My first years as a Principal, a common question I would ask candidates at the end of an interview is what four adjectives their students (or peers) would use to describe them. Four is a good number as many people quickly cite two or three. I don’t let them off the hook for that last one as it often brings the best answer as it necessitates the most thought. One interview sticks with me as the candidate offered an answer I had not ever heard before, and that I have not since received. BOLD. She shared that others thought of her as bold. What an amazing term to use for multiple reasons. First, as I mentioned, it is not common. Second, it is an honest admission from the candidate that “you’re going to get something a little different with me.” I hired her and we did. Though, honestly, I’m not sure we were ready for it.
Last week I was revisiting Chapter 8 of Todd Whitaker’s What Great Principals Do Differently” and I was struck, again, by his notion that we should strive to make our schools more like our newest teachers. He contends that the most effective way to improve a school is to hire great teachers. I don’t know anyone that would disagree with that at face value. However the catch is on the approach you take toward that end. What do you do once you’ve hired them?In the past I have challenged some new hires to help us continue to grow. I offered this charge to those coming in to leadership positions though they were primarily outside the classroom (administrator, counselor, coordinator, etc.). I would tell them, “I didn’t hire you to sit on the bench. I expect you to get your footing and then get to sharing. We need your talents, your ideas, and your passion. Can you commit to get in the game with us?” The most common response was a “You bet” or a “Yes, I can.” Upon further reflection, I realize that I was not challenging new teachers to do the same. I suppose I didn’t want to “saddle” them with the responsibility of improving our campus. Yet, at the very same time, I knew/know that the most powerful work for students happens as a result of what teachers do every day in their classroom. So I suppose, while maybe having a good intention, I was instead limiting the impact of these new members. Not cool.My commitment is now to push ALL new members to our school community. I will lay this foundation during the interview process and continue it in to the fall semester. There is so much talent that can be leveraged for the betterment of our kids. And sometimes all you need is that one person to float a novel idea, see something in a fresh light, or simply ask an old question in a new way. Makes no matter how it begins – only that it does.
How are you going to set the tone when it comes to improving your class, team, or school?