Some things are meant to swirl—roller coasters, clouds, river water, creamer atop hot coffee—but not the mind of a school’s leader. Principals should be clear-headed, organized and innovative. However, COVID-19 has made our roles even more challenging. Principals are experiencing mental swirls like never before, leaving us stunned, panicked and often solutionless. With this in mind, I designed an easy approach to modern principalship. It includes effective ways to provide principal support across your school community.
My approach boils down to four key areas: relationships, instruction, communication and evaluation. The teachers and I commonly refer to this as R.I.C.E. Over the next few months, I’ll explain the R.I.C.E. method in detail, with low-tech and high-tech examples of how you can use it as a principal. First, we’ll start with the “R” in R.I.C.E. This stands for relationships, the keystone to learning.
Principal support creates quality relationships
There have been endless books and papers written by people like John Hattie, Brené Brown and Stephen Covey on the importance of relationships. Making quality connections with all stakeholders leads to success in the classroom and beyond. When principals support their students and team, everyone has a chance to achieve.
According to Sarah D. Sparks in her article, “Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter,”* a review of nearly 50 studies shows that strong teacher-learner relationships create higher levels of success in several key areas, such as academics, attendance and disruptive behaviors. This is particularly true in math classes as students are more likely to persevere through challenging learning moments when they have a teacher or principal checking in often.
Relationships with staff, upper administration, school boards and our local communities are just as significant. Principal support is all about genuine conversations, which leads to buy-in, understanding and increased capacity.
Below are eight quick-hitting strategies that will help you provide principal support to your school. These strategies work in any type of learning: face-to-face, hybrid and online. No matter what your approach is to building relationships, remember they are the keystone for R.I.C.E. As my mentor principal once said, “People first, paperwork second.”
1. Providing principal support with digital co-teaching
One of the best features in Google Classroom, Hāpara Dashboard and Hāpara Workspace is the co-teaching option. After teachers have built their classes, ask them to add you as a co-teacher. Then you can view student work samples and send messages to individual students or groups of students. I try to stay 100% positive in my messaging, unless a teacher asks me to be more critical. This is a great way to build relationships with students and stay in tune with classroom activities.
2. Supporting your school through custom email
With a couple of tweaks, mass email can be a great way to build relationships. For example, a high school principal friend of mine sends emails out per grade level. She avoids long emails or newsletters that contain a massive list of information.
She starts with a root email and then customizes it per class, changing tone, links and any other information. These custom-tailored emails save stakeholders time and energy. Also, the principal can focus on one group of her students at a time.
Video tip: Use the Contacts Application in Google Workspace to set up email groups to save time.
3. Showing your support with summertime slide shows
Summertime slide shows have been around for a while but have always been a pain to compile. Many students, especially in larger school districts, don’t see one another during summer break. So I show principal support to the school community by asking students and parents for fun summer photos.
They submit their photos by inserting them into a Google Slideshow. After I clean up the slideshow and edit it, I share it with everyone. The pictures are a blast, and everyone gets to see a different slice of our students and staff. It helps us transition to school, since it shares a collective story.
Video tip: Use the new file upload feature in Google Forms to easily collect and organize images from students and families.
4. Principal support and community cafes
Community cafes are another way to provide principal support and build relationships. In a safe and socially-distanced space, on or off-campus, set up a community cafe. Invite students, parents, board members and community members for an evening of coffee, cocoa and doughnuts.
Create groups of four to six people and have them chat about set topics for 15 minutes or so. When time is up, remix groups, introduce a new topic and repeat the process. The innovative ideas generated in one Community Cafe is equal to a year’s worth of strategic planning meetings. Plus, everyone walks away feeling heard and validated.
Video tip: Train your ASB council on how to use a shared Google Doc and Chromebooks to capture conversation details.
5. Using home visits to show principal support
Home visits are a meaningful way to show principal support. They do require planning and courage. Of course, always call ahead and explain your reason for visiting the home. It should not be punitive in any way, and be sure to use the buddy system when you go. Ask a fellow VP, nurse, counselor or teacher to join you on the visit.
Have an agenda but keep it simple. When I conduct visits, I design a one-page document to facilitate a conversation about the learner and their needs.
Video tip: Use Hapara’s teacher dashboard to access student work samples beforehand.
6. Sending encouragement with snail mail and drop-offs
COVID-19 has brought back traditional snail mail and drop-offs. Hopefully, it sticks around because students of all ages love receiving packages. In the past, I had my staff write sticky notes for a student who was rocking it at school. We’d stuff the notes in an envelope with confetti and glitter.
I included a brief message asking the student to post the notes around their bedroom. This was to remind them of the awesome work they were doing. Gift cards and a handwritten note on an index card work just as well.
7. Helping as a principal during recess
For my fellow elementary principals, there is no faster way to give support than participating in recess. Children love to see you run, dodge, laugh and sometimes slip and fall. They’ll see you as a principal who doesn’t mind getting dirty and playing.
In the past, I have bribed my teachers with coffee to join me during the winter months. I especially reach out to teachers who work with difficult behavioral students. I’ve found that teachers see these students in a different light on the playground. That leads to greater understanding and new approaches in the classroom.
8. Showing support to staff with Lucky Lotto tickets
One last way I show principal support to my team is with Lucky Lotto tickets. Every winter break I stuff cards with $2 dollar scratch-off tickets. Then I hand-deliver them to my staff, custodians, central office staff and my superintendents. I don’t have time to write them all a note. Instead I write one little message, print it off in mass and then slip it inside the card. Of course, I remind them of the 10% finders fee if their scratch-off happens to hit it big. People love the little gesture, and it lets them know you’re real. Other gifts work too: homemade jam, candles or cookies. A little bit of time putting together something personal goes a long way.