Relationship Building and Instructional Leadership

The final assignment for my Leading U.S. Schools class with Professor David Brazer was to write a "Leadership Entry Plan" for the school we had observed and written about throughout the term.  Here's how the assignment was set up: "Imagine yourself as one of two finalists for the job of principal. The decision maker(s) (e.g., a superintendent and her school board) have asked the finalists to submit an entry plan so that a final choice can be made." 

Here's a short excerpt from my final paper.

President Theodore Roosevelt had a brilliant saying: “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That principle would guide my approach to the job of principal. Given the unique context of this high school and its particularly collaborative model (not to mention its particularly collaborative current leader), this is especially important. My first priority will be meeting, listening to, and developing a personal relationship with each member of the school community – understanding the people that make up Hillsdale (Leithwood et all, 2008, p. 31). That starts first with the faculty and staff, but also includes parents, students, district staff, and key community members. I will accomplish this through methods both formal and informal, organized and happenstance; I will have a one on one meeting with all 85 teachers within the first two months, and I will host lunches and dinners throughout the year, inviting academic departments, SLCs, classified staff, and more to join me and their colleagues in a comfortable setting. These opportunities to give personal attention will allow me to listen and gain a robust, complete understanding of the various stakeholders’ thoughts, ideas, and abilities, which will in turn allow me to more effectively utilize their capacities as a school leader (Leithwood et al, 2004, p. 24). I will keep an ongoing, online catalogue of school employees, where I can record their interests, feedback, ideas, and self-reported strengths and weaknesses (a sort of adult version of the “Kid Talk” database), which will allow me to cater professional development, classroom observations, instructional training, and the division of school responsibilities more effectively.

This personal attention and casual, small group meals and meetings, and the acts that follow them, will demonstrate to staff through action, not just words, that their voice matters. The framework and focused topics of these conversations would be academic rigor, equity, personalization, and shared decision making; this would send a clear and immediate signal of my priorities and further cultivate staff consensus about this high school's goals (Robinson et al, 2008, p. 660). The four cornerstones will remain a laser focus in all aspects of my job as principal, including relationship building, and this unfailing focus is precisely how we will make progress in these areas.

I am committed to building relationships with faculty and staff not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because we know it will yield better student outcomes. My most important job as principal will be driving academic achievement as a strong instructional leader with a consistent presence in the classroom, providing feedback, resources, and acknowledgment to teachers. This kind of instructional leadership requires face-to-face relationships to be effective (Robinson et al, 2008, p. 659), so it is critical that I actively cultivate these relationships immediately upon the commencement of my duties. Building these relationships will allow my classroom observations, which will be a key focus of my job, and instructional feedback to be more authentic and meaningful, and less intimidating, for teachers. Moreover, I will communicate both explicitly and implicitly to the staff that high quality instruction is not just their individual responsibility, but our collective responsibility, too. We will take a cooperative approach to pursuing instructional improvements, including utilizing the talented teachers we have on staff to scale their pedagogical best practices. Relationships built on trust are a necessary prerequisite if this model is to achieve positive results.

Instructional improvement inherently requires instructional change, and instructional change requires persuading teachers to change their behavior and beliefs to achieve this high school's goals, a key challenge of principals (Cuban, 1988, p. 69). Changing behavior and beliefs, in my view, will not happen through coercion or intimidation, or through the flexing of administrative muscles, nor will it happen from boundless energy and shallow inspiration; rather, it will happen from building trust, cultivating authentic relationships with teachers, and continuing to build a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement (Robinson et al, 2008). This is hard but important work, and oftentimes the results take years rather than weeks to be fully realized, but education is not a place for superficial quick fixes.