Listening is especially important advice for first-time principals or for principals who are new to a school. It is important for any new administrator to gather input from those who have been on staff at the school for some time. Ask [the staff] about what is working in the school and what is not. Meet with people individually, talk with them, get some insight and don’t try to change everything overnight.
Let the school’s faculty know up front that you intend to spend some time assessing the situation. Get in and learn how the school works before making any major changes. Some of the things you think would never work may be great ideas that work for that school.
Remember the school ran OK before you got there, and it will run OK after you leave. Many individuals guide the ship. Find them and solicit their thoughts. Those individuals include the school custodian, the secretary, the bus driver, the pastor, and even the kid who’s always in your office for being in trouble.
Spend most of your time listening to staff, students, and parents. Get concerns out in the open, and be as accessible as possible. Save paperwork until the end of the day when things have quieted down so that you can be visible in classrooms and throughout the school. Make it a priority to visit classrooms every day. It’s amazing how much information you can gather just by being out of your office and approachable.
SHARE YOUR LEADERSHIP
Don’t forget that there’s a wealth of talent around you. The Holy Spirit didn’t give you all of the wisdom. We each got just a piece of the wisdom and we are therefore larger than the sum of our parts. Staff members who are well known in the community might request volunteers or donations for school events; those who are good organizers could be tapped to organize an after-school parent activity, a Family Math Night, a carnival, or an ice-cream social. Good Principals find out what people’s talents are and put them to work for the good of the children and the school. Even disgruntled employees have talents, and approaching them for their help just might turn them around. Everyone loves to feel important and needed.
Keep the personal in personnel. Remember at all times that you are dealing with people and feelings. Support your staff. Teaching is hard work.
Don’t try to do it all yourself. God is in community – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If he can’t do it alone what would make any of us think we can .Give the teachers everything you can to help them do their job; then get out of the way and let them do it. Remember, it’s better to give than to receive. Give them compliments. Share victories. Give them credit.
FIND A MENTOR … AND MORE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT ADVICE
A true mentor is not just someone assigned by the regional superintendent. The mentor is there when needed to discuss issues, offer advice, bounce ideas, and help you with making decisions.
Be sure to educate the clergy in your service area to the mission, vision and goals of the school. Ask the pastors in your service area – how you can better serve them. I believe the Church has a mission and therefore we have schools. You are about the mission of the Church – your success – is the success of the Church.
Think about the characteristics of your principalship and how you want your tenure at the helm to be described. Write it down. Keep it where you can see it every day, on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator, for example. Read it every day, then go do it!
Read the book, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber. It was recommended to me and one help book I always recommend to parents, teachers, and administrators.
Make sure that time with God and your family is listed as an important priority appointment on your calendar. Don’t let a day pass where you ignore yourself, your prayer life and your family. If you fail to feed your soul you won’t be able to feed the teachers or your family.
DON’T FORGET THE KIDS!
Every principal knows it, but some forget it as they get caught up at their desk. It is impossible to lead the spiritual and academic formation of children from your desk. Ask yourself am I spending my time in the best interest of student formation.
Most of the successful Catholic school principals I know had their character stretched early in their tenure as a principal.. There will be days you probably will question everything about yourself and your abilities. This is normal and it has the wonderful potential of causing tremendous personal growth.
And while you will feel days of joy and the rewards will be great, you will also feel days of despair and times you will be overwhelmed. In those dark hours give it over to Jesus. You are not alone – he is always with you as you are laboring together as partners in HIS Father’s business.
May the blessed Mother watch over you and your school community throughout the days and nights of the 2015-2016 school year. Please be assured of my prayers for you, your family, faculty, school parents and students.
Steve Virgadamo is an educator and school administrator filled with a missionary zeal for contributing to education reform. Currently, he serves as the Associate Superintendent for Leadership at the Archdiocese of New York and he encourages every Catholic School Leader to consider the advice he offers above.