Education is the one thing that cannot be taken away from you and is the key to success. This is my 12th year as a principal and I have learned many things. Principals wear many hats and the job is an exhausting one. Here’s just seven lessons from one principal to another.
It is lonely at the top. When you are the leader it is not only lonely but it can be overwhelming. You put out fires on a daily basis while juggling curriculum, testing data, meetings, professional development, observations and more. You have to find a way to balance things as well as taking care of yourself mentally and physically.
Building relationships with students is very important. I tell my teachers how important it is to build relationships with their students. When students know their teacher genuinely cares about them and their well-being they will excel in academics and do their very best in the classroom. You have to connect with your students. They will achieve at amazing levels.
The buck starts and stops with you. Whatever happens and does not happen is on the leader’s shoulders. There are times when you have to pat yourself on the back because the compliments can be few and far between.
Finding the right teachers is crucial. Right now there is a shortage of teachers which makes it difficult for the recruitment process. I have hired visiting international faculty from Jamaica the last several years. It is an important task to find teachers who are passionate and have a genuine love for teaching high-needs students. It takes time to hire the right teachers and weed out the teachers who do not support your vision.
Communication is the key. I have very honest and open conversations with my staff about everything. It is important to build trust. I have an open door policy with my staff. They come and talk with me about teaching, their personal lives, challenges and other issues that may transpire. I have learned that you have to care enough to confront.
Title I schools have to make sure all of the students’ needs are met. I have been principal of four schools and all of them have been Title I schools. We spend a great deal of time ensuring students have the basic necessities along with providing quality instruction. Our students receive meals at no charge for breakfast and lunch. Some students take home backpack buddies filled with food on Fridays. We also have a washing machine and dryer at our school. I am constantly coming up with ways to expose them to the things that they need to know in life. I want them to beat the cycle of poverty.
Communication with parents is mandatory. I am always stressing the importance to communicate with parents on a consistent basis about their child’s academics and behavior to my teachers. A parent should not be surprised when they look at the grades on the progress report or report card because there should be consistent communication during the nine-week period. Most of my teachers send home weekly progress reports with detailed academic information.
Being a principal is a rewarding job that is a lot of hard work. I want to sit in my rocking chair one day and be able to say, “That is one of my babies doing great things and we laid the foundation and it made a difference.”
Shanessa Fenner is an elementary principal and has also been a middle school principal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, two master’s degrees in elementary education and school administration, and a doctorate in educational leadership. She also received the North Carolina Principal Fellows Scholarship.
Fenner is very active in her community as well as other things. She has ...