What Teachers Can Do About the Unobservant Principal

Many of you are really getting into the groove and into your school year right now. It might seem like worrying about reaching out to your principal should be the last thing on your list, but I encourage you to go ahead and read what I have to share and get started implementing these tips right away. SERIOUSLY, even if your principal seems amazing, but they are new to your school and you don't know exactly how "present" and "observant" they will be, you need this!

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In my 11 year teaching career, I have worked in two school settings and for 6 different principals and 4 assistant principals. {Did you do the math? That averages to less than 2 years each!?!?!} If you have worked for different principals, I’m sure you have found that great differences exist between them all. I’ve found that each principal prioritized different aspects of teaching and the school environment while leading my schools. In addition, principals often have to gear their focus towards district mandates and goals that the board has placed on them for the year.

While working for a variety of personalities, I’ve found one thing to be common--our leaders are busy too! I’ve had some leaders say that they have to remind themselves to step outside of their office. {Hmmm, I've got opinions about that...but we will just #letitgoletitgoelsaandana}

Today I want to share some strategies for ensuring that your school leaders see the wonderful things you are doing in your classroom on a regular basis. 

  • Send Email Reminders about Events: Get in the habit of sending an email to your leaders when you have a special event, guest speaker, or student presentation in your classroom. Did you just publish your stories in writers workshop? Is one of your students sharing a slideshow about their trip to Switzerland over spring break? Have you invited a parent into your classroom to talk about diabetes--his research area of expertise? (I have had all of these happen and I was sure to send a quick email to let my principals’ know what was going on and what time they should drop by). Even if you forgot to send an invitation ahead of time, sending an email 5 minutes before the event may work. Every principal has access to their email on their cell phone these days.

And, the invite is evidence of what is happening in your classroom, regardless of whether or not your principals are able to visit.

No matter the personality of your leadership, they almost always go out of their way to drop in during these times AND you have created a trail of evidence that demonstrates what you are doing in your classroom. It’s a WIN-WIN.

  • Student Shares: If you are not in the middle of DIRECT instruction when you principal pops in, ask that a student share what they are learning. If I am not in the middle of direct instruction, I am often super busy working with another student. This is a great time to say “Sarah, would you like to show Mr. what we have been working on?” “James, would you like to tell Mr. what we talked about during our lesson today?” This means if students are working independently on something, in small groups, or in partners, you have directed your leader to a place where he/she can interrupt the activity for a few minutes and feel like they get a sense of what is going on in the room. {Now, of course you can strategically pick those students--IE the ones you are sure can effectiively communicate what they have been learning, but I often like to put a child who needs to feel smart and good about learning in this position. Talking with the principal about what you are doing? Can you say ‘learning reinforcer’ and ‘confidence booster’?!?!}

  • Newsletters and Classroom Blogs: Do you write a newsletter for parents? Or have a classroom blog where you share news, pictures from lessons, classroom routines? Makes copies of your newsletter and place it in the principals’ boxes. {I’ve had principals require this so that they stay in the loop}. I’ve since moved to sending weekly emails to parents and utilizing a classroom blog. When I’m sharing something that should be of interest to my principal, I email him/her the blog post and/or send the email to them as well.

  • Have Excellent Communication with Parents: I believe that next to creating lines of communication with your leaders, it is important to have excellent communication with your parents. Sometimes parents will share their excitement and appreciation of your hard work on your behalf! When we have a field trip or fun classroom activity, I snap pictures throughout. If I don’t have time to blog about it, I share the “cute” pics of activities with a quick email to parents. {Also great for cc-ing your principal on these!}

  • Share student work: Every year, I publish at least one classroom book or magazine--one year it was a Civil War Newspaper, another year students created “Future Articles” about potential careers, we write magazine articles about specific time periods in United States history before we go to DC, you get the idea! I always take student articles and copy them into books for the kiddos so that they can see everyone’s work. Make an extra copy and put one in your principals’ box.

Are you a google docs school? Even better. My students have google docs, and over the past few years I’ve had a few students share their work with the principal through the “share” feature. Students can type a quick message, “Mrs. Roose wanted me to share my project with you. We are working on travel brochures for different places in North Carolina. I hope you enjoy it!”

  • Forward Parent Emails: Did you just get praises from a parent? Forward these over to your principal! If that sounds like you are tooting your own horn, comment on how much this child is grown and how you just wanted to share some student success with the principal! They love to hear good news too--write comments in your forwarding email focused on the child and it’s not really about you at all {but a good principal knows it’s because you are doing an amazing job! ;) }

  • Document and Save: Go ahead and make an “Evidence” folder in your email account. Each time you send those emails, move them over to your "Evidence" folder. {You could even call this folder "I'm AWESOME." #nojudgmentzone #teachersneedALLthePOSITIVEwecanget.} Not only will you have a record of what you have done, but you will most likely have a record of your principal’s response. After popping into the classroom, my favorite principals would even send me a complimentary email full of positive feedback and interest to share with students! File those emails! Don’t feel like your principal knows enough about what you do and how you teach? Who cares!?!?! You have been collecting evidence for yourself ALL year! And truly, those unobservant principals that seem to be checked-out are the ones missing out on watching teaching and learning in action and getting to know your sweet kiddos better.

Please do not take my suggestions as brown-nosing. I consider myself a person of character and sucking up is truly (and sometimes painfully detrimental to myself) not in my vocabulary.

However, when we have leaders who do not make finding their way into our classrooms for more than required observations a priority, we must take care of ourselves and our own professional reputation.

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If you are having a really difficult time with your leader(s) or become nervous when they pop into the classroom, these are ways that you can invite him/her in on your own terms where you are in control of the situation and what they will observe. You will begin building the connection that your classroom and your students are where your leaders are welcome to drop in AND enjoy teaching, learning, and children! And, perhaps you will receive more grace on the days that they pop in and you are not in the middle of a magical lesson.

Even when a principal is amazing, they often get SOOO busy with all the other things it takes to keep a school running smoothly. Sometimes, your reputation proceeds you and they don't pop in because they aren't worried about you. But, you still need to reach out to them. 

I'd much rather my principal REALLY have evidence for my amazing teaching skills than just spout off generic praises or hearsay about my teaching. 

If you found this post helpful, be sure you pin it! I'd also love for it to get into the hands of new teachers. These are tips that I had to learn over time {and wish I'd used more often once I realized that my new and promising principal did not visit my classroom as much as they envisioned they would}.

I'm hoping you all have really supportive principals this year and that your relationship with him/her only encourages you to teach harder and motivates you to be there for your kids! Do you have any tips you would add to this list? Drop them in the comments below!