Effective School Leaders Are Approachable
To become an effective principal, your staff members must feel comfortable coming to you with their problems or concerns. Do you come off as someone that is approachable? If your staff members communicate their needs to you, ask questions and let you know when problems arise, then you probably have nothing to worry about.
However, if weeks pass by, and virtually no one asks you a question or complains about a problem or issue, then either your school is a utopia, or people feel intimidated by your personality, intellect, or both. Don’t worry, becoming approachable is not the most challenging thing to do, it just takes some practice and consistency.
Let’s look at how this plays out in real life. In the vignette below, a colleague offers to describe a few useful feedback tools to get communication flowing. How would you enable teachers at Principal Riley’s school to feel more comfortable sharing information? How can you incorporate your suggestions into your own professional practice?
Scenario: Principal Riley was frustrated. In her weekly staff meetings, she begged her staff to come forward with problems or issues they had, rather than griping behind her back. But almost six months of the school year had passed, and not a single teacher had come forward. Her administrative assistant, however, sometimes dropped hints that the teachers weren’t satisfied.
He would meet them in informal settings after school, where they’d confide that they were unhappy with Principal Riley’s management style.
“Then why don’t they come forward?” she raged, banging her desk. “Are they cowards? I ask them in every staff meeting to tell me their problems. Did I say ask? I meant beg! But they just sit there looking at their hands.”
Finally, Principal Riley approached fellow principal about her communication problems.
“Think about it from their side,” he told her. “You’re a powerful, intimidating woman, with a huge voice and a huge intellect. You’re standing in front of them, yelling at them to tell you their problems. Obviously, they aren’t comfortable in that setting.”
Principal Riley realized that she lacked the skills necessary to make the teachers feel comfortable. She asked her colleague if he could offer some suggestions, and he agreed to meet with her and provide some tools that would get the information flowing again.
As we can see, Principal Riley’s inability to create an effective feedback process hampered the development of the school. Her colleague might encourage her to try out different formats for staff meetings, including circular seating arrangements or meetings led by other staff members, in which Principal Riley would sit amongst the teachers and take notes.
Her colleague might encourage Principal Riley to have more one-on-one sessions with teachers, in less formal situations, and to make a genuine effort to listen to and learn from them. It would require a shift in thinking and tone but could have a dramatic effect on the school environment.