Feedback. Priceless.

Becoming self aware as a person and as a leader is a journey.  Two essential ingredients are reflection and feedback. We cannot truly gauge our success as leaders without asking the people we serve how we’re doing.  Seeking feedback helps us check the assumptions we make about ourselves and our impact.

Last June, I asked our staff to complete a voluntary anonymous survey about my leadership as a school principal.  After reading Leading with Trust by Susan Stephenson,  I realized it was time for me take closer look at my leadership practices and especially my trust factor with staff.  This was a little scary, since I knew that not all feedback would be positive, but I also knew it was the best way for me to grow as a leader.  My Leadership Survey  was based on her example and included some rating questions and two open response questions. Stephenson cautions that sometimes the results can be hard to take.  The purpose was to get better picture of myself as a leader, so I needed the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I was pleased that 54% of staff completed a survey, more than enough to form a good sampling of opinion. The results?  Super interesting!  There were many positives where people recognized my strengths as an organized, committed and passionate instructional leader. Some offered really thoughtful insights on how I could do better. There was a strongly worded criticism, but in the end, it served to make me examine my behaviour more deeply. My biggest challenge was very clear: I need to become more approachable with all staff so they feel they can openly and easily share thoughts and feelings with me.  Reflecting on these results was humbling but incredibly powerful.

My next actions include sharing the results with staff and investigating how to build better trust. I want to become a better leader.  I want to be more effective.  I’ve taken the first step and more steps will follow. I challenge everyone to ask for feedback. Its effect is priceless.

Ripples

On Friday, I wore a kameez to school.

(This is the top part of a suit that women and men from central Asia wear. You can find out more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalwar_kameez )

It was a gift from a family at a previous school. Mine is very pretty – black silk with gold and white embroidered medallions and trim. I had worn it gratefiully once, but then it disappeared into the back of my closet until I suddenly remembered it. I consulted with one of our staff members about the best way to wear it, and she enthusiastically agreed that I could wear it with jeans and flats or heels.

As soon as I walked into the school, I was overwhelmed by the reactions. Staff complimented me on it. An occasional teacher was delighted and told me I was wearing “her clothes” now. Parents noticed right away and commented how much they liked it.

Best of all were the students. As they passed me in the hallway or saw me outside, many did a double take and said, “Hey! You’re wearing what my mom wears!” or “I like your kameez!”  I could tell from their reaction they couldn’t believe their principal would wear one. Some grade 8 girls gave me tips on how to wear it next time.

I thought about those reactions later that evening. Who would think such a simple thing would be noticed, commented on and resonate with people?  Our impact as principals is profound, and so often, we don’t even realize it.

Fresh Eyes on Back to School

If you’re an educator, parent or guardian, chances are you’ve attended your fair share of Meet the Teacher events at the beginning of the school year.  Maybe you’ve wandered through the school, looking at your child’s locker or desk, bought a cupcake or two at the bake sale, or listened to a 45 minute presentation on curriculum.  As an educator, maybe you see Meet the Teacher has an annual chore to live through before you run home for the evening.  Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve been part of an exciting opportunity to build, reaffirm or cement truly meaningful and equitable home and school relationships.  That’s the Back to School night I want to be part of!

Let’s start with a question: what do parents and families want?  It’s the easiest thing in the world to simply ask, but I don’t do it enough.  #ptchat, a weekly parent teacher chat on Twitter, moderated by @joe_mazza and @sirotiak02 (Dana Sirotiak) inspired me to ask and to listen.

Families want to know that their child’s teacher thinks really cares about them.  They want to be reassured that the school will always work in the child’s best interest. They want some new information they didn’t have before, but not too much.  They want to have some fun! I also know that parents value the conversations that are part of Meet the Teacher.  They want to chat a bit about their child, make a personal connection with the teacher and even talk to the principal if possible.

So how do I make that happen as a principal? The first step is to help staff understand how important these first impressions are with parents.  They have a golden opportunity to create a partnership with families where we listen as they share what they know about their child and how we can help them.  Sometimes teachers feel intimidated at the thought of meeting so many parents, or think they need to be in the driver’s seat with parents instead of letting a relationship evolve.  I can assist staff with strategies for smooth conversations.  I have watched skilled teachers turn that first meeting into a warm chat where parents leave smiling and pleased. Those teachers often have the best relationships with families as the year progresses.

One thing I will not do is formal program or curriculum presentations where families sit and listen, either in the gym, auditorium or classrooms.  Sure, there’s room for this if families express an interest, but at a dedicated curriculum night. Remember, Meet the Teacher is about relationships!

My presence (with a big smile) is equally important.  Families love to connect with the principal, even for a minute or two.  I am always visible in the hallways and classrooms, but this year I’ll be making the extra effort to stop and chat. I’m handing out my business card with instructions on the back about how to sign up for Remind101 for school text reminders.  I will also be taking photos of staff and families for the new Principal Photo Wall.

Finally, we need a bit of fun.  Schools run the gamut with prizes, raffles, BBQ’s, games and so on.  We’re going to try a graffiti wall where students and families can scribble about the upcoming year and what they’re looking forward to.  It’s a great way to get feedback and ideas in a non threatening way.

Here’s hoping that Back to School night is the springboard for a wonderful year of excellent home school connections. Please add your comments so I can continue my learning.