The principal’s role is always multi-faceted, but never is a school leader juggling more different, yet equally important, agendas than during this time of year. There are clearly many important decisions required for the successful completion of the current school year, as well as some key considerations that will have a profound impact on the fall.
May requires school leaders to thrive within a somewhat tenuous balance of short-term management and long-term leadership. As mentioned in previous articles, leadership and management are anything but mutually exclusive and over the next month they will naturally dovetail into a lot of leadership logistics.
Properly messaging these plans is another key component of effective school leadership. Not only is there an extensive list of “must dos” over the next month, but these items must be prioritized and appropriately shared with staff.
Model Established Routines
All educators are acutely aware that meaningful and sustainable teaching and learning require a safe, secure and predictable school environment in order to prosper.
With these timeless realities in mind, rising outside temperatures must never correlate with lowering expectations inside classrooms, hallways or school yards. Once again, modeling is the greatest motivator. Staff and students alike need to see that the principal’s commitment to yard duty and to maintaining a high degree of visibility within the school remain strong.
Maintain Academic Standards
Principals have the moral imperative and professional responsibility to ensure meaningful and engaging learning continues to occur in all classrooms. Regular review of student progress must be maintained at this time of year, and principals need to send a strong message to both staff and students that teaching and learning continue to be the primary focus of every school day.
Leaders need to “walk the talk,” and this monitoring process includes an ongoing commitment to administrative tours of all classrooms on a regular basis, as well as continuing to analyze classroom data with teachers and appropriate support personnel.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with classes having some additional “fun” activities at this time of year, provided they are triggered by rich and authentic learning opportunities. From a broader lens, principals must continue to be actively involved in monthly staff meetings, professional development opportunities and discussions regarding the progress of specific students. Ongoing active involvement from administration helps ensure ongoing active accountability from staff. Whether it be in May or September, what gets monitored is what gets done.
Participate in Promotion Meetings
This is the time of year when next fall’s classes begin to take shape. These promotion meetings must be given their proper attention, and all impacted parties should be invited to participate. The driving force in all of these discussions is what is best for each student, while also considering equity and fairness among staff. Projected classes in the same grade must have as similar a composition as possible, and, within reason, receiving teachers deserve to have an opportunity for input.
A particularly proactive approach is key for school leaders to foster success for students with special needs. Collaborative planning with parents and the school team helps ensure that resources are in place and that relationships with families begin on a positive note. These spring meetings with parents help confirm that needs will be met and that support will be in place. It is absolutely imperative that the principal is an active participant in this planning process.
Keep Staff Informed
There are lots of rumors floating around at this time of year, and principals owe it to staff to calm the waters whenever possible. In doing so, however, it is equally important to avoid making well-intended promises that may not ultimately ring true. After all, receiving repeated retractions from the principal’s office steadily erodes stakeholders’ faith and trust in their school’s leadership.
Principals walk a fine line and as much as it is important to stress continually that many things are “tentative” at this time of year, teachers deserve to know the probable parameters of next fall’s teaching assignments. There will be times when it is most appropriate to meet with individual teachers or small groups, while in other circumstances everyone should hear the same message at the same time.
Acknowledge Staff Departures
The vast majority of next year’s staff puzzle is complete at this time of year, and it has understandably been a major focus for the past few months. Busy school leaders can never forget, however, that it is very important to properly acknowledge all departing staff.
The vast majority of departing staff will either be making a lateral move to another school or assuming a position of greater responsibility beyond the classroom level. Hopefully the principal’s school has a well-established social committee with a long-standing framework within which all departing staff are recognized. These acknowledgements, financial and otherwise, need to be commensurate with the length of a staff member’s tenure at a given school. It is very important that all staff recognize that the parameters for any gifts are guided by an objective framework, rather than by a personal friendship.
There may also be staff members who have indicated that they will be retiring at the end of the year. Principals must be sensitive to the fact that different people can have very different wishes as to how their retirement will or will not be acknowledged at the school level. To avoid any potential misunderstanding, principals should initiate a private conversation with each of these staff members to ensure all plans are being viewed through a similar lens.
Regardless of the reasons for their departure, it cannot be overstated how important it is for principals to ensure all departing staff are properly acknowledged. As much as this is already a very busy time of year for school leaders, the residue from a seemingly underwhelming send off for a beloved colleague may well linger in the staff room for years to come.
About the authors
Jamie Bricker and Jack Barclay are retired school principals who live just outside of Toronto, Canada. They co-host the Matters of Principal podcast.