Blaring from the speakers of the school’s public address system is the sad voice of the regular announcers addressing all students, teachers and administration staff: “I am sorry to announce that the school’s beloved vice-principal has been promoted to school principal. He will no longer roam the hallways. He will now be confined to the four walls of his office. In this new position, his time will be occupied with email, test scores, teacher evaluations and district meetings. Hereafter, he will meet with students only for disciplinary matters.”
This announcement creates a somber mood throughout the building. Nobody can imagine the school without him roaming the halls. He will no longer be the positive force with the big heart handing out high fives. He will be missed when he accepts his new role as principal. Then, he will be confined to his office, stuck at his desk, with the door closed.
I met with a vice-principal at a New Jersey high school recently. We were discussing the announcement that the principal of the school had announced his retirement in the next few months. I asked if he would apply for the position. With a wry smile, he said, “You know, it would be the next step as a career move. But I like where I am. I like all of the interaction I have with the students.”
Schools are administered in much the same way as other organizations. Executives focus on strategy and the “big picture.” There is little interaction with the ranks for them on a daily basis. School administrators must focus on higher management functions, policy, federal and state laws, test scores, and teacher evaluations. They are consumed with paperwork. Although most became educators because they like teaching and love kids, becoming an administrator cuts off most interaction with the students.
After that conversation, I called a colleague, who is the principal of a high school with more than 3,000 students. I wanted to know his thoughts on the subject. I asked him how he spends most of his day. He answered, “Emails, emails, emails, signing paperwork and teacher evaluations!”
He never used the words “students,” “kids,” “teaching,” or “education.”
Leaders must define the climate and environment of their organizations. Their actions and interactions are the model for the entire organization. In this way, schools are like all other organizations. So, what happens if the leader (the principal) has no time for interactions? How does the leader model the behavior desired in the organization?
I have four questions for school principals (or administrators):
First, how much interaction can you have with teachers? You do teacher evaluations. Do you intervene when parents are unhappy with a teacher? You announce new district rules, new laws, new processes and you present new district policies.
Second, how much interaction with students can you fit into a day? Can you walk the halls and congratulate a student on an achievement? Do you step in only when the teachers are not qualified to handle a situation? Will your interaction be restricted to disciplinary problems?
Third, how do you WANT to be able to interact with students and teachers? Now, think about this: do you want to be proactive or reactive? Do you want to handle discipline or build a positive climate for learning?
Fourth, how can you help the teachers you supervise to be happy and to feel fulfilled? What can you do to foster respect for them?
How can you have a positive effect on the students in your school? How do you encourage smiles in the halls? What can you do to foster a climate that does not tolerate bullying, or discrimination, or simple meanness? What I mean is how do you foster this attitude in the STUDENTS, not just the teachers and administrators?
School administrators have a difficult job. There are no simple answers to my questions. Achieving these results requires a plan. The plan must be multi-faceted and it must be “sold” to the entire community in the school. Then you must execute, evaluate and edit the plan until you achieve the desired goal.
I am not trying to suggest that creating a positive environment in any school is an easy task. However, I have a suggestion that might help you improve the environment in your school:
Play music in the classrooms and halls between classes.
If you will do that, I think you will lighten the mood. I believe you will see some toe-tapping and hear some humming. I think it will even create smiles!