Reflecting on how I can improve as a leader

Blog 10 of Spilling Ink challenge (Yes, I know I’m way behind and will likely not catch up to meet the 30 posts in June challenge, but at least I’m blogging more than normal).

There is a lot to celebrate at our school in the changes and progress that has been made since I’ve started as principal. My staff will be the first to tell you that they had 7 years of no leadership so they all did whatever they wanted. (They were also the first to tell me that they weren’t used to being told what to do and it would be a challenge for them!) I really think that the success we’ve had over the past two years can be attributed to my leadership of identifying their strengths and areas of opportunity to improve and communicating that with staff…for the most part they all agreed with what I saw and jumped right on board.

But for this post, I’d like ot take some time to reflect on what I need to improve on as a leader. This may bore others to read, but I’m actually using this as my time to reflect and journal on this, so that I can come back to read this throughout the next school year to remember what I need to improve on.

The first area I feel I need to improve is continuing to build relationships with staff. In the book, People First, the authors recommend taking time for staff relationships, saying that every minute is precious for communicating information. You should take time to get to know each of your staff members and ask them when you can; asking about children, dogs, a trip taken, etc. I’ve found that my superintendent does this very well, she seems to know everything about everybody and they all LOVE her. Even though I have always been a very social person, I struggle with this as a leader, because at work I am always very focused and about business. The idea of taking the time for small talk is definitely out of my comfort zone when it comes to business during a school day, but as I read about the importance of relationships, I realize how much I really do need to take time for it.

As a new principal, I’ve come in and made many decisions (on my own and with staff decisions in the leadership team); but I still need to become stronger in my ability to make decisions and stick with them. I often ask myself, “what hill do I want to die on” and will sometimes let some things go with teachers if I’m just not ready for the “battle.” After completing 2 days of a data retreat in our district (unfortunately, with only a handful of my staff), after hearing what they had to say, I realize how I really need to “grow a spine” in some areas. The overall message I heard from staff is “we want accountability,” “We want all staff to act professionally,” and “we want direction.” I will give 2 examples of issues that I have shyed away from addressing (but have bothered me personally):
#1 Homework-this has been a big issue in our school…with LOTS of it. At the start of this year I led some discussion on homework, gave some research and asked staff to rethink homework. I had about 75% of staff rethink and significantly decrease their homework and speak highly of this change. The other 25% of staff have not made changes and I bet never will unless being told to. This came up in our data retreat. I have decided that I WILL “die on this hill” and give teachers a directive on homework.
#2 Field trips-we have a couple of grade levels that left far too many students behind on field trips. I questioned it (their high expectations of behavior and homework…there’s that H word again!), listened, but didn’t verbalize my thoughts on it. In our data retreat, we discussed how rural we are and how many of our kids are not exposed to anything outside of their small community; making those field trips very important for them. So, do we have grade levels leaving behind 30% of their students because their card was flipped once (our discipline system) or they were missing one assignment? This is also an issue that I WILL address next year.

As I think about why I’ve shyed away from these issues, it is because the teachers that this would involve speaking with are intimidating. This is why I am reading the book “Difficult Conversations” over the summer.

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