For decades, the principal was the sole holder of power within the school. Ask most veteran teachers, and they will tell you about an administration that was the authority on everything. The principal had the first and final say on all matters relating to the school. However, the role of the principal has evolved, and the demands of the job now require more than a dictator making unilateral decisions. The most successful leaders are collaborative and use a system that makes stakeholders and leaders out of everyone. Creating other leaders makes the work more manageable for the administrator and is definitely one of many great benefits of being more democratic with authority. Here are some suggestions for principals on how to give decision-making power to members of the school community and create leaders in the process.
Form a teacher leadership panel.
Establish a teacher leadership panel composed of faculty representatives from each grade or team, with rotating membership. This group determines goals and policies for the year and reviews the successes and opportunities for growth at the end of that time. You can then empower them to make necessary adjustments. Suggestions for how to deal with school issues, whether they be academic or social, can be solicited for discussion and implementation. You, as principal, can lead this group but make it very clear that the panel exists because of the value of the staff’s voice.
Empower parents however you can.
Parents are incredibly important stakeholders in the school community, and school leaders should empower them as well. This can start with taking PTA meetings seriously. Really listen to parents at these meetings and make sure everyone feels like they have a voice. You can also establish and modify your school website, so parents can voice concerns, ideas, and celebrations. Create a discussion board parents can moderate that you regularly check in on. When parents feel like they have a voice in the school, they can become one of a principal’s greatest assets.
Invite students to lend their voice to the decision-making process.
Students, who often feel isolated, can act as representatives during leadership meetings to give their input on school issues. They can meet with administration to discuss and negotiate pressing issues that impact them. These students can also receive input from other students, giving all a sense of being a part of the process. Whether it’s a meeting about doing away with lockers or a change in dress code policy, you’re giving students a voice. When students know that their opinions are valued, it can have a tremendous impact on school culture.
Create a student testing advisory group.
The job of managing standardized assessments often falls on the principal. Therefore, decisions made around testing can sometimes seem like they are being sprung on teachers. This can have a major influence on how and what they teach. A testing advisory group can oversee implementation of testing—preparation, scheduling, and evaluation of results. Not only does this empower staff and bring them in on these important decisions, it lightens the principal’s load. The more minds working to solve the challenges around assessment, the better.
Create an open line of communication with your whole school community.
The most vital ingredient necessary to developing a successful school leadership strategy is strong communication. Even though not all stakeholders will agree with your decisions, nor should they, they all deserve to know why you made them. This could mean a weekly email to staff, students, and parents about the things you are working on in the front office. It might mean dedicating the first part of staff and PTA meetings to discussing the decisions you are considering. Whatever you choose to do, having an open line of communication is essential to inviting your community into leadership.
Leadership expert Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the contemporary field of leadership studies, states, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” While this is a trait all principals should possess, imagine if everyone in your school community was empowered to have this skill. In our schools, effective leadership is a critical component in school success. Principals who are able to model this leadership quality can establish a working school environment where the possibilities are endless. When administrators create leaders by harnessing the energy and dedication available within the school, the entire climate becomes one of a shared purpose and success.
Plus, check out 4 Great Strategies for Working With Assistant Principals.