Throughout my teaching career, I've been fortunate to have worked with an inspired group of school leaders. They've motivated me to be a better teacher, supported me when I took risks, and respected the strengths I bring to my classroom. However, I've known teachers who have struggled to maintain good working relationships with their school principal or school administrators, and I've even had my share of disagreements. So what can you do to move past these situations?
Try It Their Way
The first step is to just try what they're proposing. Even if you disagree, don't put up a fight right away. Over the years, I've been asked to try classroom techniques I disagreed with, curriculum that seemed absurd, or management techniques I was sure wouldn't work with my class. Even though I disliked these requests, I still tried them. For example, our principal once observed my class as I taught fractions to my fifth graders. The lesson went well, but she wanted me to teach it in a different way. I felt like her method wouldn't reach all of my students, but I tried it anyway. As expected, it worked for some kids and not others. It wasn't a total loss because the principal saw where I was coming from and I learned a technique that I still use with some students.
At the end of the day, the school is under the principal's watchful eye and command. If you try what they're proposing and discover that it doesn't work for your classroom, you now have evidence to support your opposing stance. If their proposal does work, you'll have a new trick to incorporate into your classroom!
Talk It Out
When your relationship with your principal works well, it enhances everyone's well-being—your students, your colleagues, and the energy of the entire school. So if there's conflict between you, it will resonate with these groups as well. A colleague of mine was once struggling with a difference of opinion on parent communication procedures. The teacher wanted to email parents if there were issues with their child but the principal disagreed. They argued at a faculty meeting in front of other staff members; it was ugly. But when they had a private meeting, with a teacher representative as a witness, it went really well and they were able to resolve their differences.
If you're having issues communicating with your principal, set up a meeting to talk. If you feel uncomfortable, bring a colleague for support. Openness and honesty will demonstrate that you're ready and willing to work out the problem together. It will also show that you're dedicated to your position in the school community. Working out a problem with your principal is no different from working out a problem between two kids in the classroom. Listen first, don't be defensive, imagine what would be better from their perspective, and explain your point of view without blame or anger.
Talk to your colleagues; you may not be the only one having a hard time. Before you ask someone for their advice or help, be sure you're not spreading gossip or looking for people to gang up on your principal. Your intention should be to find help to understand if this is an ongoing issue the principal has with teachers or if it's unique to your situation. Find out what has and hasn't worked in the past when it comes to solving problems with your school leader.
And as I said earlier, if you're nervous about meeting with your principal to discuss a conflict, bring a teacher representative to help you communicate your thoughts and desires. It might be good to have a witness in case you want to review what was discussed.
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At the end of the day, remember that you and your principal have the same goal: to inspire students. It's important to see any disagreement through this lens. Principals also aren't perfect. Some struggle with open communication and may be more afraid of discussing a conflict than you are. So be open and start the conversation. You'll be surprised that many conflicts can be turned into learning experiences for both of you.