What Would Help You In Your Professional Growth? Time.

After being a school administrator for fifteen years and beginning my tenth year in full-time support of school leaders next year, I’ve learned a lot about leadership development.

Principals and APs are already short on time. Yes, you want to learn and grow but there are only so many hours in the day? There are a lot of resources on the internet, social media, and other places, but you can spend a lot of time hunting for good, reliable content and not really get it. Or, if you do, you get caught up in the distractions (pop up ads, anyone?) and it takes more time than it ought to.

That’s where The Leadership School can help. We create and curate content in easy-to-search ways. Want to know “How To Lead A Great Parent Meeting”? We can get you to short lessons from active practitioners without ads, distractions, or sorting through page after page on a Google search.

We do the Googling for you. You get to skip to the part where you have the good content.

And, you don’t have to leave your office/home/back porch/wherever you are to get it. That saves you hours of windshield time. We anticipate what you’ll ask, but if you need something we don’t already have? Just ask. We’ll get you content to answer the question quicker than you can fill out a request to go somewhere for Professional Development.

The people behind The Leadership School are lifelong educators who have been helping leaders for decades. We’re here to help you too. Check us out at http://school-leader.com and get what you need. Professional learning on-time every time!

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?




When Principals Have Adequate Support Schools Are More Effective

There are several reasons why some principals are successful and some struggle. The previous week’s blog posts have explored the first seven of those reasons; we conclude this series by looking at an area that ought to be a strength for all principals.

The job of principal is complex, multi-tiered, fast-paced, quickly-changing and often exhausting.  Despite it all, it’s the greatest job you’ll ever have… as long as you get the support you need to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to do it well.

To be honest with you, I’m basically amazed at two things regarding principals and support:  1) that some principals, even now in 2017, don’t have access to the support they need to be successful; and 2) some principals who have access to the support they need fail to take advantage of it. (an even bigger head-shaker)

There was a time that principals could go directly from the interview process into the principal’s office, ready for whatever may come their way and able to onboard with little to no additional support.  Here are three reasons why that isn’t the case anymore:

  1.  The Job is Too Complex To Prepare for Everything In Advance.  In olden days (the 80s, maybe the 90s?) a prospective principal candidate might be able to glean the necessary knowledge and skills in advance of taking the job.  In 2017, the job is too complex and things are changing too rapidly to thoroughly prepare in advance.
  2. The Turnover Rate is Large and Rising.  This is simple math.  We have more new principals entering the position each year.  The impact downstream is that new candidates are reaching the office of assistant principal and then principal with less experience than has been the case in the past.  An abundance of new principals signals that we are in a period when larger numbers of school leaders have less experience than their predecessors. That should mean increased efforts for principal support.  
  3. Principals ALWAYS have needed support.   We didn’t just arrive at the point where principals need support.  We’ve always been there.  Many principals throughout the years have developed their own networks of colleagues with whom to learn.  The decisions you have to make as principal are made better when you leverage the collective experience of a cohort of colleagues.  That’s not new, but what should be new is a universal commitment to supporting principals in their participation in collegial cohorts.

So what should principal support look like? Here’s a framework with a description following the graphic.


The most effective principal support systems have four complementary components:

  1.  Peer Cohort;
  2. One-On-One Coaching; 
  3. Formative Feedback;
  4. Supportive Environment.

Principals are more effective in their work through an intentional combination of these four components.  More about how those four work together in a post next week.

This is a part of an ongoing series of Eight Reasons Why Principals are Successful…or Struggle.  Our first entries were:  1. Preparation; 2. Communication; 3. Leadership; 4. Judgment; 5. Confidence; 6. Time Management; 7. Balance.   Please look at earlier blog entries to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!

#Leadership365   /41

Lead! It’s What Successful Principals Do

One of the differences between successful principals and those who struggle is the capacity to lead.  What does that mean?

Many people who attain the position of principal have gotten there because they can get things accomplished.  They are doers, workers, task-driven and on-time.  Those are great qualities and traits and are important if you’re a principal, but perhaps more important is your ability to get others to be the best they can be.  To collectively build a vision and spread that vision everywhere you go.  To delegate. To empower.  To inspire.  To lead!

When they threw you to the wolves did you come back leading the pack?

One of the shifts that new principals have to make as they move up from their work as the assistant principal is to become the leader.  The truth is, everyone doesn’t like being the leader.  A big realization that you reach as the principal is that your success depends upon your ability to get others to be successful.  You can’t do it alone.  You can’t even manage every piece of it.  You are leading the orchestra, not beating the drum anymore and that is a different skill set, but one that is needed to be the leader.

How do you get to be more effective in “leading”? If you aren’t yet a principal but want to be, seek experiences in which you are able to “be in charge” and to lead.  Make mistakes.  Reflect and learn from them.  The more that you experience, the better you can become. (as long as you have a feedback, reflection, revision loop).

If you’re already a principal, you get better as a leader by spending time with other people who do what you do, or have done what you are doing.  Leadership tends to gravitate towards isolation unless you are intentional about your growth.  Get in a cohort,  learn from other practitioners, talk about it.  Read about leaders and how they are able to get other people to join them in the journey to success.

Bow your neck and let the greatness that resides in you be shown for everyone to see!



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This is part of a series of Eight Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle.  It began on January 30. Please check back over the posts beginning then to see the series in entirety.  Thank you! Mark

Five Traits of Principals Who Communicate Effectively

Communication and the Principal.

As we continue to examine what areas distinguish the successful principals from the struggling ones, communication is near the top of the list.  Nearly everyone who accepts a principalship has good intentions, wants to do a good job, and has previously been successful professionally.  That alone doesn’t guarantee success.

Communicating effectively can be a great pathway to success as a principal.  On the other hand, principals who struggle with communication find the job more difficult than it ought to be. If you get the reputation that you are hard to communicate with or do a poor job of sharing information, it’s difficult to overcome that perception. If others perceive you as a good communicator, however, they develop added confidence to what you say (unless you prove them wrong).

Principals would do well to work at becoming better communicators.   Most everyone thinks they are a good communicator, however, so progress can be stalled by an inaccurate self-appraisal.  One way to measure up and to build a plan for improvement is to consider what the best communicators do.  To that end, let’s look at five traits of principals who communicate effectively. 

Five Traits of Principals Who Communicate Effectively

1.  Listens to Understand:  When you are the leader, everyone wants a minute of your time.  The most effective leaders really listen to others (rather than formulate your response while they’re talking).  More than that, you go beyond the question or concern to the reason behind it.  When you listen to understand, you are interacting with your people; the you listen to reply you are merely responding to them.  It’s the subtleties that make the difference between struggling and successful leaders.

2.  Values and Respects Others: You may have 150 conversations during the course of work hours but to those who speak with you, it might be their most important conversation of the day.  Their time with you might be the subject of dinner conversation at home or the first thing they share with their significant other. The most effective leader embraces the role and makes interactions with faculty, staff, students, and parents important.  This is an inside-out action; you have to first value and respect others in a genuine way to be able to communicate with them as such.  They will know from your tone, your level of attention, and how you speak with them.  And, if they believe you value and respect them they will be more likely to join you on your school’s journey to success.

3.  Speaks Well, Not Ill of Others:  Speaking negatively of others is an invitation for your team to do the same.  If you, however are caught speaking well about other people, it shows that you notice and that you care. 

4.  Communicates Clearly and Concisely:  The leader can often have the burden of knowing too much.  All of the things that we are asked to initiate at our schools are complicated and voluminous.  We do well when we filter all of the things we know into bite-size portions that our teachers can swallow.  The most effective leaders also proofread and have others read their work for clarity.  It ALWAYS makes sense in your head; will it make the same sense in someone else’s?

5.  Shares Information in a Timely and Appropriate Manner:  Teachers don’t like surprises unless they are chocolate covered.  Keep information flowing in a timely way.  When we get information distributed timely and effectively, it helps our team grow confidence in our leadership.  When we are getting important things out at the last minute all the time, our teachers begin to wonder about our ability to steer the ship.  Little things get to be big things.


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This is part of a series of Eight Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle.  It began on January 30. Please check back over the posts beginning then to see the series in entirety.  Thank you! Mark

Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions: Principals Need All for Success

The job of school principal is a significant  one for the life of the school.  It brings with it immense responsibility, massive work load, and daily unpredictability.  Despite the challenges, it is (in my opinion) the greatest job you will ever have as long as you are prepared for it.

If you’re already a principal, you may have just chuckled thinking about how no one can really prepare you for the unexpected things that come your way in the fast-paced flurry of being a principal.  While you could never replicate all of the things that will happen to you as a principal, you can prepare for the position, and most importantly continue to grow as you reach the principal’s office.

During my career, I worked as a school-level administrator for fifteen years and am now in my fifth year in a support role for principals, assistant principals and a trainer for those who aspire to be school leaders.  What I’ve learned is the individuals who become successful in the role of principal have the knowledge to do the job, the skills to get things done, and the dispositions to be successful regardless of the circumstances.

Conversely, the people who struggle have a gap in their capabilities in one or more of those areas.  You wouldn’t think that candidates with a hole in their knowledge of the job would get the position, but the constant turnover rates often lead systems to select the best candidate available which may not be everything they want.  If you are playing catch-up, gaps in knowledge are the easiest of the three performance areas to tackle.  After all, there is a lot to know!  Some things you need to know as principal aren’t accessed on a daily basis from the assistant principals role (I almost always hear of APs wanting to know more about budgeting).  Systems that build intentional pipelines to the principalship are more successful in helping their individuals be intellectually prepared for the position.

10-skills-for-effective-school-leadersThe list of skills you need to be a successful school leader is a long one.  NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) created such a list in 2010 and has revised it since.  They arranged the skills of effective school leaders in these categories:  Educational Leadership, Resolving Complex Problems, Communication, and Developing Self and Others.  The degree to which the principal is skillful in those areas can be predictive of her/his success as the leader.  When principals struggle, it can often be tracked to those areas, particularly communication and leadership.  You have to be able to get people to see the vision, join the journey and commit to excellence.  Some people are better than others at doing those things, and prior experience in “being in charge” and leading others is good preparation for the principalship.

Finally, success or struggle as the principal often comes down to dispositions– your attitudes and your habits.  The job of principal if done well is one involving and including others at a deep level.  It requires a motivator, a connector, a consensus builder, a conveyor of hope and high expectations.  The pace of the school comes from the leader and this is the toughest of the three performance dimensions on which to work.  Real change comes from inside and only when you make the decision to change. A good attitude alone isn’t enough to be successful, but it can be the difference maker to help you as you grow in your knowledge and your skills.

More on what makes principals successful tomorrow!

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This is part of a series of Eight Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle.  It began on January 30. Please check back to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!



8 Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle

Around 25,000 principals separate from their school at the end of each year, leaving schools in constant states of turnover.  Around half of all school principals depart their school by the end of their third year, and only about one out of four high school principals make it through year five.  We are in a state of principal churn, and our schools and students are the ones who feel the negative effects.  The principal is attributed to about 25% of the school’s impact on student achievement and the most effective principals are worth months of learning to the average student at their school.  Leadership matters and we have lots of turnover in the position across the country.

This week we’re taking a look at what we can do to stop the principal churn.  Today, we introduces seven reasons why principals are successful in their principalship.  They are also the same seven reasons why principals struggle.

  1.  Preparation.  There are three performance dimensions to the principal’s job:  knowledge, skills, and dispositions.  When the leader is prepared in each of those three areas good things are going to happen.  When there is a hole in any or all of those areas, however, it often comes to light quickly.  The principals who are able to be successful in the job are better prepared for it; those who struggle get to the job without being ready for it either because of lacking skill sets (able to bring others together to work effectively), knowledge base (unfamiliar with special education laws, lack of familiarity with curriculum), or leadership dispositions (not able to relate to others, failure to build relationships).
  2. Communication.  Principals who are effective communicators are able to spread the vision and help others improve in their work.  They are good listeners first and are skillful in motivating teachers and staff to do their best.
  3. Leading.  Principals have to be able to have tough conversations.  They have to be willing to make decisions for the best of the school and the students even when they know that it won’t make everyone happy.  The most effective leaders are able to get others to join them in the journey to success. Struggling leaders try to to it all alone.
  4. Judgment.  Everyone is assessing you as a leader in three categories:  your judgment, your treatment of others, and your results.  Often if your results are good, your judgment will be considered good as well, but if your results are faltering your judgment will come into question.  How do you have good judgment?  Through experience.  You either gain that by making your own mistakes or by trusting others who have made them in their experience.  It’s good to listen.
  5. Confidence.  Just as students can smell fear in a new teacher or a substitute, the teachers can tell whether you are a confident leader or not.  Those who are doubting themselves give room for others to doubt them as well. Too much confidence is a problem as well, but not enough is worse.  People don’t want to follow those who aren’t strong enough to lead.
  6. Time Management.  Time management is hard on everyone.  The truth is, this job is going to take more of it than you have.  So, it’s not about that, but rather about knowing what has to be done and then getting to what should be done.  The most effective principals utilize staff and are experts in delegating.  Those who tend to micromanage and are controllers have difficulty in leadership positions.
  7. Balance.  Connected with time management is balance.  Principals who work too much and are preoccupied with their jobs think they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, but either burn out, crash, or lose their effectiveness.  The most effective principals have a hobby, spend time with family and friends regularly, and are able to give their brains the space and time needed to process all of the work they do the rest of the time.
  8. Support Network.  For new principals, the winning formula is:  1:1 leadership coaching on a regular basis; regular and consistent participation in a cohort of peers; real-time feedback from the supervisor of principals throughout the year; and finally, a supportive environment from the system level.

Thanks for reading!  This is a lot and we’ll break them down one at at time over the next few posts.  ~MW

Here’s a link to the School Leaders Network 2014 Report:  https://connectleadsucceed.org/churn_the_high_cost_of_principal_turnover


#Leadership365  /31

Setting Principals Up For Success: What Works?

Being a principal is a challenging job requiring deep knowledge in a number of areas, expert skills in everything from communication to talent evaluation, and a never-bending attitude of hope and high expectations to drive it all.  Piece of cake.

The most effective school systems are intentional in their preparation, their pipeline to leadership, and their ongoing support of their principals.  Some systems, however, either aren’t able to provide the resources to do so, or haven’t made it a priority yet.

gaelThis afternoon (Monday, January 30, 2017) I’ll be leading a session at the GAEL (Georgia Association of Educational Leaders) Winter Conference on the topic.  What I hope to lend to the conversation and to the thinking of those in attendance (and also share with readers of this column) is a combination of research and practice.  This is my thirtieth year in education, fifteen of which were as a school-level administrator and now in my fifth year in support of school leaders as coach, consultant, speaker and encourager.

Through those experiences, I’ve been able to see what sets up principals for success… and what sets them up for failure.

Let’s start with some numbers.  We all know that nearly half of all teachers leave the profession during their first five years of service.  Clearly that has an adverse effect on what we are able to accomplish in schools.  Consider this though… we lose about the same percentage of principals (~50%) in nearly half the time!  According to the 2014 School Leaders Network on Principal Turnover, only half of principals remain at their school beyond their third year.  The turnover is more frequent at middle school than at elementary school, and even more so in high schools.  As a matter of fact, in Texas, only one out of every four high school principals are expected to be around at graduation to shake hands with their first class of freshmen.

This sort of turnover is in great part why we can’t gain the momentum that we need for schools to be successful in a  sustainable fashion.  It typically takes five years to fully develop an actionable vision at a school, one that can be sustained after the leadership has moved on.  Compare that with the low retention rate (25,000 principals will depart their school at the end of this school year nationally) and it explains much of our dilemma.  In more schools than not, we aren’t seeing principals remain long enough to make it work, and not even close to staying long enough to make it stick.

At Morgan County High School in Madison, GA, we were a nationally-recognized, high-performing school… with only two principals in a generation.  My predecessor, Andy Ainslie, served as the principal for 9 1/2 years; I followed him with 9 years of service as well.  That sort of stability provides the opportunity for real growth.

So, what works to get principals set up for success? In short, it’s this:  recruitment to leadership, a pipeline of preparation, and ongoing support.  More about this the rest of this week right here at Principal Matters!  

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