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16 Success Tips for New 21st Century Principals

16 Success Tips for New 21st Century Principals

You’ve just accepted a new Principal’s position. You’re excited! You’ve worked hard for years to prepare. You feel awesome but also just a bit nervous.

What about the things you don’t know! What about the challenges you’ll face! Are you second guessing yourself?

When I started my first Principal’s position I was very excited. Well, I made my share of mistakes along the way but luckily I had a growth mindset and learnt a great deal.

Every one of my leadership positions has provided me with challenges and difficulties. When I reflect, it was through my most difficult times that I learnt the most.

So here’s my success tips for you as you start out as a new Principal:

  1. Your personal values and integrity are paramount. Know what they are before you start in the position.
  2. Build trust and confidence within your school community.  Be confident and approachable. Spend time to learn the school’s culture, mission and vision. Be visible, ask questions, value what you see and give praise for effective teaching and learning practices.
  3. Be human. Establish caring, professional relationships with teachers, students, parents and board members. Listen carefully to what they are saying to you. Always show you are interested and try to discover if there is an underlying problem or issue that you or your team can solve. Immediate action taken to solve problems is always seen as positive by the school community.
  4. Be inspiring! In your first weeks address teachers, students and parents with speeches about noble educational possibilities, highlighting the school’s vision and mission. Create an enthusiasm and optimism to work together in creating future directions for the school. Continue this focus all through your Principalship.
  5. Value the past. Take the time to learn all that has gone on at the school before you arrived. Learn about the traditions, initiatives, successes and failures of the school.
  6. Remember that you are responsible for everything that happens in your school. Don’t use ‘blame’ in any situation, instead ask yourself  “What is my responsibility with this problem and what strategic thinking or strategic actions can I take to improve the situation?”
  7. Understand that the bottom line in any school is learning and the #1 reason you are there is for the students. Make decisions based on what is best for the students and student learning at all times.
  8. Empower your students to make changes in their voice, choice, contribution, leadership, governance and international partnerships. Support your teachers to guide the empowerment.
  9. Develop highly effective teams; look for unseen talents in your teachers and utilize them. Empower formal and informal leaders. Trust and delegate responsibility. Value the actions of your teachers. Handwritten notes of appreciation or a quiet personal word of praise are always appreciated and help build team morale.
  10. Establish a professional learning community in your school and always model learning. Research best practices for 21st Century teaching and learning and ensure the school has a professional development plan in place for teachers and parents. Quality teaching is the best way to improve student learning so help your teachers be their absolute best.
  11. Ensure you focus on what is important rather than what is urgent every day. Research the school’s strategic plan and focus on what needs to be achieved to improve student learning including student engagement, student motivation and student well-being.
  12. In your first month, collaborate with your executive team to create a one-year action plan based on the school’s strategic plan. Plan 90-day reviews, celebrate your successes and reschedule those goals that were not achieved. It’s ok to be agile and flexible as long as you focus on what it most important.
  13. Surround yourself with “can-do”, forward thinking people. Do not be afraid to employ highly intelligent, creative people or people with a different personality or learning style to you. Different thinkers often see issues/solutions from different perspectives, which can be very helpful.
  14. Define your own personal and professional goals each year. Revisit these goals weekly to keep you focused.  Include health, fitness, rest, renewal and planned adventures in your personal goals as these will help you be alert, focused and creative. You can’t lead others if you can’t lead yourself!
  15. Consider enlisting the support of a Leadership Coach who you admire and trust. It can be lonely at the top!
  16. Remember your ultimate goal is to leave the school in a better place than you found it. Be strategic, work with your school board to create an innovative new strategic plan to drive the school successfully into the future.

If you would like more advice on authentic leadership, change management and innovation in schools why not attend the next Leadership for the 21st Century  or sign up to the online course here.


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