In India there is a saying “Naya Maulvi zyada Allah, Allah karta hai;” the new priest invokes and proclaims God’s name much more than do the older ones.
First-Time Principals, especially if they have been appointed at a youngish age and/or have come from another school, could fit this description. I talk from experience, I was asked to head a school at 25. Some observations and advice:
Top Ten Things I would Do (when you reach the end don’t forget to download the inspirational story by Chinua Achebe)
1) Start by meeting every member of staff: Yes, every member. Teacher to Administrator to Janitor. Ask them what they like about school and what they didn’t. What could improve? What made them come to work here every morning. Make it personal– if you strike a rapport ask after their families. Its nice to be cared for.
2) Talk to at least 10% of the kids: Make sure you cover every age-group, have an good mix of boys and girls, of the studious ones and of the jocks.
Doing A & B above may take you 3 months or more. The information you gain from these conversations will give you years of vicarious learning.
3) If you haven’t done already, find out what your school board expects from you and the school. if you disagree on something, NOW is the time to tell them. Meet the parents council. Write to the rest of the parents. Tell them about yourself. Tell them you want to listen. Ask them to write. When they do, respond politely, but don’t rush action.
4) Reflect. If you’ve been keeping a journal as a teacher, read it. Find out what bugged you about Principals and administrators and resolve not to do any of those things.
5) Dream. Make a plan for what the school will look like 6 months from now. 12 months from now. 5 years from now.
6) Dream. Make a plan for what the school will feel like 6 months from now. 12 months from now. 5 years from now. Is it a place radiating with happiness? Smiling faces? Interested parents? Committed teachers?
7) Sweat the small stuff. Get into the details. Make a note of every little thing you want to see at the school. Every change you want to make, every practice you want followed, every value you would like cherish, every attitude you’d like honoured. Write it. Flesh it out. If it takes 50 pages or even a 100 to express- Do it.
8 ) Communicate your 10, 20, 50 page vision in One Page. Yes 1 Page. Then Distribute it to every member of your school.
9) Track your vision document. See how you are doing. If you don’t track it, you won’t achieve it.
10) Smile! You can enjoy anything you aren’t having fun doing!
Some other things to keep in mind
a) Don’t re-invent the wheel: You aren’t the first ones facing the challenges you are facing. Find support- ask other Principals. Read. Research. The answers are out there.
b) Don’t be in a hurry to Change: We may find things that are not working as we think they should. We believe there is a better way. But don’t brandish your diktat on the school in your early days. Schools are delicate ecosystems. Understand them before you begin tweaking.
c) Make every interaction and opportunity to convey your vision, your plan. Use every interaction to make sure you leave people better than you found them.
d) Don’t always take their word for it. Apply judgement. New Principals are often told they don’t know ‘how it works around here’ or worse ‘how it always has worked around here.’ Before you create negative perceptions about anything on anyone based on this information try and find out more.
e) Its OK not to know everything. Nobody does. I didn’t, but in the initial days I pretended to. Then I realised it was better to accept, learn from others and in sum, come up with a better idea.
If you have made it thus far, congratulations. As a young Principal, I could never have listened to someone else so patiently. After all, I did think I knew everything and was going to change the world!
However, if there is one thing you must take away from this post, it should be the story “Dead Man’s Path” by Chinua Achebe. You can download that story here. It is the story of a Young Principal, his over-inflated sense of self, his disenchantment with the ‘old ways of teaching’ and a disregard for tradition that leads to a sad end. The best work of fiction on school administration I have ever read.
Love for all of you to add to this post with comments and tips!