After 18 years of being an assistant principal in various schools, I still love my job. But whether you are a new administrator or a seasoned veteran, it is always a challenge to stay current in the ever-changing educational landscape. How do you master the varied roles you are expected to fulfill? Here are four ways that I have honed my leadership skills in my time as a school administrator:
Never Stop Learning
First and foremost, it is critical to be a learning leader and for your school community to see your continuing education. Current technology provides readily accessible knowledge, making it convenient to acquire expertise. Some of the ways you can continue your professional learning include:
- Prepare and teach a targeted lesson to demonstrate a specific teaching technique.
- Partner with teachers and coach them in the use of a new instructional practice in their classroom.
- Add to your professional library by aiming to read one book each month.
- Participate in professional development—virtual or live—with other administrators. Twitter is a great way to accomplish this!
- Develop your experience and expertise working with various tech tools that make the job more efficient. Knowledge of spreadsheet and document merge functions can make short work of huge data analysis projects and data distribution. Learning those skills is as easy as clicking on the “help” tab within the program to access step-by-step instructions. I make regular use of Excel, FileMaker Pro, Google Sheets, and Document Studio to create data reports, charts, and graphs for individual and group student data.
- Research and create professional learning opportunities for your teachers. Create the professional development in a learning management system, then deliver it in person.
- Prepare professional development using a presentation platform: NearPod, Kahoot, HaikuDeck, Spark, or Quizlet.
Know the Lion in the Room
Second, anticipate and prepare for the most likely challenges you will face. I call this the “lion in the room.” What are those things that roar loudly and demand your attention? How do you tame that lion? The lion may be a student, a parent, a systems problem, a piece of technology—whatever it is, take the time to investigate how you can help tame the roar and teach, model, and practice communication, kindness, and compassion.
Develop Communication Skills
The third way I have fine-tuned my leadership is by improving my communication. I’ve developed my skills through practice and role playing. I’ve used cue cards and talking points to make my meetings with teachers and parents more efficient. Improving these skills is helpful in all your dealings as an administrator and is especially useful in emotionally charged situations when it can be a challenge to remain neutral.
Being an administrator means you are a diplomat. Your job is to be tactful and skillful in managing situations and dealing with all types of people at your school. Parents, teachers, and students alike come to you for advice, problem-solving, and decisions. Sometimes it’s easy to help, but other times the path is not clear.
To improve my diplomacy, I’ve followed a four-step approach:
- Ask questions.
- Summarize another’s position with a statement of understanding.
- Create a plan to solve the problem together.
For instance, a parent came to me when his son was involved in an altercation initiated by another student. I listened to each side of the story and asked clarifying questions. Next, I articulated not only an understanding of the event but also a determination of how both sides felt. After this, I provided options to resolve the situation and asked both parties to choose and commit to the plan. The agreement was meaningful and allowed for continued discourse while the relationship between the students was mended. Utilizing these skills of mediation will allow for peaceful resolutions to most situations.
These four techniques have helped me stay at the top of my game as a leader, administrator, teacher, and problem-solver.
As school leaders, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Your best defense is to be organized and prepared. Work smart and look for ways to be efficient while maintaining your compassion. When the lion roars, don’t take it personally, and use your tools to tame the beast. What professional practices help fine-tune your school leadership skills?
Sandy LeCheminant is assistant principal at Albion Middle School in Sandy, UT. She serves as the middle school assistant principal representative on the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Board. Sandy is the 2018 Utah Assistant Principal of the Year and a career assistant principal by choice.