PRINCIPAL TRAINING 101
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROGRAM ADVOCACY WITH YOUR ADMINISTRATION
written by Gary Rupert, Leadership Coach & Culture Strategist for ||:Leaders Creating:||
Teach long enough and you will undoubtedly have the opportunity to work with a number of different school Principals. Each will come with his or her own agenda, experience, and educational philosophy. Some will have an academic focus while others will be more student oriented. Some will be optics driven while others will stay focused on their agenda despite the optics. Some will stay in their office and allow you to do your job, while others will attempt to micro-manage you, attempting to keep their hand in everything that is going on. If you are fortunate, you will have a Principal who is aligned with your philosophies and actively supports your efforts. I would like to tell you this is the norm, but it is not. Perhaps the greatest challenge in education is working with an administrator who has little or no understanding of what you do or how you do it. If you find yourself in that situation, it is time for Principal Training: 101.
Experience has taught me that generally speaking, Principals will fall in one of the following areas:
The High Expectations/Highly Supportive Principal is clearly my favorite administrator. He/she challenges you to meet the highest of standards and gives you all the tools and support necessary to achieve them. The High Expectations/Minimally Supportive Principal challenges you to meet the highest of standards but fails to give you the necessary tools and support for success. The Low Expectations/Highly Supportive Principal asks little and is typically supportive of your efforts if you are not rocking the educational boat. And of course, the Low Expectations/Minimally Supportive Principal asks little, gives little, and gets little.
It is quite easy to identify each of these levels of administrator and equally easy to complain about it. But neither of these insights impact change. When I was still actively teaching, I would tell my students that if they wanted better teachers, they needed to be better students. They needed to go to class and behave in a manner that requires the teacher bring his or her “A” game. When students show up on time, work hard, stay focused, become engaged in classroom discussions, etc. they are training their teachers to be better. In a similar way, if teachers want better Principals, they must become better educators.
Here are some ways you can inform, engage, and challenge your Principal, no matter where they are on the Expectation/Support scale.
Seek first to understand and then be understood — One of my best experiences with an administrator, and not coincidentally favorite teaching experiences, developed through numerous conversations the Principal and I had on educational philosophy. We talked often, and at length, regarding numerous issues the school was facing. These conversations allowed us to each have a deep understanding of the other’s concerns, philosophy, and vision, ultimately resulting in a wonderfully supportive teaching environment.
Never go to voice your concerns regarding an issue without also having some idea of how to resolve it — While you may not agree on your solution, it will demonstrate that you have given some serious thought to the issues and are open to a discussion on solutions….not blame.
Keep your Principal informed — Don’t assume he/she is going to know what is happening in your program. Take the time to share student work, examples of student growth, increased numbers of student involvement, etc. Experience has taught me that the more informed a Principal is, the more likely they will develop a stronger interest and investment. Just remember the age old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Don’t try to garner support for your program at the expense of another school program — Present a desire to find a way to meet the needs of your program without negatively impacting other programs. Also, be willing to actively support the needs of others if it does not negatively impact your program.
Be willing to support school initiatives when possible — When another department has a legitimate need, be an advocate for them. They will return the favor in the future. When school safety became an issue, I was willing to step up and monitor parking lots before school. Remember, you are a part of a team.
Invite engagement in your program — Have a Principal who played in band in high school or college? Ask them to sit in on a rehearsal or better yet, play in your concert. Perhaps they would even be willing to serve as a guest conductor. Not musical? Invite them to be the narrator for a song or just drop by and listen to a rehearsal. I had one Principal who just needed some time to unwind so I offered her an open invitation to come to the band room and listen to the kids rehearse. She took advantage of that opportunity often, entering quietly and sitting for five or ten minutes before leaving.
School Principals have a very demanding job. They must answer to System Administrators, Parents, Teachers, and students. It is unlikely they will be able to remain adequately invested in all the school programs. It is also unlikely that their educational philosophies and vision will adequately meet the needs of everyone. As Band Directors, we have an opportunity to identify where our Principals fall on the Expectations/Support scale. Then we have the responsibility to advocate for our students and programs by helping our Principals to be informed, invited, engaged, and invested in what we are doing. In doing so, we will be better teachers, and by extension, our Principals will be better as well.
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Gary L. Rupert was a music educator for 40 years and was most recently the Band Director at Smithsburg High School in Smithsburg, Maryland where his bands consistently achieved Superior ratings at local, state and national levels. He is a sought-after conductor and adjudicator in the areas of symphonic bands and jazz ensembles. An avid blogger whose daily entries are followed by people in over 57 countries, Mr. Rupert is the author of a daily inspirational book for students and teachers, “Today, No Every Day.” He is also a sought after speaker on leadership, motivation and creating a positive learning environment.
Gary Rupert has been named an Outstanding Maryland Music Educator, a Teacher of Excellence in both the Frederick and Washington County public schools, and has been twice nominated as a Disney Teacher of Excellence.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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