School & District Management

10 Bold Ideas Principals Can Embrace This School Year

By Stacey Decker — August 10, 2018 3 min read
Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 Center principal Marchel Woods, center rear, greets parents dropping off their children for class on Oct. 5, 2020, at the Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 Center in Miami.
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Principals, the start of a new school year can be hectic. But it’s also a time to reflect – and potentially change your ways. (Think of the new year as a fresh slate.)

Have you considered tackling a perennial issue head on this year? Or totally rethinking one of your school’s standard practices?

To find some innovative ideas for principals to ponder this year, we dug into the Education Week archives. Here are 10 suggestions—big and small—for shaking things up:

1. Give parent-teacher conferences a makeover

Schools across the country are ditching the traditional parent-teacher conference for academic workshops, where parents learn the skills their children need to master. Here’s how it works.

2. Shadow a student

Understanding how school feels to a student is best learned by putting yourself in their shoes. To do this, consider shadowing a student. Assistant Principal Karen Ritter of East Leyden High, outside Chicago did just that, and gained important insights on her school’s policies and practices. Watch what happened and see what she learned:

3. Get coached

“If instructional coaching is beneficial to teachers, shouldn’t leadership coaching be beneficial to principals?” Former principal and opinion blogger Peter DeWitt says the answer is yes. Have you thought about it? Here’s his argument why you should.

4. Rethink school suspensions

In- and out-of-school suspensions have come under increasing scrutiny as a discipline tactic. Students who’ve been suspended are more likely to drop out or be referred to law enforcement. Suspensions are also disproportionately dished out to students of color. The Cleveland school district has ditched in-school suspensions altogether. And researchers at Stanford University found one key to reducing suspensions might be a healthy dose of respect. Read an analysis of that research.

5. Take little steps to improve attendance

If you can’t get the kids to school, nothing else you do matters. But new research on chronic absenteeism reveals surprising details that can make a difference in whether students make it to class. Here are three studies with tips for tackling absenteeism.

6. Make school more memorable

How can schools encourage deeper learning? Chip and Dan Heath, bestselling authors and researchers argue it’s about creating “peak moments.” They capture “delight” and offer “a different kind of learning that sticks with students and motivates them to succeed.” Here’s their take.

7. Know which relationships are key, then strengthen them

Principal Robert Kuhl says there are six relationships that characterize great schools. Some are obvious, while others – like the relationship between work done in school and work done in the adult world – are not. A look at Kuhl’s framework for strengthening these relationships could change how you focus your energy this year. Take a look.

8. Hold back

“The true beauty in leadership, though, is being able to discern when to pull back and not give teachers things they don’t need,” writes Monica Washington, the 2014 teacher of the year in Texas. Washington’s favorite principals were defined not by what they did, but what they didn’t do. Specifically, these four things.

Along those lines ...

9. Acknowledge your leadership weaknesses

Administrators can make or break a school culture, argues veteran educator Mary Alicia Lyons. She recently shared her takeaways from working with administrators who’ve spanned the spectrum from frustrating to fantastic. Do any of her characteristics of difficult administrators sound familiar?

10. Teach

Education leadership experts will tell you that principals doing “double duty” as teachers wouldn’t work in all schools. But in this Maryland school system, it’s a long tradition. And the educators who do it attest to the benefits. Here’s what they say.

Hopefully these ideas have left you feeling inspired or motivated. For more, view our special report, Principals Under Pressure, that offers strategies for mastering the toughest job in schools.

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