Three Characteristics of Excellent Principals

Poor principals. They’ve got it rough. Serving as the administrator of a complex organization with thousands of moving parts, they also have a responsibility to be compassionate towards kids as well as be the “lead learner” in a building dedicated to improving learning. They have to coach employees to improvement while at the same time disciplining those who don’t. They’re the head of public relations, human resources, research and development and quality control. Yet despite the wide range of hats the typical principal is asked to wear, all excellent school administrators share three key characteristics.

1) An unwavering commitment to improving student learning

Excellent administrators should frequently find themselves asking “How does this affect student learning?” This should be the operative question when making virtually any school related decision, be it related to budget decisions, providing professional development opportunities for staff or when addressing the concerns of faculty, students and parents. Great principals bring pictures of students or empty desks to every faculty and committee meeting to remind themselves and others that our ultimate purpose is to improve the lives of students and we should consider their learning first and foremost at every juncture. This laser-like focus on student mastery of course content provides a contagious and positive environment for people to work and learn and ensures that with every decision made the school gets a little better.

2) Consistent and sustained effort towards open communication

Great leaders always strive to be sensational communicators. They involve all stakeholders in every feasible decision including teachers and staff as well as students, parents and community members when appropriate. Great administrators remember their roots as a classroom teacher and convey information clearly and in a variety of ways and always check for understanding when sharing an idea. They are also accomplished listeners. They are able to detach themselves from any potential criticism and hear concerns and new ideas as an opportunity to improve themselves, the school and student learning. Administrators must be collaborative as they inspire others toward their ultimate vision for continuous school improvement. They are trustworthy in their communication as well and able to maintain appropriate confidentiality. Successful administrators are committed to their word, ensuring that when they say to stakeholders that something will be done, it is done.

3) Dedication towards empowering faculty and staff

Finally, excellent administrators should strive to be servant leaders. They should seek to first provide support for all faculty and staff members, doing all they can to provide those within the building the tools required to improve student learning. “How are things going?” and “What can I do to help?” should be frequent questions asked by administrators as they seek to empower those who work for them. They should value the hiring process as an opportunity to improve their students learning for years to come and seek to retain the best people. They should be the lead learners within their building and be a source of professional development for staff members, well versed in differentiated instruction and formative assessment as well as modeling other instructional strategies. This philosophy ensures that staff members are empowered to improve student learning and grow within their roles. It is only after this support is in place that excellent administrators must be willing and able to firmly, yet fairly hold teachers accountable for student learning. 

25 (Cheap) Ways to Show Teachers You Appreciate Them

Earlier today, my principal did a really cool thing for our faculty. She handed out those silly “coupon books” like the kind you make for your parents when you’re a little kid that has things like “one free night of dishes” and stuff like that. Ours was all cheap stuff – jeans days, candy bar, stuff like that – but spending money isn’t the point. The point is, as a teacher, it felt kinda cool to have a principal say “Hey, thanks for all you do for students. I appreciate it.”

This sort of thing goes a LONG WAY towards building a more positive school culture and it got me thinking about some other relatively cheap ways I’ve had bosses show their gratitude over the years (or some ways I wish they would).  So without further ado, here’s my list of “25 Cheap Ways to Show Teachers You Appreciate Them”.

1.Buy lunch.

2.Ask me what I’m proud of that’s happened in my classroom lately.

3.Let me go home early once in a while. No duties – skate on out of here.

4.Cover my class and give me an extra hour off.

5.Food in the work room makes everybody happy. And fat. Healthy options are nice, even if nobody eats them and goes right for the cookies.

6.Ask me if there’s anything I need to help my students learn better.

7.Notice when I’m trying something new. Of course, that means you have to be in my classroom more than once a month.

8.Don’t come in my classroom everyday though, it really makes me nervous (whether or not it “should” doesn’t matter – it does).

9.Birthday presents.

10.Gift cards and scratch off tickets – cheap and easy “Thank You’s”

11.Ask about my family.

12.Take something OFF my plate. I’m busy enough – even if it’s just once for a special occasion, anything you can do to lighten the load would be GREAT.

13.Ask my about my goals – for my career, my classroom, my students.

14.Ask what you can do to help me reach them.

15.Two words: Jeans day.

16.Ask for my opinion on building level decisions.

17.Talk to students about what’s going in my classroom. Let me know the positives, share the constructive criticism. Filter the negative out for me, I don’t need to hear that.

18.Emailing me links to articles or things we’ve talked specifically about for my classroom are great.

19.NOT emailing me every little thing you find on Twitter is appreciated, too.

20.Remind me periodically why it is I went into this profession. If you don’t know, ask.

21.Don’t compare me to other teachers. Compare me to a standard of quality teaching. (Standards Referenced Grading rocks for teacher evaluations, too!)

22.Compliment my appearance. I worry about that (Yes, even the male teachers. Though, probably not as much as our lady colleagues).

23.Say “Thank you” for my hard work. Especially if you’re doing it on behalf of the students or their parents.

24.Encourage parents and students to say “Thank you” themselves when appropriate.

25.Don’t tell me to improve. INSPIRE me to be great for our students. Lead by example by always doing what’s best for students first, and adults second.


Got any other great ideas to show teacher's appreciation without breaking the bank? Share them here in the comments, on our Facebook page or on Twitter using #TeacherAppreciation. 

5 Steps to Improving Collaboration

If you’ve worked in education for longer than a cup of coffee, you know that collaboration is all the rage in school leadership circles these days. And with good reason. For all too long teachers have been connected only by hallways and parking lots, which is a shame given that in many cases the person next door can be a valuable resource.


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Is My Classroom Focused on Learning?

Step 1: Accept Responsibility For Learning

Step 2: Grading For Learning

The Poor Man's Excuse for Standards Based Grading

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Step 3: Develop a Culture of Learning

Step 4: Lesson Plan For Learning

Step 5: Reflecting For Learning