Shani Dowell, Possip Founder and CEO, discusses great ways to support principals – for principals!
Supporting teachers is important this time of year – but so is principal support. I remember a line from Superman when I was a kid. Superman has just caught Lois Lane from a falling building.
Who Provides Principal Support?
As I think about what the school year is like for principals, this is the question that comes to mind. Principals are to support teachers – but who supports principals?
The principal job is hard. My empathy extends to principals. This is probably because when I met my husband he was starting a school and a principal. I have watched all of the challenges he has to tackle.
We recently were sharing about Possip with a community – and we were shocked to hear people say, “it’s interesting that you all talk about empathizing with principals. No one empathizes with principals.”
I could probably spend an entire post musing on what psychological and sociological drivers might lead us to undervalue and underappreciate principals. That’s not for this post. So we know that principals are caring for everyone else – students, parents, teachers, district administrators. Who gives the principal support they need? And how do principals make it through this time of year when you are struggling?
Ideas to Support Principals – for Principals
1. Encourage Yourself.
The reality is that principals have to start by being their own best support. It is indeed part of the cost and sacrifice of leadership. To quote one of my favorite gospel songs, “sometimes you have to encourage yourself.”
2. Fish for Compliments.
It seems shameless – and it is! But you are entitled to fish for compliments. After you have an awesome event at your school, ask your parents how they enjoyed that event. Ask your parents how they like a teacher – who you know is awesome! You get parents who share when they aren’t happy – go ahead and fish when they are!
3. Name How You Are Feeling.
Sometimes as a principal you may feel like you always need to be strong. You can actually find strength in naming how you are feeling – but doing so in a way that feels like you are building connections and community with your staff. For example, in a newsletter saying, “If you are like me, this time of year can be tough. We are working so hard and there is more to do than time to do it.” or “We know that this can be a tough time of year for students. The academics are getting harder, days are getting shorter and colder. It can be a hard time for us adults also.”
4. Leverage Others.
You do have a lot of assets at your disposal. Of course we are keen with how parents can be an asset. Parents can be helpful in many ways – but one way they can help is by supporting the academic lift of your teachers. We find parents want to be helpful. They want to provide teacher support, student support and principal support.
5. Rest and Reflect.
I often try to hold two competing ideas in my mind at once. The work I am doing is urgent and incredibly important. At the same time everything is going to be alright. I find this helps keep me healthy, forward focused, and in an emotional state to deal with the many challenges before me. Principals have to hold those two competing ideas together at once. Your work is so high stakes. And yet, to survive and thrive in the role you have to contextualize that you will do your best and it will be alright.
6. Have Fun.
Principals know how to have fun! Often principals came from the classroom where they had a good time leading students and achieving great academic success. Think about some of your favorite things to do as a teacher. Do it with your entire school! If you were like this principal – you can join the step team! They say that a good way to feel better is to focus on others. Imagine how much fun this principal had preparing for this – and then seeing the love and support she got.Let fun be a principal support. My guess is she had fun, kids learned an important character lesson, and she had some love and credit in the bank for a long time after: read more here.
And read some of these reflections on what a good principal is here. Remind yourself that whatever else is going on, you are a good principal – and you can support principals…even if the principal is you!
7. Guard for Parallel Processing.
One last note before we go. One way to support principals is to support your people. Keeping too much negative parallel processing from happening is important. Parallel processing in organizations is described as:
“parallel processes occur when one team projects elements of its condition onto the other, and the other absorbs what is projected.” https://gothamculture.com/2017/05/25/can-parallel-processes-solve-organizational-problems Schools are ripe with parallel processing – and principals are ripe for being a key part of it. Principals are both receiving conditions that exist within their school system and district or that are being created elsewhere. Principals can risk pushing that culture down. So if they are feeling pressure from the central office, they may unintentionally push that down onto their teachers, who may push that down onto students.
Conversely, we know that teachers can be parallel processing the trauma their students come into school with: read more here. As this Harvard article shares,
Principals can play a critical role in helping diffuse any unhealthy habits no matter which direction they come. Principals can be a filter or gate for anything coming from the top on down from a board or central office. Or principals can be a mirror or reflection for anything that is coming upward from students or teachers or parents.