I was recently talking with a first year principal, what was working, what wasn’t, etc. The conversation eventually led to two critical practices that are almost never shared with rookies, and as such, effectively lengthens their learning curve. Here are the practices:
First, have a system. By system, I mean a focus, structure, and a body of general practices and procedures that you want implemented effectively and consistently. It does not have to be overly elaborate and it does not have to be in a formal document. But you have to know what you want to do and how you expect it to get done. And most importantly, you have to be able to communicate your intent and be able to train people, based on your system.
Without a system, three things occur. 1- You become the source of all knowledge (and no one is that smart). 2 – All you can do is put out fires all day long. 3 – The agendas of the informal leaders on the campus will overwhelm your agenda.
Use the coaching community as an example. Have you ever heard a new head coach in any sport say, “I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do. I’m just going to make up a new plan everyday, based on what the world throws at us.”
No, they say, “We’re going to implement my system, and once the team understands it, we will complete at the highest level.”
Second, start implementing immediately. A cancer that attacks education leadership is this concept that new leaders should take at least a semester (and generally two) just to observe and get an understanding about what is really going on, before doing anything substantive. Few ideas are more misguided. You are there to improve performance and get the most out of the organization. You do that by action, not by letting the auto-pilot assume command. Do you need to assess? Of course, but you do that on the fly.
Again, when’s the last time you heard a new coach say, “I’m just going to let everybody keep doing what they were doing for a season. Then I’ll really start working to improve.”
So to sum up, have a system, start immediately and assess on the fly.
Think. Work. Achieve.