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Monday, July 18, 2011

Ten things I have learned Part 3: Great principals do make a difference

My Father-in-law was a woodwork teacher for 30 years and always said, principals come and go, but a great staff will always weather administrative changes. While I agree with him, I believe a great principal can be transformative to a school, staff and student population. This blog post is about 2 principals in particular: Chris Kennedy and Scott Robinson. Both made a huge, positive impact in my life and maybe I can share a little about what was so special about them.

My top 5 Chris and Scott Principal characteristics::
  1. Give Trust
  2. Have a Vision
  3. Willing to make the tough call
  4. Ability to look beyond yourself and see what is best for the school
  5. Remove obstacles to learning
1. Give Trust
From everything I have seen in my 10 years of teaching, great leaders give trust. Simple as that statement is, I believe it is the foundation for everything else. With trust comes the willingness of others to take risks and chances. Without the trust that was given to me, I couldn't have started Digital Immersion or become the Science department head or professional development chair.

2. Have a Vision
A vision gives structure. Its allows goals to be reached and helps you get there. The process that Chris brought to Riverside helped us heal some old wounds, find common ground on which to grow and give us a goal to obtain. He brought in Christina Merkley (a graphic facilitator) to go through what turned out to be almost a cleansing with the staff. What does cleansing have to do with vision? Well, you have to air your dirty laundry before you can move on. What was accomplished was Riverside's 8 bold steps. After 6 years and accomplishing what we set out to do, we are in the process of our next vision.
Riverside 2005-2011 Vision
3. Willing to make the tough call
Scott's greatest attribute (in my opinion) was the ability to make the tough call. He always made his decisions with an understanding and thoughtfulness which humbled me. When he asked for input, he listened and this often changed the outcome. But when push came to shove, he wasn't afraid to make the decision that had to be made. Scott's actions spoke volumes about his character and integrity and while I didn't agree with his every call, I respected him for making them. And looking back... they were right.

4. Ability to look beyond yourself and see what is best for the school
This is for everyone, not just those arm-chair principals out there... sometimes you have to leave your ego at the door. I struggle with this (my motto is "I'm kind of a big deal")... I think we all do, especially at the secondary level. We see our little world and often have very little understanding of the big picture. Before you barrel into something ... ask. Trust me... there will be a reason. In saying that, transparency... goes a long way.

5. Remove obstacles to learning
The most important thing I can say... Great Principals (re: Chris and Scott) do one thing above all else: Remove obstacles to learning. These are the million little things, if done, no one will notice and your school will run as it should. But if you forget or neglect them... they will bite you faster than a piranha on a feeding frenzy. These range from the simple (like making sure all doors are open), to the insanely complicated (like 1701 stuff and Bill 33 consultations). Like invisible discipline in a classroom, removing obstacles is rarely seen or appreciated... but essential for teachers and students to be best they can be.

Both Scott and Chris have moved on to superintendent roles (Chris is the CEO of West Van and Scott is the
Assistant Super in Richmond) but they have left an indelible mark open all of us at Riverside. They were great leaders and more importantly they were both mensch. They did these 5 things with integrity and humanity, and that more than anything, set them apart.

1 comment:

  1. This is a well written post. I agree, "Great principals do make a difference."

    30 years of teaching have given experience with many principals. Some were easy going, others more by-the-book formal, and some were in between. It didn't matter where the principals were in that scale, it was very much in line with your five points as to how successful I would have seen them.

    In my personal opinion, my most highly rated principals were very different. One was very formal and the other easy going yet they had in common the trust of their staff and clear ideas of where the school should be headed. Both were willing to make the tough calls and also allow teachers to develop their abilities knowing they were supported.

    On arriving at a new school, I was able to quickly get a feel for the school. The approach of the principal in greeting me helped gain first impressions. Subsequent interaction with other staff reinforced some of the impressions and allowed me to adjust others.

    The effect of the principal was most marked when a new principal arrived. The feel of the school changed as the school adjusted.

    Ross Mannell

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