Throughout my teaching career, I've been lucky. No matter where I've gone, each school's principal has been the perfect blend of encouraging, creative, and inspiring. Not only have these individuals helped me become a better teacher, but they've helped me become a better person, and I even consider some to be my friends today. But as amazing as they were, it wasn't entirely up to them. Forging a relationship with your principal is a two-way street.
In the best of times, your working relationship with your principal will be both supportive and motivating, and in the worst of times, it can be downright scary. But there are a few strategies you can implement to set the stage for a positive, encouraging, and honest relationship with the educational leaders at your school.
Ask for Help (But Not Right Away)
Most principals love when you go to them for help or advice when dealing with a problem . . . after you've tried working it out yourself. If you ask for help with a classroom challenge, parent issue, or question related to the curriculum, a colleague, or another staff member, the first thing your school's principal will likely ask is, "What have you done up to now to fix the situation?" For your own sake, have a better answer than, "Well, I thought I would talk to you first."
Principals have to deal with a myriad of things that are thrown their way by 9:30 a.m., and you can't expect them to solve a problem you haven't even attempted to handle. When you ask for their help, you should have tried at least three alternative solutions. Obviously ignore this advice if there's a legitimate emergency in your classroom—by all means, go directly to your principal. But if you want to be treated like a colleague and a professional, when you turn to them for help, show them that you've tried but still need their guidance.
Your school's principal is likely running a mile a minute, putting fires out left and right. It's a demanding job that can exhaust even the most determined and committed person. They deserve to get a little good news now and then. If you successfully reached a group of struggling students with a lesson, had an inspiring parent meeting, or had a breakthrough in your own teaching, share it with your principal. You don't have to be formal and set up a meeting; keep it casual. If you see them in the hall, give them the two-sentence summary of what happened.
If a class project went particularly well, you could invite the principal to drop by and check it out. I sent a two-line e-mail inviting the assistant principal—they are busy, too!—to come to my classroom for a poetry reading of my student's work. He showed up (albeit a few minutes late) and had a huge smile on his face afterward. "This was the highlight of my day," he said. "Thanks for letting me know about it. Gotta go!"
Respect Their Rules
We get frustrated when our students don't listen, right? So it can't be hard to imagine how your school leader feels when his or her teachers aren't listening. Spoiler alert: it's a bummer. Now, I don't mean that you have to give all of your principal's ideas a big green stamp of approval. Just remember to file your paperwork, arrive to meetings on time, listen to their requests, and, most importantly, participate in the betterment of your school. This will help to make their job easier, and if you ever have a disagreement, they'll know you're ultimately a team player and will be that much more willing to hear your opinion.
It's not that hard to set the foundation for a positive relationship with your school's principal. These tips won't guarantee the perfect working relationship, but they can put the odds in your favor (and in theirs as well). Keep in mind that they need you to step up and be a professional, just like you need them to be a solid, empathetic leader. One day, you might even step into their shoes and become principal—and we need strong leaders!