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One of My Biggest Mistakes as a Principal

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When my #CompelledTribe blog topic for this month was presented, I wasn’t sure how I would pick from my many mistakes. Our assignment was inspired by Jon Harper’s #MyBad16 and we are taking Jon up on his challenge to write about a mistake we made and what we learned from it.

As I reflected on my ever-growing list of mistakes, I found one that stood out among the rest. As a principal, I know how important it is to TALK and truly LISTEN to teachers and staff, all the time. Every time there is a decision to make, debriefing to do, ideas to generate, problems to resolve, I know the best thing to do is to talk and listen to the experts I work with everyday. They are geniuses and amaze me with their wisdom and perspective. We make a great team.

However, I learned this lesson the hard way.

There was once a time when I worked in a school building with a group of school leaders. We would meet almost on a daily basis and talk through problems, ideas, and debrief. There were five of us in the room, so there was lots of expertise and many perspectives represented, and we walked out of those meetings with decisions and clear direction.

The problem with that system is that teachers and staff were not part of the equation. There was an attempt to consider their perspective, but that cannot be effectively accomplished if they are not directly involved in the conversations. Many times we would individually talk through an idea with a teacher or two before we presented it to the leadership team, but, again, that was relaying the information second-hand, which is certainly not as effective as having teachers right at the decision-making table.

What results is a disconnect between leadership and staff, where assumptions are made, and we already know where assumptions lead us. There is a lack of understanding of the why behind decisions and initiatives. Then a devastating thing happens--trust dissolves.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. -George Bernard Shaw

Although I am much better at communication now, this lesson needs to be alive in me all the time. I still sometimes make a decision without considering all perspectives because I have not talked it through enough. The way I combat this is to talk and listen, all the time, as much as possible.

In order to really listen, I have to be sincerely open to input. I have ideas, but I am okay if they are shot down by better ideas. One of my pet peeves is the term “buy-in”. I am not a salesperson, I am a leader of a team. If I have to worry about buy-in, that means we are not figuring things out together. Even if there is an initiative or curriculum that we must adopt, my job is not to sell it. My job is to lead the team to figure out how the mandated item can benefit our students within our goals, mission, and vision.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. -Stephen R. Covey

The talking and listening can happen in a variety of ways--individual conversations, grade level team conversations, whole staff collaborations, and sometimes through things like Google Forms. I like to keep survey-type input anonymous to encourage staff to be open and honest, so I only use it for certain purposes. The most important thing is to have a culture where relationships are strong, and where open and honest communication focused on problem-solving is the norm.

Here are blog posts I wrote about other mistakes I have made. I could write a book about my mistakes, maybe a series!

How I Avoided the Chopping Block my First Year of Teaching:


To Assume or Not to Assume?:


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Relationships are the foundation of learning, followed closely by innovating to meet the needs of all learners. Allyson is transparent about being a work in progress, and shares her journey with other educators through her blog.

The proud parent of two boys, Allyson has been an educator for more than 18 years. She started out her career teaching in a multi-age classroom with upper elementary students, and then went on to teach junior high. After spending two years as an elementary assistant principal, she became a junior high and high school principal. 

Now, she is an elementary principal at Quincy Elementary in Zeeland, MI. She adores her students, staff, parents and the community and feels so fortunate to have the opportunity to serve them.

  • Guest
    M. S. Rahman Sunday, 02 April 2017

    You are right Allyson. We commit mistakes in our professional journey as an educator and of course we learn from our mistakes to mature in our profession. And that is the beauty of life and living. Good post. Regards.

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Guest Friday, 22 February 2019