Your Job? Helping Teachers Grow.

Becoming a Principal can be a curious thing.

You get the job before you know the job, and then a big part of your job is to figure out what your job really is.

Are you with me?  Please let me explain.

The expectations of the principal haven’t changed over the years… instead, they’ve multiplied!  People still expect the principal do things they’ve done for decades– be the face of the school, support the students at extracurricular events, open car doors in the morning and solve bus issues in the afternoon.


And develop a comprehensive school improvement plan.  And a hospitable culture to rival Chick-Fil-A.  And infuse STEM, Mindset Training, and Differentiate for teachers and students alike.

That’s just a sliver of all of the things you’re asked to do, as you know.  But here’s the challenge:  out of the many important things that you do, what’s the most critical for you to do to live up to the standards set for your performance?

Help your teachers grow.

Yes, your responsible for safety is always the most important thing you do, but the most critical for you to be deemed successful is to help your teachers grow.

It’s for that reason everyone says you need to be visible.  It’s to help your teachers grow that you go to grade-level meetings, and PLCs, and book studies.  It’s the goal of your school’s evaluation program.  It’s the most critical thing you do.  In its absence, you are at best a caretaker of the school, not a leader.  Our business is learning;  our key representatives in the business are our teachers;  their performance IS your performance.  It is on this that you focus if you want your school to meet the needs of the students, because it’s through your teachers that you reach out to each and every one of your students.  Your heart and your head through their hands.  Hands whose work YOU are responsible for.

Your commitment to the task at hand– leading your teachers in their professional growth– is the pathway to success for you, your teachers, your students, and your school.  Using the evaluation system as a support and as a needs assessment, your role as the school leader is to find out what your people need and get it to them.  (Just as the teacher’s role is to do the same for her students!)

I’ve heard school administrators tell their faculty members, “my job is to make your job easier,”  That’s a notion worth a challenge.  The truth is, the teacher’s job isn’t really easy, and while administrators offer support, our best play isn’t to present ourselves as Tech Support or the Geek Squad.  Perhaps our goal should be to be more like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid?  A trusted, wise coach whose wisdom matches up with his authority.

Making your teachers’ jobs easier may be a lot to promise, but what if your focus is on helping your teachers find more meaning in their work?  What if your “job’ is to help them learn so much about doing their job that their confidence stands taller than their troubles and their doubts?  That’s a lot more substantive and sustainable of a gift.

As we enter September and the second phase of the school  year, the performance of your teachers will become more and more an indicator of the success of your students, AND your quality of life as the principal.  Their growth is your job.  Make sure your calendar reflects it as the priority that it is.

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.   All Rights Reserved.


Trust and the Principal.

Everyone who begins a new tenure at a school as the Principal hears the same advice: (including from Principal Matters!)  don’t start making changes right away, and maybe not any big changes in your first year at all.

You’ve heard that.  It most usually holds true.  The ‘why’ of it, however, isn’t always discussed.

It’s pretty simple.  People reserve their full effort until they trust you as the leader. 

An initiative you lead after you’ve gained the trust of your team has very different outcomes than one you initiate before they’re ready to join you.  Of course, there are always leaders who fail to heed this advice and plunge in anyway.  Some of them aren’t given a choice by their supervisors and are called upon to do immediate changes.

If you begin to make too many changes before you’ve earned trust, now you run the risk that not only do they not trust you, but they are not sure they can trust your judgment.  (Others often view the leader’s judgment along with the results; if you push something before you gain trust and it flops, then your judgment falls into question and you’re further set back in your journey to gain their trust.)

OK, here’s how it plays out in practice.  Sometimes it is really necessary to change some things sooner than you’d like.  If your teachers are yelling or disrespecting students, that’s nothing you can wait on.  If you have staff who leave their classes unattended, don’t come to work on time (or at all!) you can’t wait on that either.  If there are practices that a reasonable person would consider to be unsafe, you have to get going on those as well.

Success falls upon the prudent more than the overly-cautious or the impulsive.  Do what must be done, and then gain the necessary trust to do what should be done.

Your staff probably can be divided up into those who are quick to trust, those who may never fully trust, and the overwhelmingly largest group (68%… you know the bell curve) who are waiting to see which of the first two groups are correct!  For those, trust is a function of time, a matter of developing relationships, and observably consistent behavior on your part (i.e.- what you do and what you say match up)

Trust will come (if you are trust-worthy) over time, and then moving the organization forward becomes a much different (and more effective) task.

Funny thing about earning trust… takes much longer to earn than to lose.  Being a person who can be trusted, a leader who seeks the best for her people, a team member who sets aside his personal agenda for the better of the school.. that’s how you can keep trust once you’ve gained it.

On Monday Night (from 8:00-9:00 PM EDT) you can access the first episode of season two of “The New Principal Show.”  Our topic:  Trust and the Principal.

You can join the LIVE show here:  The New Principal Show! LIVE .   If you miss it, you can catch the recording as a podcast here:  Podcast: TNPS! .

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.  All Rights Reserved.

Season Two

The New Principal Show! August 13- Season Two Debut

Being a Principal is the greatest job ever!

AND, it’s really a challenge.

You need to be in conversation with other practitioners.  We provide the opportunity for you to do so without leaving your home.

The New Principal Show! is back for Season Two and begins on Monday, August 13.   From 8-9 PM at this link:

  • We have a LIVE show once each month;
  • Each live show is posted as a podcast the next day at
  • We have additional, new podcasts weekly at the same site.

At the LIVE shows, you have a chance to:

  • interact with other practitioners;
  • use the chat function to talk about topics via text;
  • use the microphone function to talk to others and literally join the conversation;
  • get support and encouragement from others who want you to be successful!

There’s no charge; we aren’t selling anything.  We just want you to do well.

Join us.  Details below, including the schedule for this year!

Season Two


© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.  All Rights Reserved.

The New Principal Show! Season Two Begins August 13

We’re pleased to announce Season Two of “The New Principal Show!”, debuting on Monday, August 13.

Features for Season Two include:

  • Ten Live Shows. Once each month (from August through May), we will host a LIVE show, featuring guests, and providing an interactive opportunity for anyone who joins.  You can reach these shows by joining us at at 8:00 PM, beginning on August 13.  (Full live show calendar listed below);
  • Twenty Additional Podcasts.    Each of our live shows is recorded and uploaded as a podcast at our podcast landing site,  This year we ALSO will be posting twenty additional pre-recorded podcasts for a total of 30 podcasts for this season!   Podcasts also are released on Mondays at 8:00 pm (EDT/EST).
  • We’ll be making releases of our guests in advance of each broadcast, and are excited about the opportunity thirty episodes gives us to have dozens of educational leaders on the show!  More details coming soon.

Join us on Monday, August 13 at 8:00 PM for the season premier.  It’s going to be fun!

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.  All Rights Reserved.


Ten Things To Remember As Teachers Return To School

While I was at dinner, I heard someone in the restaurant, obviously a teacher, talking to a friend in line.  I heard her reply, but context leads me to believe it was the question every teacher is hearing now.

“Are you about ready for school to start?”

The teacher, replied back, “yes, I’m excited to get back to the kids and to have a routine, but I’ll miss my summer!  We go back next week.”

So, if your teachers haven’t returned to school yet, they’re thinking about it.  And others are asking them about it.

For you as the school leader, it’s a time you should be excited about.  These teachers are your stars;  they are the ones who will lead your students to discovery, to curiosity, to knowledge.  You should be as excited for them to return to you as the parents are to send their children back to you and your teachers.

As you prepare for their return, here are Ten Things To Remember about their return to school.

  1. Help All Your Teachers Get Off To An Inspired Start.   You can tell them all of the rules they’ll ever need to know on the first day you have them back, or you can get them excited about what they do and the promise of a new year.  Which method leads to instructional success?
  2. Teach your teachers what you want them to know; don’t just tell them.    It’s easy for you to look at the list of things you want your teachers to know, and the short time you have them to yourself and to try to tell them too much.  Does it really serve you (or them) well for you to try to cover more things than they can digest?  The school year lasts a while; you don’t really need to tell them everything at once.
  3. Together, Design a Great First Day With Students.   What one thing do you want your teachers to focus on in preparation for their first day with their students?  If you take your time with them to prepare them for that goal, will the beginning of school go smoothly?  Are you clear in your description of what you want the first days with students to be?  Painting that picture is important if you want your expectations to be met.  Taking the time to get the FDOS (First Day of School) right will pay dividends all year long.
  4. Atmosphere Contributes to Performance.   If your first days with your teachers seem rushed, over-scheduled, and full of tension, that will set a tone that you may not mean to set.  What if you and your administrative team met your teachers as they entered the school on the first day?  Giving them high-fives and fist bumps like you’d like them to do when their students arrive?  If you model this, would it be more impactful than if you merely told them?
  5. Define the Focus for the Year.   Recently, I heard some nice, wonderful school leaders tell their faculty what the focus would be for the upcoming year.  They then unveiled a powerpoint presentation for over an hour and shared Fourteen Areas of Focus for the upcoming year!!!   My expectations for their success are… very guarded.  If you tell your team fourteen things are important, they may not actually focus on the one that really is the most important. Please don’t say ‘priority’ if you don’t mean it.
  6. Give Your Teachers Space and Time to Connect with Each Other.  Your teachers will be working together, collaboratively, this year.  Don’t forget to give them time to connect and build trust with each other during the first days of school.
  7. Give Special Attention To Your New Teachers.   Who on your administrative team will advocate for each of the new teachers on your staff?  Sure, they have a faculty mentor, but on your team, who will shepherd each of them through the first days?  If you are checking in on them (in person) a couple of times each day during pre-planning and the first days, you’ll set the tone that you aren’t going to leave their success to chance and that you are going to be there for them.
  8. Be Rested and Ready for the Teachers’ First Day.    Here’s an idea worthy of your consideration:  do all of the planning for your teachers’ return, and on the night before they arrive, get refreshed for the next day.  (Exercise, walk, do something non-school;  then get a good night’s sleep)  Before you start shaking your head “NO!”, hear me out, please:  You have to stop your preparation for the teachers’ return sometime.  Stop it with enough time to get yourself to your best as they arrive.  If you are full of energy that first day, you set the tone in a good way.  If you are dragging on their first day, it’ll do the opposite.
  9. Focus on the Good.    Chances are that most of what you plan for the teachers’ first day will go well… but chances are something may not go as you planned.  This is a time when your teachers will see how you respond in such a scenario.  Is it better for them to see you adapt gracefully or to respond fretfully to the unplanned or unexpected?   If the food for breakfast arrives later than you planned, you can let it ruin your day, or you can keep your focus on the good.  And there’s lots of good on the first day for teachers.
  10. Take Time for Your People.   Will your school get off to a better start with you getting around the building and seeing all of your people on their first day(s) back?  How you spend your time on those first days shows others your focus, and the winning hand in school leadership is always a focus on leading your teachers.


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!

[podbean type=audio-square resource=”episode=shs6j-70f1de” skin=”1″ auto=”0″ height=315 ]


© 2018 Mark D. Wilson

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

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

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.


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?