Today’s post is curated by a number of school leaders in North America (New York, Massachusetts, Utah, and British Columbia).

There are obvious permission to play skills that principals need in order to be effective — consistency, hard-work, determination, organization, follow-through. But doing these things will get you to “B” level performance.

In order to be a great player, you have to go beyond what is expected. This is who you can be a great principal. At Better Leaders Better Schools, we call these high-performers, Ruckus Makers, those out-of-the-box leaders making change happen in education.

Below are a few ideas to maximize your performance and represent non-traditional leadership postures that will elevate your performance.

Karine: Rooting Your Community in What Matters Most

What if the best thing an educational leader can do amidst a sea of change is anchor our school community around what matters most?  

We are pressed from all sides right now and our teachers are too!  Yet, there are practical ways to ensure you enliven your school culture and steady it in a set of aspirational values shaping your community.  

The path to change-readiness is to know exactly what won’t change from week-to-week and year-to-year.  Additionally, when our learning community focuses on what’s central, we elevate our minds and hearts above the fray of what presses down on us.

Each year our model Learn Forward™ school, Willowstone Academy, designs an annual theme to keep us rooted.  This theme captures our developmental journey as a community and inspires us along the way.  Our theme this year is “Reimagining” and we are excited about how it is already in play during our summer months of preparation.  As soon as I name the theme, my heart sings, because I’m delighted by the process of ‘reimagining’, despite the treacherous nature of our current pandemic.

Because I believe in Better Leaders Better Schools, I documented the process to develop an annual theme and offered it in a free eGuide for school leaders.  Download the Learn Forward™ step-by-step process and complete with your team as you prepare for your year.  It’s a 2-4 week collaborative process and will infuse your stakeholders with hopefulness.

I’d love to hear how it goes; feel free to email me at [email protected].

Use an annual theme as a lighthouse for your school this year.  


Paige: Communication that Cares

In education, communication is key. It is key to relationship building, strengthening culture, and sharing information. Too often, we communicate to share information instead of building or strengthening our relationships with staff. Instead, The delivery is one-sided, but true communication must be two-way and meaningful. 

By posing engaging questions, school leaders can learn about their staff in ways that are similar to how we want our staff to learn about students. A vital piece is that school leaders must also be willing to share by answering their own questions. 

This is where it gets tricky. 

This is where school leaders must be willing to be vulnerable with their staff. Brené Brown states that vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me yet the first thing I look for in you.  

Communication that is two-way and meaningful, where school leaders share in a safe environment, sets the stage for true caring relationships to be built with staff. As school leaders, we cannot control the outcome. What we can control is our engagement in the communication process

Chris: Seeking and Engaging Negativity

Everyone wants to lead in a positive environment where those they lead are engaged and on board with the direction of the school. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Pockets of negativity reside outside of the leader’s vision or in a place where the leader is too uncomfortable to travel. It is essential that school leaders begin looking closer and getting uncomfortable in an effort to increase their positive impact.

They can do this by seeking out negativity and confronting it exists.

The key is this: Be positive and intentional with your message. Stay true to your why because positivity is inspiring and will engage others.

Negativity must be identified and dealt with, but more importantly, be consistent with your positive message which will win out in the end.


Kyle: Taking the Time to Listen to All your People

One evening at a family activity night, my head custodian alerted me to some of his concerns. This moment  taught me the importance of not just caring about all your people, but also listening.

Since that moment, I have tried to make it a point to involve more than just an administrative team in the decisions of the school.  I have added a parent seat to the school leadership team, and include parents in leadership trainings.

After one of these events a parent said, “This is the first time I’ve felt heard as a parent.”  

AlthoughI was proud that I was now making an intentional effort to listen to all of the community, I was disappointed that one of my most involved parents didn’t feel heard until this moment.

Listening is one skill that continually needs to be honed and is essential in our efforts to be great principals.  It’s easy to pay attention to the loud and most vocal members of our community. It’s much harder and rewarding to find the people who are quiet and happy to do amazing things behind the scenes.  These people watch, they listen, they know, and if you can tap into their knowledge and wisdom by listening to them, that can only benefit you as a leader and ultimately create a better place for kids to succeed.

In closing …

To be a great principal, a leader must transcend a permission to play skillset and do things that go above and beyond. Leaders can do this through innovative means like:

  • Rooting your community in what matters most
  • Communicating in way that shows “you care”
  • Engaging with the negative and defeating it with consistent positivity
  • Make sure you listen to all in your community

You can increase your chances at becoming a great principal by surrounding yourself with other top-performers. 

How much more effective would you be if you consistently met with other A-players, eliminated blind spots, and reflected on your practice? That’s exactly what we do in the mastermind and you’re invited to join our community.

A special thanks to mastermind members Karine Veldhoen, Paige Kinnaird, Chris Jones, and Kyle Hoopes for contributing to this article.

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