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What I’ve learnt as a 21st Century Principal

What I’ve learnt as a 21st Century Principal

Congratulations! You’ve just accepted a new principal’s position for the new academic year. How exciting! I bet you’re feeling great.

But what now?

What about the things you don’t know!

What about the difficulties you’ll face!

That little voice inside your head is saying…

How can I get everyone on board with the school’s vision? How can I keep my teachers inspired and motivated? How can I support my teachers to meet the needs of all learners? How can I implement change effectively? How can I help those teachers who are stuck in the past? How can I keep up with new educational trends and innovations? How can I focus on what really matters? What do I prioritize as most important to improve student learning? How can I think strategically and plan for the future of learning at our school? OMG, I’m already overloaded!

I started my first principal’s position in 2000 and like you I was very excited. A new millennium and a new beginning for me, I thought. Well, I made my share of mistakes along the way but luckily I had a growth mindset most of the time and learnt a great deal.

I was offered a new principal’s position in 2005 and at first I was very reluctant to accept it. You see it was in a country almost 8,000 kms away from my home! Having a growth mindset made me realize I still had a lot more to learn about leadership and life so I accepted the international school leadership position. It was really hard at first, but I loved it and of course continued to learn.

In 2009 I was offered a new leadership position as Head of School at a Kindergarten to Grade 12 International Baccalaureate School and of course I accepted it, because by now I had realized I loved learning and I knew I could make a difference into international education by helping to the students and teachers at my school excel to new heights.

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

Here’s what I’ve learnt 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. Value the actions of your staff. Handwritten notes of appreciation or a quiet personal word of praise are always appreciated and help build team morale.

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.    Develop highly effective and innovative teams. Look for unseen talents in your teachers and utilize them. Empower formal and informal leaders. Trust and delegate responsibility. Our schools need to change to meet the needs of 21st Century learners and your teams can bring about this change.

9.    Establish a professional learning community in your school and always model learning yourself. 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 support your teachers be their absolute best.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Surround yourself with “can-do”, forward thinking people. Do not be afraid to employ people more intelligent than you or with a different personality or learning style to you. Different thinkers often see issues/solutions from different perspectives, which can be very helpful.

13. 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!

14. Celebrate achievements. Student, teacher and school achievements.

15. Be you! Believe in yourself.

16. Have fun!

17. Make the time to reflect on all you achieve each day, each week, each term and each year and consider how you could do it better tomorrow, next week, next term and next year.

18. Consider enlisting the support of a Leadership Coach you admire and trust to help you overcome those nagging limiting beliefs in your head.

19. 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.

Good luck to you as you start your new position. Remember that the Chinese symbol for luck is a combination of preparation and opportunity.

If you feel like you need more preparation why not attend Leadership for the 21st Century an awesome 2-day workshop I’ve designed to prepare a new generation of 21st Century School Leaders or contact me to arrange some 21st Century Leadership Coaching. Why not download my Whitepaper below to give you more ideas about changing your school to meet the needs of students today?


    Download our "Top 3 Challenges Facing School Leaders today" whitepaper and learn how to overcome them.