As the only principal of a school with over 550 students from preschool to 5th grade and over 30 teachers, I had struggled to be effective. To this day, my only assistance is a full-time secretary (who is amazing!) and a school counselor in my building for only 2 hours each day (the K-8 school counselor provides services to both the elementary school and adjoining middle school).
My title alone does not automatically guarantee that I’m effective school administrator. I have to rely on various leadership skills and build capacity with the teachers to ensure our school was successful.
Although schools traditionally could be and are sometimes hierarchical places in terms of who is the leader, I personally subscribe to democratic ways of making decisions. Decisions that affect the whole school must include input from those who must execute and enforce certain rules or initiatives. Teachers need to have a voice.
Use Distributive Leadership
I also promote distributive leadership. When I first tried this idea, I created a “Teacher Leadership Team” that consisted of a teacher selected from each grade level to represent that grade level on a variety of issues. This proved to be successful to obtain feedback and make more informed decisions by soliciting honest teacher feedback. However, it also made the other teachers feel disempowered or left out.
To alleviate these feelings and to make a more equitable distribution of decision making among all faculty members, I then created an improved teacher leadership team design. I divided the school concerns into major areas, and created multiple leadership teams to ensure I enlisted each teacher. Each teacher was assigned to one or more teams whose purpose was to use design thinking skills to solve a problem or issue. This proved to be most successful because all teachers were able to have a voice and provide feedback. This is the model I still use today.
Communication, Team Building
I also realized throughout this experience what skills school leaders need most to be successful. Two of the most important skills to possess are communication and team building, which are actually very much intertwined. The “Communication skills” important for a school leader to command are the ability to inform everyone of the overall mission and vision; to provide regular updates and progress along the way; and to seek feedback. In addition, regularly conveying messages of positivity can assist in developing an optimistic climate that teachers and students need to thrive. Also, it is important to take time to celebrate successes and acknowledge the “Wins” with all faculty.
The team building skills that are important for school leaders to retain are many. However, I will highlight the most impactful team building skills that I have realized to be important. First and foremost, always remind faculty about the school’s core values and ensure that they can see the connection of these values in all that you do as a school. Secondly, convey trust in your teachers and give teachers permission to try and fail, which are critical components to improve as educators and as a school. Next, reassure your faculty that you are there to support them by asking what they need and how they feel. This sets the tone that each member feels valued.