Dear Principal Hotline,
I’ve been in a great assistant principal position for about four years. When I was recruited by the principal, he told me he planned to retire soon and that his plan was for me to then move into the principalship. And I could not be happier with this job. I get tons of good feedback, lots of autonomy, and have a great relationship with my principal, team, and colleagues.
My issue is that I never get any constructive feedback. I know that sounds like a great problem to have, except I know I have stuff to work on. While I’m quite happy in my role now and am not looking to advance or move for several years, I also want to be strengthening my future possible candidacy as principal of this school. I have had official performance reviews but frankly, they’re pretty fluffy.
Can you help me find the right wording to basically say, “Hey, tell me what you think I’m bad at or what might stop me from advancing”?
In Need of Hard Truths
As frustrating as it is, this really is a good problem to have. When we’re clearly failing in some aspect of our job, we hear about it—no matter how much we’re doing right elsewhere. So, obviously, you’re hitting all the right notes. You might just need to change your mindset and the questions you ask.
Stop thinking in terms of “What am I doing wrong that no one’s mentioning?” We all suffer from some amount of imposter syndrome, but living with the belief that you’re somehow failing when you’re clearly not adds unnecessary stress.
Instead, ask yourself, “Where can I grow?” While you’re at it, ask your principal exactly that question. You’ll want to do this in private, during a requested meeting so that there’s sufficient time for a real discussion. Make sure he knows ahead of time what it is you’d like to talk about so that he can prepare. It may take some time for him to think of examples and meaningful feedback. If he has time to think about what he’s going to say, you’re likely to have a more helpful conversation.
Don’t think that by asking for ways to improve you’re going to cast yourself as a failure. Your performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You’re merely asking for an honest assessment from someone who has more experience. If he mentions something that you have no idea how to improve, simply ask, “How can I improve [this]?” or “What should I do to … ?” He’s indicated an investment in your future, particularly in his building. So he should welcome your dedication to your professional growth.
In the meantime, if you’re not already, keep a daily journal about where you’re succeeding and where you feel you can improve. It can be as simple as a $.99 notebook from the grocery store or as complicated as a formal bullet journal. You’ll figure out what’s best for you. The purpose is to have something tangible tracking how you’re executing your duties along with data compiled by the one person who witnesses 100 percent of your time: you.
Every Sunday, when you’re mentally refreshed, peek at the previous week’s entries and summarize what you find. If there are any patterns, you’ll notice them. Ultimately, reading your successes each week will also help you accept that you’re doing your job well and you’re merely finding new ways to grow.
You may also want to ask your principal if a staff survey would be appropriate. Their responses will provide a different perspective than you typically receive in a performance review or a face-to-face discussion.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with asking for constructive feedback. It can be as simple as sending an email saying, “Can we have a meeting to discuss my potential areas for growth? I want to be the best I can be, and I value your perspective.”
Any good principal will value receiving that email.
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