How Principals Best Help Students

3 Steps to Investing In The Right Areas

All principals have at one time been teachers. They’ve changed positions, and still have a great love for kids. But how a principal helps the students looks much different than when he/she was teaching. There’s another group he must focus on…

by @johnrudolphmueller via Flickr Creative Commons

by @johnrudolphmueller via Flickr Creative Commons

The Mindset Shifts

When making the transition from the classroom to the office, there are certain shifts that must take place. What made you successful as a teacher are the very things that can hinder you as an administrator.

Basic principles remain the same, but your audience, the scope of your reach, and your role on the team have now changed. Unless you notice these changes and accept them, you’ll always feel overwhelmed and your staff will feel over-managed and under-utilized.

Here are the main shifts you must make:

1. Shifting from having the right answers to having the right questions. Nothing can push great teachers farther faster than a leader who asks the right question at just the right time.

2. Shifting from micro to macro. In the classroom, you only had to worry about yourself. You didn’t need to build buy in, you didn’t need to worry about how it would affect the school as a whole, and change could occur at the drop of a hat. Now that you’re a leader, you must use more discernment on which things can be mandated and which things need to be slowly integrated.

3. Shifting from doing more work to having more influence. Working your tail off probably got you to this administrative position.

I’m not saying that you don’t work hard anymore (There’s a reason gray hair started showing up at 26 when I started my administrative career.). But this shift requires that others are involved. Things no longer rise and set on your abilities as an educator, but on your team.

“Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18 ESV)

A great book to read on this topic is John Maxwell’s book called The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential.

Building Great Teams

Once you have changed your mindset, the first step to best helping your students is to ensure they have the best people working with them each day.

The driving question that I use is “Would I want my children to be in this person’s classroom?”. If the answer is no, then why would I feel it would be ok to put someone else’s child in there?

To find out more on getting the right people on your team, you can read about my process for selecting the best candidates in this post: How To Hire The Best Person Every Time

Guard and Influence the Daily Schedule

The second step to best helping your students as the principal is to guard and influence the daily schedule.

1. Regular time for collaboration. Your teachers need time to work together. The surest way to guarantee an outdated curriculum and stale teaching strategies are to encourage isolation.

Creativity is best done in groups. Schedule this time regularly for your staff. Initially, you can direct them to make sure it is used appropriately. You might use these three guiding questions to keep them on track, while keeping it simple.

  • What do we want the students to learn?
  • How will we know if they learned it?
  • What are we going to do if they didn’t learn it?

Once they get used to this, all you really need to do is regularly check in on them, discuss progress, and help answer questions or solve problems.

2. Minimize Distractions. A major problem with working in the school system is that it’s constantly moving, and rarely slows down. If you aren’t careful, the urgent will always take precedent over the important.

That’s why its vital that you as the administrator filter out things that could be distracting to the job your teachers are performing. Here’s a few thoughts…

  • Save intercom announcements for specified times of the day.
  • Don’t allow phone calls to get to the classrooms while class is in session (except emergencies).
  • Have internal guidelines for what fliers get handed out to students. Not every organization or club in town needs access to the folders your students take home.
  • Always use agendas for meetings. Things can get sidetracked very easily without them.

3. The Power of Routines. – Stability is so vital for your staff. They need a rhythm to their day, week, and year. In order to do this, you have to guard them from those things that would cause NEEDLESS disruption to their calendar.

As a leader, you will determine the rhythm of their calendar. So plan carefully! See the big picture and be willing to say no to some things that would throw things off but come disguised as opportunities.

“Saying yes is easy. But knowing when to say no is the mark of true leadership.”

Provide Resources that Inspire, Not Prescribe

It’s about people, not programs. Most vendors want to sell you a solution to a problem. But they don’t know your people. They don’t understand the dynamics of your building. But do you know who does? Your teachers and staff.

1. Great teachers are naturally problem solvers. They may be stuck for now on what to do. As a leader, you don’t necessarily need to have an answer, but you can help find the inspiration they need to get over the hump.

Maybe it comes in the form of collaboration. Maybe it’s professional development. The next thing to consider is this…

2. Great training sparks new ideas. Because your teachers and staff know the dynamics of your building, then they would be the obvious people to hammer out any program or idea. But they might need to draw inspiration from someone outside of their normal group.

Sure you can hire someone to come speak to your staff, but I’ve also used email conversations, tweets, private messages, videos, and numerous other things to spark that creativity that was necessary to put us over. If you can give your teacher and staff an idea, then they can come up with all of the nuts and bolts of how to make it work.


As principal, there are lots of ways that your decisions will impact the students. None however are as great as the staff you place them with. Meet those needs of your teachers and you will indirectly be giving your students the best chance to be successful.

QUESTION: What do teachers need most from their principal in order to be successful with the students?

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