Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

6 Leadership Strategies for Principals

By Andre Benito Mountain — December 19, 2019 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

Parents were filing out of the cafeteria after a meeting when a mother I knew well from dismissals approached me. I had remarked weeks earlier on her daughter’s impressive report card grades and test scores, and the mother had beamed with pride. She had also seemed a little surprised that the principal was following her daughter’s progress that closely.

On this evening, she had something she wanted to share with me. “I have to tell you that when you first came here, I had to get used to all of the changes,” she said, smiling. “But now, after three years, I can see what you are doing.”

Then a look of concern replaced her smile. “You know, some of your own teachers were really working against you last year, too. But most of them have moved on,” she added. “Keep doing what you are doing. We see the difference you are making.”

I liken a school to a large sailboat traveling through rough seas. Nearly the entire crew is on the deck shifting sails, trying to help the captain steer the ship to safety. Missing are a few crew members who should be on deck helping. Instead, they are down below complaining about the captain and the storm, and they are drilling holes in the ship to hasten our demise. Somehow, these sailors fail to understand that they are working to sink the vessel they are aboard.

Why do folks drill holes in their own ship? Pushing people beyond their comfort zones can evoke resistance. Other times, that push can help a good teacher make the leap to being exemplary. What I’ve termed the “Cloud Principle” suggests that the best teachers, like clouds in the sky, are always shifting and adjusting as technology and information change the profession.

In thinking about resistance to change, I’ve been helped by the now-classic “Choosing Strategies for Change,” an article that first appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1979. In it, Leonard A. Schlesinger and John P. Kotter outline three steps for managing change successfully: analyze the situational factors, determine the optimal speed for change, and consider methods for managing resistance.

Why do folks drill holes in their own ship? Pushing people beyond their comfort zones can evoke resistance."

The authors provide leaders with six methods to overcome resistance to change—to address the drilling of holes. The methods are education and communication, participation, facilitation, negotiation, manipulation and co-optation, and coercion.

1. Education and Communication: An honest conversation about the reasons to support a new initiative can go a long way. Sharing divergent perspectives can help everyone embrace a change.

Recently students at my school, who normally wear uniforms, suggested “free dress days.” The idea wasn’t popular with my staff. I suggested to them it was valuable to create spaces where students can advocate for themselves, demonstrate persistence, and effect change. Students who think critically and negotiate with leadership are poised to become politically active students, voters, and citizens active in their communities. We decided that money from the special day would benefit our urban agriculture program, and the staff was on board with the innovation.

2. Participation: I was once told that the best leaders “run to their resisters.” It’s a good idea to call resisters onto the deck and ask them to help lead the other sailors. The resisters can share their perspective in a way that is tied to the overall mission of the school. Sometimes, I devise a plan to have them as part of the agenda of every meeting.

3. Facilitation: I recently hired a teacher who came into the classroom with a wealth of experience and Power Point presentations aligned to the 5th grade math standards. He could have stuck to those Power Points for years. Instead, when I introduced him to Canva, a graphic design software that allows you to create dynamic presentations, obtain a shareable link, and make edits to the linked material in real time, he added the app to his repertoire. He became a stronger teacher because of his openness to new ideas.

Sometimes people resist a new approach or new technology because they are afraid they will fail at mastering it. Now our school has an optional course where teachers can learn how to use Canva.

4. Negotiation: In 2000 I worked for Merrill Lynch in the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan. As the trading volume increased, we were called upon to work overtime to process the trades. Merrill Lynch not only paid overtime, but it provided dinner and, if you worked past 9 p.m., a chauffeured ride home. Employees negotiated these perks in ongoing discussions with upper management.

Leaders can negotiate incentives, compensations, or special recognition that will help staff work harder to meet the challenges of change.

5. Manipulation and co-optation: While Schlesinger and Kotter list manipulation and co-optation as methods for managing change, they note that this approach can undermine the leader’s ability to successfully use education or participation.

In transforming school communities, principals violate trust at their peril. Relationships are critical. I avoid manipulation and co-optation.

6. Coercion: This is the most basic tool for addressing resistance. When the stakes are high and student achievement is directly linked to teacher performance, coercion conveys a sense of urgency. Performance reviews tied to explicit expectations can keep your crew productively engaged.

Helping the crew members preoccupied with drilling either find their way up to the main deck to assist in the work or off the ship is the job of the leader. The sound of drilling will always be heard in the depths of a ship moving in the right direction. Responding to the sound, implementing appropriate countermeasures, and filling the holes are part of the journey of leadership.

Follow the Education Week Opinion section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Opinion in your email inbox.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Sponsor
Drive Improvement in Your School With Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership
Aubree Mills had two dilemmas she needed to address: One was recruiting and retaining good teachers at the Ira A. Murphy Elementary School
Content provided by Harvard Graduate School of Education
School & District Management Opinion Are Your Leadership Practices Good Enough for Racial Justice?
Scratch being a hero. Instead, build trust and reach beyond school walls, write Jennifer Cheatham and John B. Diamond.
Jennifer Cheatham & John B. Diamond
5 min read
Illustration of leadership.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: DigitalVision Vectors, iStock, Getty)
School & District Management We Pay Superintendents Big Bucks and Expect Them to Succeed. But We Hardly Know Them
National data is skimpy, making it hard to know what influences superintendents' decisions to move on, retire, or how long they stay. Why?
8 min read
Conceptual image of tracking with data.
marcoventuriniautieri/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Data For the First Time in the Pandemic, a Majority of 4th Graders Learn in Person Full Time
The latest monthly federal data still show big racial and socioeconomic differences in who has access to full-time in-person instruction.
3 min read
Student with backpack.
surasaki/iStock/Getty