Better Together: The Principal Experience

It’s amazing to hear principal-after-principal, independent of each other, talk about how they once “thought they could do it all” before realizing school leadership is better when done collaboratively.

It’s also a profession, requiring of you sound judgment in unpredictable situations.  You can learn a lot from others who have done, or are doing, the same job as you.

Don’t try do it all alone!

The position of principal can be lonely… but it doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be!  Building networks with other colleagues can help inform your practice, keep you going when things are tough, and give you connections that help you better serve your school.

To support you in your work, please find the following episode of The New Principal Show! 

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Our guest hosts for episode five are quick to testify about the power of the principal making connections.  Stephanie Johnson is the Deputy Superintendent of the Georgia Department of Education and was the 2017 Georgia High School Principal of the Year (GASSP) and a finalist for National Principal of the Year (NASSP) for the work she led at Maynard H. Jackson High School in Atlanta (Atlanta Public Schools).

Jim Finch is the Principal of Mary Persons High School in Monroe County (Forsyth) and is the Vice-President of the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals (GASSP).

Along with a live chat-audience, Stephanie, Jim, and Mark take time to talk about how and why the effective principal connects and how it’s beneficial for the progress of the school.

The New Principal and Instructional Leadership

When superintendents ask me if I know good candidates for principal positions, I always ask them what they’re looking for, but I know what they’ll say.

“We’re looking for… an instructional leader.”

With our focus on learning and student growth, it’s what you need to be to do what you need to do.

As the new principal, you’re a lot like a freshman in college.  Not only are you tasked with challenging work, but you’re getting acclimated to a new place, new people, and a new lifestyle.  Sometimes for that college freshman, the main thing can get swallowed up by lots of other adjustments.

The same thing can happen to you as a new principal.  That’s why it’s important to keep your focus on instruction and your leadership growth in that area.  To support you in that work, we hosted an episode of The New Principal Show! in season one with  amazing co-hosts Cindy Saxon and Casey Bethel to help you in your work as an instructional leader.  As we get ready for season TWO  of TNPS!, we are re-delivering you last year’s shows to get you back in the swing.  Please enjoy this one whenever you listen to podcasts!

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© 2018 Mark D. Wilson

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The New Principal Show! Live from Summer GAEL- A Recap

Principals, APs and other school leaders gathered yesterday at Jekyll Island at the Summer GAEL Conference for our LIVE session to support new principals.

Our topics included discussions on the previous two blogposts found here:  Principles for New Principals  ( ) and This! Not That! ( )

We also heard from three leaders who have accomplished the chief goal of first-year principals:  they are now second-year principals!  Dr. Susan Stone of Jasper County and Tanya Welchel and John Rhodarmer of Floyd County shared some of the “You Won’t Believe This” moments from their first year in the principalship.


Here’s the reason those stories need to be told:  you really don’t get a course in college to prepare you for every circumstance that might come your way.  These wonderful folks did well because they were adaptable, nimble and confident.

There’s no instruction booklet to cover all of the possibilities that come your way in school leadership.  You are able to do more than survive-  you can thrive IF you are able to rely on your experience, your knowledge, and the core of who you are to make good decisions and do the right things.


Who YOU are will determine what your school achieves.  The most effective school leaders work on themselves first– not out of selfishness, but out of an understanding that your growth is critical for that of your school’s.  That’s why our hope is that you’ll never stop learning, and that you’ll make room for your own growth.

Here’s to a great year of learning! We’ll try to make it convenient for you.


©2018 Mark D. Wilson

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Guiding Principles… for New Principals

It’s July and that means that we have new principals taking their places at their schools.  Congratulations!

It’s our passion here to support you (as well as veteran principals, APs and aspiring leaders) in your work.  Today we share some insight in the form of an infographic… something called “The New Principal:  Guiding Principles for Success.”

Over the coming months. we’ll dig into these individual notions about the work of principals.  For today, thanks for giving it a look and reflecting on your feelings and thoughts about these guiding ideas of the incredible job of being a principal.

Principles for New Principals: Click Here for the PDF Version

Principles for New Principals

© 2018 Mark D. Wilson

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This! Not That. Twelve Practical Steps Towards Successful School Leadership

School leaders are doers.  They are also dreamers, negotiators, and experts in human behavior, but as a group, we like to do things.

In that spirit, we share with you this list of twelve practical steps towards successful school leadership.  Each of these steps is a “This! Not That!” for simplicity.  Don’t be fooled; the ideas behind them aren’t simplistic.

Each of these steps is a lesson unto itself, and we’ll take up those lessons in the coming days here at Principal Matters!  For now, here’s the list of This!  Not That! (School Leader Version)

Do This! Not That!.png

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Stress Is Real. You Can Do Something About It.

What a great group we had today at the GAEL Summer Conference.  Over 60 people crammed into a breakout session room to talk about … stress.

The interest in stress management (particularly at the least-stressful spot on the calendar) speaks volumes, but so do the results of our audience poll.

As you see above, 88% of the group reported having chronic stress as a school leader.  The participants, assistant principals, principals, district office leaders and more, answered the question, “How often is work stressful?”  

Eighteen percent reported always.  That alone calls for attention to the well-being of our leaders.  Another 70% reported that work was often stressful.  Not even one said that work was ‘hardly ever’ or ‘never’ stressful.

The Science of Stress: Click Here for Great, Short Video

So, what do we do about it?  In our session today (the ppt of which you can access at this link: ) we discussed what to do to reduce workplace stress and how to make those efforts work.

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 3.02.45 PM

The short version is this:  you already know what you ought to do to reduce stress:  be healthy; don’t stay in the middle of stress non-stop; focus on intellectual activities; and introspection.  Again, this isn’t groundbreaking;  we all know to do these things.

So why don’t we?  That’s the second set of things to consider.  How do we become more healthy, focus on the right things, and develop meditative practices to reset?  Here are four ways that might work:  1)  Acceptance (recognize that stress is real and you should have a committed strategy for its management; 2) Consistency (developing and maintaining healthy habits regularly are better than all of the good intentions we might stack up); 3)  Accountability: perhaps this is the key.  It’s hard to do right without some level of accountability and that’s one of the reasons leaders are so suspect in being stressed. There’s always safety in numbers.  Having a partner (or 2) to hold you accountable might keep you on the right side of the stress line; and, 4)  Reflection;  journaling about your experience will have a positive impact on your progress.  If you know what you’re supposed to do (and you do) and you have to write about your experience weekly, what might that do to your choices?

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 3.02.40 PM

We need great leaders to have great schools, but we need our leaders to be healthy.  Chronic stress leads to short-term and long-term health issues, as well as a lessening of your effectiveness as a leader.

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To review:

  1.  Stress is real;
  2.  Stress is bad;
  3. You CAN do something about it (but it’s not going to take care of itself: you’ll need strategy, commitment, and most likely someone to hold you accountable.

Good luck!



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Communication for the New Principal

We had an amazing show in season 1 of “The New Principal Show” on Communication.  As we get ready for the Launch of Season 2 in the coming days, we are reviewing last year’s shows, and are proud to share with you again Kevin Paul Scott, Jayne Ellspermann, and Octavius Mulligan’s conversation on communication for the school leader.

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Enjoy the show!


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The First Work of The New Principal

Are you a new principal?  Maybe you aspire to be one.  Perhaps you were a new one LAST year (and now you know enough to be nervous!) ?

Wherever you might be on the continuum, we hope we can support your work here at Principal Matters!  As we move towards the upcoming Second Season of The New Principal Show!, we are sending out episodes from last year’s debut season.

This episode is one that emphasizes what to do when you’re new… when you’re first new.  Our guests for this episode are Garrick Askew, Amy Thornton, and Paul Shaw.  Please give it a listen as we get ready for the new season coming soon!


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so many things

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You’re the Principal. Now What?!?

the new principal Show! Podcast[podbean type=audio-rectangle resource=”episode=c48jj-6d23b4″ skin=”1″ auto=”0″ height=100 ]

Good news!  Season TWO of TNPS (The New Principal Show!) begins in a couple of weeks.  We are reposting episodes from season one as we get ready for the new season! During 2017-2018, we debuted “The New Principal Show”; this year, it’s going to be even bigger!

Enjoy this re-release of “The New Principal Show! Podcast: S1E1” and get ready for a big release about the NEW SEASON of the show, coming soon!




The New Principal Show! Support for First-Year Principals; Debuts Tuesday 7/18

Schools need great leaders; great leaders need to get off to the right start.  That’s why we’re launching The New Principal Show!, beginning Tuesday, July 18, accessible anywhere at .


Not a new effort, but a new design to reach more people.  This will be the sixth year that we’ve been supporting principals, particularly supporting new principals and we’re excited to make the support accessible to everyone, wherever you may be! 

Over the past few summers, it’s been a privilege to work with first-year principals in advance of the launch of their administrations.  Literally hundreds of principals have come to one of the many events we’ve hosted across Georgia.  While we still have some of those events scheduled this summer (“Successful Beginnings” at Pioneer RESA on 7/19; First District RESA on 8/11 and West Georgia RESA on 8/18) it’s exciting to add this twelve-episode series that can be accessed by principals not only in particular areas, but anywhere you have a device and connectivity.

How will the show work?  We’ll cover a small number of topics that are pertinent for first-year principals during each episode.  The first episode (Tuesday, July 18, 8:00 PM EDT) features discussions about the following:  Be Yourself; Listen; Take Notes; and Find Out Why.  

We’ll be joined on each episode by guest hosts who are experts in the field, practitioners, or thought leaders who can support your work.  Episode One features Dr. Torian White, the Principal of Southeast Bulloch Middle School and Debra Murdock, 2014 Georgia High School Principal of the Year, and currently Executive Director for Administrative Leadership, Cherokee County Schools.

The other stars of these shows will be you.  Each show will have a chat platform where you can make comments, ask questions, share info, and be an interactive participant in the learning.

If you ARE a new principal, please join us; if you know one, please let them know this resource is available, free, and waiting for them!


Don’t Be Accidental; Lead With Vision

Why does AdvancED insist that a school and system conduct a process with all stakeholders to design their vision, mission and beliefs? Why is this so important that it is a requirement to renew one’s accreditation?

Have you ever given that much thought?

Earlier in my career as I was moving through the ranks in administration, it seemed that I had the “accreditation magnet.”  Whenever I chose to change jobs and move to another school, once I arrived, I was informed, “by the way, we’ll be going through accreditation next year.”  Because of that ‘good fortune,’ I had the opportunity to work on a number of strategic plans and accreditation visits.

I wish that I knew then what I know now.

For one, if you are only examining vision, mission, and beliefs every five to ten years, it’s not very likely to be driving the work of your school or system. 

vision socratesMy advice to school leaders?  Talk about about vision every day.  Don’t miss a chance to bring focus to the mission.  In every thing you do, you’re shaping the beliefs of your school.  Formally examine vision/mission/beliefs at least annually.

Not for compliance, not for practice, not for show; examine vision/mission/beliefs to bring a focus to the work everyone does on a daily basis.


Here are some very unproductive things to say and do when reviewing vision/mission/beliefs of your school and system:

  • What did we put last time? 
  • Let’s figure out how to make this as easy as possible for everyone.  Most of our work can be done on a google doc.  We really won’t have to spend much time on this!
  • We just went through this for something else  one year/two years/three years ago… let’s use that!
  • I found this from another school in our system/another school in another system/my sister’s school in Florida; we can use this as a guide to get us started.
  • What is it that they want? 
  • Make sure we have an agenda and sign-in sheet for our meetings.  We need to ask parents, students and community members.  Let’s get four of five of each to look at what we’ve got so far and give us feedback. 
  • 21st century, world-class, synergy, global…

What can change the mindsets that lead to such colossal wastes of time?

Not what, who.

You can make the vision, mission, and beliefs lead your school in success if you will embrace their value and make them a priority.  People at the school will follow the lead of the leader.  Are you the leader?  Do you want your people to be driven by vision, mission, beliefs..purpose?

AdvancED requires us all to engage in the process of determining our vision, mission, and beliefs with our stakeholders.  They do so to ensure that we’ll do it.  Truth is, we should do this on our own if no one ever asked us to do it again.  How can you move from compliance to excellence in your school?  One way is to approach vision/mission/beliefs as if it were your idea.  That’ll be easy to do if, it really is your idea.  Work on vision when you don’t have to.  Talk about it every day, right up to when others begin to talk about it for you.

If your school isn’t running on vision/mission/beliefs (purpose) what is it running on?  What’s driving your school and the way your people approach their work, their relationships at school, their day?

Don’t let that be accidental.  Lead with vision.


Lessons for Principals: What Two Weeks Away From Social Media Taught Me

Well, I failed.

I set out 2017 with a goal of #Leadership365, my aspirational quest to write something of value for school leaders every single day of the year.

“They” say that if you can make something a habit, it becomes a part of your life and you’re able to more readily do it.  Many research studies have reached that conclusion with varying numbers of days necessary to be able to make a goal into a habit.

Through this vehicle, I made 114 consecutive days before I didn’t.  From January 1 until April 24, I was able to write a column intended to support principals, assistant principals, aspiring leaders, and others interested in leadership musings with a decided school-level leadership spin.

And then, I didn’t make it on April 25.  Or April 26.  It was much easier to develop this new habit, the one where I didn’t write a column for school leaders.


Now it’s May 7, and I am rejoining the online world and reconnecting with the many offline friends that read this column.  To reenter this universe, this column is dedicated to sharing with you lessons learned from two weeks away and how they relate to the work of school leaders. Said a different way, these are the things that I learned from failing; failing to meet my goal, failing to create and deliver content to those who had been used to it being there, and failing to maintain the discipline from 114 days for the entire 365.  As always, these failures will be reported through the lens of school leadership.  Here goes!

1.  It’s More Difficult To Accomplish Goals On Your Own Than When Working With Others  As the leader of the school, you have lots of goals.  Just as was my experience, sometimes you aren’t able to keep them going.  Why?  What I found to be true is what I’ve read numerous times from leadership books and research.  Self-discipline is expendable.  (The work of Dan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick comes to mind.)  We are so much more likely to stick to a task when our work is connected to someone else.  That’s worth considering in your work with your faculty and staff;  not only are we better together, we’re more likely to get things done together than alone, especially over time (which is what every school year is, an extended period of time).  If I’d been paired up with someone to do this blog, we’d not have missed a day, I’m convinced of it.  

2.  Getting Away is Essential for Effectiveness and Excellence.   There hasn’t been a time that I was just “mailing it in” this year in the 114 columns that have preceded this one, but I am feeling better about the next two weeks and the things that I have to share than I do a couple of weeks ago.  You don’t really have the luxury to take two weeks off during the school year while serving a principal, but as has been mentioned here many times, balance really is the key.  A big part of that balance is finding space; space to breathe, space to regain momentum, space to be inspired from unexpected sources.  The last two weeks have given me space that has made me come back to you renewed and ready again.  Don’t lose sight of that not only for yourself but for your faculty and staff.  Some of the most powerful notes in songs are “rests.”  Same for us in leading.

3.  Failure is an important part of success.  You know this as well as I do.  There is much to learn through our failures.  I’ve learned that if I want to get a column out every day no matter rain, sleet, snow or hail, I better develop another plan because this one isn’t sustainable.  What are you trying to do on your own that meets that same description? As the school leader, we often take on things that are less a function of our own discipline and more related to the design.  Now that I look at how this has played out here, I realize that I should have planned breaks throughout the year and asked for help.  Just like you, I have a bounty of friends and colleagues that I know would be willing to write a column for this blog.  I just need to ask them.  Thinking back on my fifteen years as school administrator, there are a lot of things that I can say that about.  We really are better together, and I believe this column and this effort to support school leaders will actually be stronger if I solicit other’s voices to join.  Plus, I can take the time off to get recharged and come back with more meaningful words to support your work.

So, I’m glad that I failed at #Leadership365.  It has been a valuable lesson to me, and hopefully through your lens can be insightful for your work.  I’m not going to change the name of this year’s effort, and you can look for me to be taking a few days off from time to time with some experts preparing columns in advance to share on those occasions.  Please let me know if you’d like to be a part of this effort!

Thanks for your patience during this learnable moment.  I’ll see you back here tomorrow.




Students and Teachers Have Ideas Worth Spreading

It’s time for the 2017 TED Conference, and neuroscientists, inventors, technologists, and performers have gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia to share their ideas worth spreading.

A group of a dozen educators are joining them, and with the staff of TED-Ed they are examining how to get more students and teachers into spreading their ideas.

TED-Ed has been around since 2011 with lessons worth sharing, combining teacher’s best lessons with voice actors and world-class animation to deliver powerful lessons that are seen by millions.  It’s a rewarding act for a teacher, who may have reached hundreds or even thousands of teachers in-person in their classes.  With TED-Ed?  Those valuable lessons can, and do, go anywhere and everywhere.  TED-Ed lessons are seen by the millions and help spread those great lessons.

Students were invited to get into the act a few years ago with the advent of TED-Ed Clubs.  Schools across the world have registered as TED-Ed Clubs and offer their students the 13 episode program, provided at no cost by TED-Ed.  Since then, thousands of students are working on developing their idea and presenting it in their school, but also sharing those videos with the world.

What TED-Ed lessons and student TED-Ed Club talks are about are ideas, presentation literacy, and critical thinking skills.  The curriculum of the TED-Ed Club is designed to help students find and develop an idea, learn presentation skills, and share their idea.  This process is exactly what is sought in the curriculum standards for nearly every state. To develop a TED talk for your club, you’ll have to learn the literacy pieces that you’re already being expected to learn.  The difference is in the format.  You get to learn how to present and research in the context of something interesting to you.  Choice is a powerful thing.

Since the work is being done to share with the world, it most typically reflects a student’s best work.

In short, TED-Ed has pieces that:  1)  cost nothing; 2) deliver a deep learning experience; 3)  are for students and teachers everywhere.

More students and teachers should be utilizing these incredible resources.   Check it out.   Learn more about TED-Ed Clubs at   You can watch the video below to see TED-Ed Clubs in action.




But Seriously, Are You Enjoying Being The Principal?

Just finished watching Ron Howard’s documentary on the touring history of The Beatles, titled “Eight Days A Week:  The Touring Years.”  (If you like music, documentaries or if you’ve ever heard of the Beatles you might enjoy watching).  It takes you from the beginning of their playing days in Liverpool and features the iconic arrival to the United States on February 7, 1964.  You get to watch great clips from their travels and get a real glimpse of the unprecedented nature of Beatlemania.

When you see the scenes of the band’s initial arrival in New York, you see pure joy.  Each of the members were ecstatic to be in the US.  The reception was overwhelming and without precedent.  Pictured of them during this time showed their enthusiasm and enjoyment.

You also get to see scenes from the “Last Concert” at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966. (although they played together unannounced on the rooftop of their offices in London on January 30, 1969).  The picture below shows their exit from the event via an armored truck.

Candlestick Goodbye 10 Things to Know

What does this have to do with you and being a principal?!?


The Beatles quit doing concerts at the height of popularity and with millions of dollars (or pounds) on the table because they no longer found joy in what they were doing.  They went from boundless enthusiasm about their work to dread and unhappiness.

So, seriously, are you enjoying being a principal?  If you’ve been doing for a while, do you still have the same joy in the work?

In watching The Beatles documentary, it was interesting to hear band members talk about how much they loved playing concerts in the beginning.  It was because they were doing what they loved doing.  Little by little, the craziness of it all crept in.  They couldn’t perform in arenas or coliseums because of the demand for tickets (and the huge numbers of people who remained outside of those arenas without tickets).  That forced them to go to ball parks and stadia where, in the 60s, we didn’t have the science of sound quite developed to today’s standards.  Basically, they were playing in front of huge crowds who actually couldn’t hear them.  They hated it.  No joy, no more concerts.

Today’s principal doesn’t have those identical issues as the Fab Four did, but it is easy to face similar concerns.

Often, I talk to principals who tell me that what they’re doing isn’t what they thought they’d be doing.  They wanted to help kids, make a difference, but there are a lot of distractions.

That’s why I hope that you’ll make a real priority on joy.  If you aren’t finding joy, purpose, and fulfillment in your job, you may be lip-synching before you know it.

work and enjoyDespite all of the challenges of being a modern-era principal, there are reasons to love it. There are very few things that you could be doing with your time that have the potential to do good that this job has.  You can challenge people to greatness.  You can keep a student from dropping out of school and basically do a re-direct in their life trajectory.  You can bring hope to your community.  You can restore joy and purpose to a teacher in her final years of her career.  You can do so much!

What did you get into this job to do?  What brings you joy in this work?  Don’t lose sight of what you got into this for in the first place.  Be careful of getting so busy that you miss the fulfillment and joy of this job.


This is the final installment of our Sunday series about balance.  Getting balance right as the school leader is one of your most critical challenges.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

It’s important that you learn to balance within each of these areas, as well as balance all seven together.

Professional Reading Saturday: Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

It’s been questions week at Principal Matters!;  questions for you as the principal or assistant principal to ask your teachers, your students, their parents, and even yourself.  As you reach the conclusion of the school year, you need to gather the data that will help you design next school year.  To do so, you need to ask questions.

future belongs to the curiousTo support you in your work, this week’s Professional Reading Saturday recommendation is from legendary leadership author John C. Maxwell and his book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.

Like the library of books to help leaders that Maxwell has authored, this is a reader-friendly piece that drives at the heart of what we’ve been discussing all week, why questions matter and how to ask more meaningful questions. 

Maxwell mixes stories with quotable quotes, taking the reader through questions he asks, questions that he is asked, and then questions that he asks of growing leaders.

You’ll grow as a questioner and pick up a bag full of nuggets of wisdom about great questions in this book.  You can get it wherever you like to buy books!



Twenty Questions: The Administrator’s Version

This week at Principal Matters! has been one question after another.  Our focus has been on gathering meaningful perception data while the opportunity exists.  You can’t get year-end, summative perceptions until near the end of the year.  If you wait too late, however, you’ll have missed the moment and thoughts will fade away about this school year and move on to the summer or other things.

For your consideration, we’ve shared potential questions you could ask your students, their parents, and your teachers.  There’s no pride in authorship of these questions; the greatest hope is that you take time to be intentional in your gathering of perception data.  You will always be amazed at what you learn when you ask the right questions.  What are the right questions?  You can answer that one by examining the context of your school and determining what it is that you need to know.  There are probably some questions that are universal to most any school site, but the biggest thing to remind you is to get perceptions from students, parents, and teachers while you can.  If you wait until the very end of the year, you are probably pushing it.  Sometime between now and then is most likely a good spot.

reflectionSo, if you’re asking questions of everyone else, who’s left for today?

You know who.

Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.”   It’s important that you not only ask others for their perceptions, but that you take time to collect your own.  It’s even better if you have a trusted colleague or professional cohort with whom to share your reflections.  Best case scenario?  You have that group (3-4 principals, maybe?) and you reflect on the same set of questions individually, then get together to share your thoughts.  There is great potential or growth in such a process!

Here are some possible questions for you to consider for your own year-end reflection, whether you do it separately, with colleagues, or a little of both.

Twenty Year-End Self-Reflection Questions for Principals and APs

  1.  What do you make of your school’s progress this school year?  How did it align with your expectations? Why or why not?
  2. What about your school’s performance?  Was it what you had expected?  Why or why not?
  3. As a whole, how much did your faculty grow professionally this year?  To what do you attribute this?
  4. What do you believe is the perception of your school for the parents of your students?  How have you arrived at that conclusion?
  5. Do your students enjoy going to your school?  Is there an advantage for a student to go to your school instead of some other school?
  6. What is your school good at doing?  Are there three things that you can confidently share with the public that your school excels in?
  7. In what ways did you excel as a leader this year?  What did you do well?
  8. What was your biggest failing as the school’s leader this year?  What did that experience teach you?
  9. What are you struggling with as this year comes to a close?  What have you just not figured out at this point?
  10. What is your area of growth for this summer?  What skill or skills do you need to improve?  What area do you need to gain more knowledge in?
  11. How well did you support your assistant principal’s growth this year?  Is your AP better today than a year ago?  How well have you built capacity for your AP to represent you in sharing the vision, mission and beliefs of the school among the faculty and staff?
  12. How did you do in building relationships this year?  Where did you excel, and where did you flounder?
  13. How is the climate of your school?  What will you do to maintain a positive climate at your school for next year?
  14. What did you do to deepen the strength of your school’s vision/mission/beliefs during this school year?   How successful were you in that work?
  15. What did you get right and what did you get wrong in terms of time management this year?
  16. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is low; 10 is high) how well did you achieve an appropriate work/life balance this year?  What will your plan be for next year?  How will you remain consistent in that work?
  17. As the school’s leader, what did you accomplish this year of which you’re the most proud?
  18. How strong are your relationships with Central Office?  What can you plan for next year to strengthen those connections?
  19. How well did you connect with other colleagues from other schools and systems?  What will you do moving forward to make this a priority?
  20. Are you enjoying being a principal?




Twenty End-of-the-Year Questions To Ask Your Teachers

As has been our theme all week long, we look again at questions, and in this column, questions for… the teachers.

Yes, teachers get surveyed a lot.  You may prefer to gather this data in small groups, in meetings, or in a format that leads to more openness and deeper reflection.

In concluding the school year, it’s incumbent on you as a school leader to measure the growth and progress your school has made.  An important part of that measure is in debriefing your teachers.  You can do so as a part of their summative conference if you like.  The important thing is that you don’t let an opportunity to learn more about this school year pass by you.  The more questions you ask, the more you know about your school and your people, and the better you’ll serve them as their leader.

55 minutes of questionsBelow are twenty questions that you can ask your teachers before they break for the summer.  Maybe you’ll ask some of them; maybe all of them, and maybe none of them.  The important part of this examination is that you focus on the right questions for your teachers and for your school within the current context.  To get you thinking about what  to ask your teachers, here is a sample set of  twenty questions.  Enjoy.

Twenty Questions To Ask Your Teachers at the End of the Year

  1. What did you do most effectively this year in your classroom?
  2. How well did your students learn this year?
  3. What was an innovative strategy that you employed successfully this year?
  4. What was your biggest failure this year?  What did you learn from it?
  5. Describe the level of relationships that you had with your students this year.  Were your relationships with your students better this year than in other years?  Why or why not?
  6. Think of a student who you were never really able to reach the way you’d hoped.  What did you learn from your efforts?
  7. What did you learn about teaching this year?
  8. Based on your reflection about your work this year, what do you plan to focus your professional development on this summer?
  9. If you had ten minutes to talk about something you do well as a teacher, what would you talk about? (focusing on one thing)
  10. Were you a good team member this year?  What did you do to help your colleagues be more effective as teachers?
  11. If someone was charting your career as a teacher day-by-day from your first day/first year to now,  what would the curve look like?
  12. Teaching is challenging and often stressful.  How well did you handle the stress this year?  What do you find effective in coping with your work stress?
  13. What was your best year ever as a teacher?  Where did this year rank among your years of teaching?
  14. Who helped you in your work this year?  Who did you help in their work?
  15. What do you need from others who work at the school in order to be a more effective teacher?
  16. What do you think about the children who go to our school?  Are they all able to learn?
  17. What was your best experience partnering with a parent this year?
  18. What skill do you need to learn to do more effectively?
  19. Why do you teach?
  20. What is your number one highlight of this school year?

As always, there are many more questions that you could ask and many that can be appropriate within the context of your school.  Work hard to ask the right questions that help you gather the data you need to make good decisions about individuals, groups, and the school as a whole.  The leader who fails to listen better be a really good guesser!  It’s much easier and more effective to become a good listener instead.  It takes good questions, a commitment to take time to ask them, and an ear that listens to understand rather then to reply.

Before your teachers break for summer (and before anyone mentally checks out) invest your time into conversations with your teachers.  You can learn so much from listening!



Ten End-Of-The-Year Questions For Parents

One of the greatest areas of growth in our schools is in our work with parents.  As we reach the end of the school year, now is a good time to get data from our parents.

We can do so in surveys, in formal meetings, small-group settings, and informally.   Perhaps as important as when we talk to parents is what questions can we ask them to support the work and collect data that can be helpful.

While all schools are engaged in surveying parents, conversations may bring a deeper level of information.  Even if surveys were more focused on questions that support the individual work of your school, the data you collect might be richer.

parents involvementAs always, what you need to know is based on the context of your school as much as anything.  To prime the pump of your thinking, please find a set of ten possible questions for parents at the end of the year. They are written to be used across grade bands, so you might want to adapt the wording to make it most appropriate for your school level.

You may find some, all, or none of them to be questions that you’d like to ask, but no matter which you choose, consider the value of asking engaging questions to the parents of your students as you approach the conclusion of  the school year. On to the examples:

Ten Questions for Parents at the End of the School Year

  1. What did your daughter/son enjoy learning the most this year?
  2. What do you believe that your son/daughter learned well this year?
  3. In what ways did you support your child’s learning?
  4. In what ways did we at the school help you support your child’s learning?
  5. How could we have partnered with you more effectively this year?
  6. What skill or skills do you want your son/daughter to know how to do more effectively?
  7. What can we provide for you, if anything, to help you continue your child’s learning this summer?
  8. What can we do in partnership with you to start next school year off on the right foot?
  9. Is your daughter/son learning what you expect them to be learning at this point in their schooling?
  10. How can we be the best partner possible with you to help your son/daughter grow in what they know, what they can do, and who they are?




End-of-the-Year Questions For Your Students

The most underutilized group of people in most schools?  Students.

We often make decisions about them without spending time in conversation with them.  Many is the time we design an initiative that we think will be attractive to our students without actually having spoken with them about what they like and what motivates them.

As you gather meaningful data to better understand the impact of your actions this year, don’t forget the students!  Take time to learn from your students while you still have them around.

What can you learn from them?  School-wide trends.  Perceptions of individual teachers. What teaching strategies are most motivating.  You can learn what works.

How do you do it?  Small-group discussions.  Surveys (yes, I know you already give a lot of surveys, but are you really getting all the data you need?).  Informal conversations. (You can learn a lot while at bus duty or lunch supervision)

What do you ask students?  The questions you ask your students should be related to the context of your school.  For example, if you’ve been working on Positive Behavioral Interventions (PBIS), you will want to ask questions to gain student perspective on what works most effectively.  You may want to spend time digging deeper into perception survey data you’ve already collected.

individual learningThe bottom line is this:  you can learn a lot from your students if you’ll design a listening strategy.  Use what you already know (performance and perception data; your own observations) to create a list of questions for your students.  Schedule time to talk with them or to administer surveys; analyze the data and use it to inform your continued work and growth.

While it’s advisable for you to create your own custom questions based on the context of your school, here are some possible questions to spur your thinking. Of course, the language of these questions can be adapted depending upon the grade level.  The core content of each question is adaptable for any grade level.

Twenty End -of -the Year Questions for Students

  1. What did you create or produce this year that represents your best work?
  2. What are examples of work that you did in any of your classes that you were excited about?
  3. What kind of assignments bring out your best work?  How often do you get to do that kind of work?
  4. What percentage of your class time is spent doing?  What percentage is spent listening?
  5. What teacher or teachers do you feel really connected with you this year?  What was it they did that made you feel that way?
  6. What did you learn about the most this year?
  7. What do you wish that you had a chance to learn this year?
  8. How hard do you try in school? (your best? as much as you need to?  not much?)
  9. Who expects you to do your best in school?
  10. What do we do at school that makes you try harder?
  11. How much do you care about the grades that you get?
  12. Was this your best year of school so far?  If not, which year was?  Why do you think that?
  13. Right now, do you enjoy learning more than you did at the same time last year?  Why or why not?
  14. What is your passion?  When does your passion intersect with your work at school?
  15. Now that you’re finishing this grade, what advice do you have for the students who will be in this grade next year?
  16. What grade would you give your teacher(s) for the year?  Why?  What grade would you give our school for the year?  Why?
  17. What do you see other students doing that you would like to learn to do?
  18. What will you learn this summer?
  19. What are you most proud of that you did during this school year?
  20. Are you excited about next school year?

Again, this is not intended to be a complete list of any sort, but just a few ideas of what you might ask students at the end of the year to learn more about their learning experience at your school.  If you have more questions to add, please do so in the comments section below!

Regardless of whether or not you use any of these questions at all, the biggest question is this:  will you take advantage of the tremendous resource of your students’ perceptions on learning as you evaluate your work this year?



How Did We Do This Year? Ask The Right Questions

As we approach the conclusion of this school year, if you’re a principal, you should be asking, “how did we do this year?”  On one hand, you’re probably thinking that soon enough you’ll have the year-end data that will answer that question.  If you’re counting on your summative data to tell you all that you need to know, you’re going to be missing important data that will be difficult to obtain later.

Our efforts to be more deliberate and intentional in the work in classrooms and schools is well-placed.  Being better informed has led to better strategies, better decisions, and more-relevant instruction.  Data is… good.

how-did-we-doface scale

Often, we don’t have all of the data and we often short in our gathering before we get everything we need.  We need to collect, analyze, and interpret data that will complement what we expect to get from state-mandated testing, school and district reports, and summative information.

We need to go deeper than what; we need to gather the data that will help us understand why.

One of our greatest challenges is to advance from a first-order analysis of data into a more sophisticated search that can genuinely lead us to more effective strategies. For example, it is interesting to compare the number of students in our school who have been absent beyond a certain number of days to the attendance of students from neighboring schools, sometimes in our system.  It is instead impactful when we gather data from students in our school that helps us better understand the decisions made by students with poor attendance, as well as those with good attendance.

Knowing why students attend school or are absent is much more useful than a mere list of students, their absences, and their absence codes.  While everyone has common absence codes that are used in recording student attendance, does that tell you what you really need to know?

Here’s another example.  Student performance.  Quite often we look at student performance as it compares to other students in our school and on occasion how it stacks up against students at other schools in our system, region and even state.  We have grown more accustomed (and are still in the transition) to considering how a student compares against her previous performance:  growth.

But that’s only the beginning.  Can we collect, keep, and interpret not just those comparisons but also the reasons behind the variances?  While we can make some inferences at face value, we most likely need additional information in order to really understand performance at a level that can be used to drive change.

We need more data.  Much of it may need to be gathered from conversations with small groups.  Some of it can be gathered from students; other will need to come from teachers, and even parents.  If you know more about a student’s performance, isn’t it more likely that you and your team can design instruction to better fit that student’s needs?

whyThat data isn’t just going to leap onto your desk.  It’ll require you to ask questions of your students, their parents, your teachers and staff.  What questions should you ask?  That will be the focus of Principal Matters! this week:  questions.

This year isn’t over yet, but it will be soon.  You should figure out what you would like to know from your people while they’re still around.  Then, if you can prioritize this effort amongst all of the other things you are tending to, you will have meaningful data to complement the data you already have, and together you’ll have the picture you need to improve instruction.

Begin thinking:  what’s missing?  What do I need to know to be able to accurately answer the question how did we do this year?  Who do you need to ask?  When will you ask them?

More to come this week!




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