tell you that this is ideal for continuous improvement by a teacher. When a teacher is not worried about being honest with his/her administrator, it can lead to critical conversations, which in turn leads to the educator improving.
    Gone are the days, hopefully, of when the principal is stationed in her office, not aware of what is actually going on in the school. I liken it to going from a manager to a leader, with a heavy focus on being an instructional leader. Being able to share the learning of new techniques, ideas, and methods also instills a similar outlook in the teachers. All of this in the end benefits the students, which is why we are all there anyways!
    Great post, Pernille! Thanks for writing and starting this integral conversation.

  3. Awesome post Pernille! You are right on target. I try to open the door to “pulse taking” hen I get to talk w/ teachers f2f. Just the other day I was havering a very good sharing time w/ a teacher, which at one point, I asked “have you felt supported?”.. I gleaned so much from her words/response. It’s all about relationships, the more we have, the better our pulse will be.

    1. What a powerful question to ask! I wish more principals followed your lead. What would you do if a teacher didn’t feel they had a good relationship with you, would you still ask the question and expect an honest answer?

  4. Thanks for this Pernille. I read Tom’s post, and I too, was proud of him as a friend and colleague.

    What you bring up is interesting. In my opinion it is in some ways asking about CULTURE and CLIMATE. I realized long ago that I cannot obsess about making others happy. But I don’t think you are saying that. I believe what you are saying is, Administrators need to walk side-by-side with staff. Support your staff, defend your staff and listen.

    Ultimately I can only control myself and my reactions. I try very hard to be personable, supportive and human. Sometimes I feel disappointment when I’m honest about what I observe, and some take it as a personal attack. As the principal I need to be willing to have difficult conversations, but I never want to personally attack anyone. I try very hard to keep conversations constructive.

    I appreciated your post and I appreciated Tom’s as well. We are all human beings and none of us is perfect. I hope to continue to grow and improve each day. Thanks for the push!

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