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12 Things School Leaders Should Stop Doing Today

A couple of weeks ago I was part of a group discussion where a building principal shared that he had been called to the superintendent’s office.  You could tell by the tone in his voice that he was a bit nervous about why his superintendent had requested the meeting. He shared that it wasn’t the first time he had been called in to have “a talk.” This got me to thinking how often we behave in similar ways (both intentionally and unintentionally) as building and district leaders when it comes to managing conversations and our decisions, and the negative impact this can have on the overall culture of any organization. Please know I share these with you because at one time or another I have acted in the manner I describe below, even though my intentions were to want to be better, not only for members of my school community, but for my growth as a leader.  As I grew and matured into the role of a building principal, I did my best to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them, knowing full well I would fall short at times.

As a building or district leader, here are a few things you might want to consider stopping today.  Let’s begin by addressing the scenario above:

STOP:

  1. Calling staff to your office without offering some explanation of what the meeting will entail. This causes a person’s anxiety level to increase because from the moment they receive notice, their mind will begin to swirl with possibilities of what the meeting is about. And in most cases, people will think the worse.
  2. Giving excuses when you fail to follow up. Understand that when you don’t get back to people in a timely fashion it gives others the impression that you are not organized or in some instances, that their needs are not important to you.
  3. Holding faculty meetings for the sake of just holding them. Unless you have a specific purpose to bring your team together, considering passing on the meeting and showing them how much you value their time by giving it back to them.
  4. Talking negatively about your staff to other staff. Speaking negatively about others actually says more about you than it does about the people you are singling out. Besides, you are kidding yourself if you think that won’t get back to those who you are gossiping about.
  5. Allowing the adults in your school to bully other staff. This is one of the biggest issues facing school improvement initiatives today.  We cannot cultivate a high-performing learning environment in our schools if staff is intimidating their own colleagues through their words or actions.  This type of negative behavior should never be tolerated and must be addressed.
  6. Using the word “they” when” referring to other members of your school community, especially when things are not going well or we are not happy about an outcome. Focus more on “we” when celebrating something positive or trying to work through any significant challenge.
  7. Making assumptions. It is never a good idea to go into a conversation or a situation believing you know more than you actually do. This has all the potential to create trust issues so avoid doing so at all costs. If you want to know what the issue or dilemma is really about, simply ask before you respond.
  8. Getting frustrated when you think people are not following your directions to your level of expectation. Begin by asking yourself if you provided enough clarity. In other words, were your directions as clear as they could have been? If not, own it, regroup, and try again, this time focusing on more specifics of what you want.
  9. Expecting everything to go as planned. Working in schools can sometimes be unpredictable because the variables (students and teachers) are always changing. How you conduct yourself in these moments will either inspire of deflate your team.
  10. Responding to harsh and not so complimentary emails you receive with an email of your own. Recognize that these moments of frustration, blame or accusatory language expressed in written form by others who are not happy is often more about other external factors and has nothing to do with you. So don’t assume or make it about you (see #7). Pick up the phone and call the person and ask, “What can I do to ease your frustration or disappointment?”
  11. Asking your staff for feedback and then not doing anything with the feedback. If your staff gets frustrated because they don’t think you did anything with the feedback and you think you did, then reflect on how you could have communicated more effectively so they would know the progress you were making with the information they provided you. By taking action and communicating your progress, you will get people to be more invested and honest in their feedback because they believe that something positive is going to come from it.
  12. Trying to manage and lead the school all by yourself. You cannot sustain this pace and do it effectively for any length of time. If you try, it will come at a heavy price – your health or your family. Both options are a loser deal for you.

There isn’t a day that goes by in the work of a school or district leader that is free of challenges. The never-ending stream of problems and challenges that flows across our paths during the course of an entire school year can leave even the most positive and passionate leaders feeling exhausted and depleted. It is easy to get sucked into the daily trivialities that drain our energy and overwhelm us with a laundry list of things to do. So what can you do to provide yourself with a little relief in order to stay fresh and energized in hopes of offering some of that positive energy to others?

Maybe we are thinking about it all wrong. Rather than ask what can we start doing, perhaps a better question would be to ask, “What should I stop doing?”

What thoughts do you have? I would love to hear about them.

 

 

Comments
  • Bruce Mellesmoen
    2 months ago

    Jimmy,
    As I am beginning my journey as a building principal, I love reading what you have presented here. Today I caught myself complaining to a colleague about some of the frustrations at work, not about a teacher or a student, but about the seemingly never ending “issues” that keep popping up. After spending the lunch break outside with the kids, I reminded myself of how lucky I am to get to do what I do each day, and how blessed I am that I have been trusted with this immense responsibility. I went back to that colleague and apologized for being so negative, I think she really appreciated that.
    Also, in point #7, you suggest one never assumes, and I agree, however something that helps me is going into conversations with a positive presupposition. I think this conveys a level of trust and belief in the staff that I work and learn with.
    Thank you for the great post! It’s amazing advice like this that helps us “rookies” navigate these, sometimes rough waters.

  • Ben Gilpin
    2 months ago

    Terrific thoughts, Jimmy!

    My favorite… “I did my best to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them, knowing full well I would fall short at times.”

    I think this sums me up. I appreciate you putting your thoughts into words. This is sound advice moving forward.

    Thank you!

  • Martin Thomas
    2 months ago

    Spot on. We can all be reminded by these points. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ellen Afromsky
    2 months ago

    So refreshing to hear,. As a teacher I was routinely on the receiving end of or witnessed the negatives. Unfortunately they are more the norm.

  • Sarah Paquette
    2 months ago

    Great post! Coming off WGEDD and Future Ready conferences I am super pumped about the relationship building that I am working on in my building. I feel better about my days each night and walk into work each day with more pep in my step. I haven’t felt “bogged down” this week and I know it’s because my energies have been focused on what matters…my people! Love #7 too! Thank So Jimmy!

  • Jen Jones
    2 months ago

    Jimmy, your posts always hit close to home. Thank you for speaking from your heart. These are important concerns and as a teacher and aspiring future administrator, I truly appreciate your guidance.

  • Allyson Gordon
    2 months ago

    Jimmy,
    You give great advice – esp. #1. My former assistant principal was a good friend and notorious for making the subject line of her emails “See Me”. She usually just had a simple question or just wanted to tell me some important info about special ed. I politely suggested she reconsider the subject line of her emails because she made staff
    have unnecessary heart attacks. I had a great principal who was good at distributing leadership roles among teachers. This gave all of us a chance to take ownership of more than just our classrooms, and I know it helped him to not be overwhelmed with so many duties. He also shared his goals for himself each year, which inspired me in my own goal setting as a teacher.

  • Keith Schoch
    2 months ago

    Great list for administrators! Regarding the list items which address change, I would recommend school leaders check out the book Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Rather than be frustrated by what they feel is their teachers’ unwillingness to change, leaders should, as you suggest, reflect on how clearly they have articulated expectations, and how effectively they have created an environment to allow those changes to happen.

  • Bill Powers
    2 months ago

    Fantastic post Jimmy!
    Many of these I wish I had done earlier in my career. Would have saved me lots of problems I caused myself.
    Thanks for your continued guidance and leadership. I appreciate you!

  • Adi Madden
    2 months ago

    As a new administrator looking for ways to successfully transform a troubled school culture, this article comes at a perfect time and will be saved and revisited frequently to serve as a candid reminder of what contributed to the current climate.

  • Dan Cox
    2 months ago

    Sage advice, Jimmy. Thanks for the reminders!

  • Chad Rex
    2 weeks ago

    Stop enabling excuses and find ways to empower team members/staff.

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