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7 tips for making your principal your ally (for teachers)

Last September, I wrote a blog post on how librarians can create an ally of their principals. In a comment added to that post yesterday, Anne observed:

If I could possibly change a few words so this writing was for teachers in general and not 'librarian-specific', it would be very constructive advice for teachers who are starting out as well as a timely reminder for those who are experienced.

So here you are, Anne. Happy start to your new year.

BTW, all the Blue Skunk posts are in Creative Commons, so anyone can use and adapt anything found here.


Teachers, you cannot afford to have an adversarial relationship with your principal. You cannot even afford a principal who is an "agent of benevolent neglect." You need an administrator who actively supports you, your projects, and your students.

Your principal needs you as well - as a cheer-leader and co-conspirator for change efforts. As a willing participant, even guinea pig, for new programs. As an educator who can positively affect the learning environment of the whole school. As a researcher for best practices information. How exactly does your principal rely on you? Are you important enough to be listened to?

Principals and teachers need to be firm allies in helping their schools change in positive ways.

And it may well be up to you, not your principal, to create this alliance. Here are some concrete ways you can do so...

1.    Report regularly and formally. We should all be sending out a written (emailed) quarterly principal’s report. These should be upbeat, useful, and short. Send digital photos of happy kids participating in activities in your classroom to your principal and information to include in the school parent newsletter. Administrators HATE surprises - good and bad. Keep yours in the loop.

2.    Know you principal’s goals and interests. Can you rattle off right now the three or four things your principal considers important in your school, your building goals? Test scores? Climate? Meaningful technology use? For what is your principal being held accountable by her boss? Where do your professional passions and your principal’s goals overlap?

3.    Be seen outside the classroom. If your principal sees you on committees, attending school events, and even in the teacher’s lounge, not only can you chat informally about classroom matters, but you send a powerful non-verbal message as well: I am full, committed member of the school staff. 

4.    Disagree with your principal - when necessary. You may think that some ideas of your principal may not be in the best interests of your students. If that’s the case, you have an ethical duty to give your reasons to your principal. But this is important: do so in private. Always voice your support in public; always voice your differences in private.

5.    Do not whine. What is whining and how does it differ from constructive communication efforts? Robert Moran in his book Never Confuse a Memo with Reality says it best: “Never go to your boss with a problem without a solution. You are paid to think, not to whine.” I know it feels good to just let it all out sometimes about things that really can’t be changed. But listening to that sort of venting is what your spouse, your mom or your cat is there for.

6.    Do NOT advocate for yourself. Advocate for your students. Advocating for your classroom sounds, and usually is, self-serving. When you talk to your principal whether proposing a plan, asking for funds, or suggesting a solution to a problem, make sure it clear the underlying reason is “It’s a change that will be good for my kids.”

7.    Be a leader as well as a follower. Our communication efforts can and should not just inform, but persuade others, guide the directions of our organization, and improve our effectiveness. If we don’t create the positive changes in our schools that improve kids lives, just who the heck will? Clear articulation of our values and beliefs helps create strong relationships.

Be the teacher principals seek out, not the one they avoid. It's not hard, but it requires mindfulness. 

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Reader Comments (4)

As I hope to start a new teaching position soon, I will be using these tips as soon as possible.

Happy New Year Doug!

December 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

I enjoyed this entry very much and intend to use it as a jump off point with both my administrators. Thank you for the insight!

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

If possible , please turn this into tips for the school principals and supervisors for them to become an ally of the Division Superintendents.

January 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergus cepe

Hi Gus,

My experience with this level is pretty slight, so I will leave that task to you. The principles should be the same - communications, knowing one's supervisor and organizations goals and concerns, being a problem-solver, etc.

Best of luck to you and happy new year!


January 2, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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