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March 19, 2024

5 Essential Cs for New Principals To Cultivate a Thriving School

Welcome to the Principalship!

As a new principal, transitioning from the role of assistant principal to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of your school can be both exhilarating and daunting. You’ve been entrusted with the responsibility of shaping the future of your school community, but with it comes a host of challenges and uncertainties. In this blog post, we’ll explore 5Cs—Clarity, Confidence, Collaboration, Communication, and Celebration—that are essential for new principals to cultivate a thriving school environment.

Clarity

The journey to becoming a successful principal of a thriving school begins with clarity. As Brene Brown states, “To be clear is kind.” To be clear and kind to your school community, you must have a clear understanding of your vision, goals, and priorities for the school as you cultivate academic excellence. Take the time to reflect on what you hope to achieve in your tenure as principal. 

Here are the steps I took when assuming the role of a new principal (and what I learned along the way):

  • Write down your vision and goals. 
  • Then, conduct your “new principal” homework at your school—conduct interviews, observations, review documents, etc., and compile all your findings. Assess the state of your new school, identify strengths, opportunities to build upon, and listen to what your constituents have to say.
  • Next, align your vision as principal with your findings and articulate it to stakeholders, including teachers, staff, scholars, and parents. 
What I learned: Clarity provides direction and purpose, guiding your decision-making and actions as you navigate the complexities of the principalship.

Confidence

Confidence is key to influential and impactful leadership. As a new principal, it’s normal to experience feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt. However, it’s essential to project and believe in your abilities and decisions. Believing in yourself and your capacity to lead and influence your school to success equals confidence. How do you project and move with confidence as a new principal? Seek out opportunities for professional development and networking to bolster your confidence and expertise as a new principal. 

This is what worked for me as a new principal:

Seek out a leadership coach or mentor who can serve as a thought partner and trusted confidant. This will help you to move strategically and with greater confidence in your new role as a principal of a thriving school. This may or may not be provided by your district.  In my case, I did not have an external leadership coach, but I did have access to a new principal cohort at a local university.  I then took it upon myself to find new principals in other districts and even other states (thanks to Twitter) to find my tribe of new principals.

What I learned: A leadership coach or mentor helps you to move with confidence! The role of the coach or mentor is not to tell you what to do, the role is to provide you with a psychologically safe, yet reflective holding space to navigate and think through your actions. 

Collaboration

No principal can succeed alone—this is even more critical for a new principal! Collaboration is fundamental to building a strong, cohesive, and supportive school community. Foster a culture of collaboration and cohesion among teachers, staff, scholars, parents, and community partners.

During my tenure as a new principal:

I immediately started with a collaborative spirit in mind. My first order of business was to create a leadership team and assess the current state of collaboration within the school. This is where one of my favorite hashtags (#CollectiveExcellence) was born and the tagline: “It Takes a Village to Raise a Scholar!!”  I use these still to this day to communicate collaboration and interdependence.

What I learned: Encourage open communication, teamwork, and shared decision-making. By working together towards common goals, you can harness the collective talents and resources of your school community to drive positive change and innovation.

Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful school leadership. As a new principal, effective communication means you must communicate clearly, consistently, and transparently with all stakeholders, internal and external. Keep them informed about important developments, initiatives, and decisions affecting the school through communication and feedback loops. Create a system where you actively listen and respond to concerns, feedback, and ideas AND share information.  Do this for internal and external stakeholders.

Here’s what I did:

  • For me, I created designated days/times when I met with parents during the week, 
  • Calendarize. Finally (and of utmost importance), calendarize this as part of your new principal duties. When will you communicate with internal and external stakeholders? I found that if I did not have it on my calendar it did not get done! 
  • Communicate the calendar. I also shared my calendar with parents and staff. I did this by sending out a weekly memo to staff and parents but I also created a yearly calendar as well. 
What I learned: By fostering open, transparent, and honest communication, you can build trust, rapport, and mutual respect within your school community. Remember, as humans, we like predictability and consistency. 

Celebration

Last but not least, don’t forget to celebrate the successes and achievements of your school community. Recognize and appreciate the hard work, effort, dedication, and contributions of teachers, staff, scholars, and parents. Celebrate academic achievements, extracurricular accomplishments, and milestones in the life of the school. By celebrating successes, you foster a positive and supportive school culture that inspires continued excellence and engagement. Always look for the Win-Win and ways to celebrate the efforts of your school community towards attaining school goals.

This is what worked for me as a new principal:

Being a new principal is quite busy, thus, I began to intentionally plan to celebrate and put it on my calendar “i.e. calendarize.”  I also aligned celebrations and quick-wins with school goals and feedback you’ve received from my school community.  

  • For example, I instituted Team of the Year, Team of the Month etc. that aligned to goals centered around team collaboration and academic goals.   
  • I also instituted “First Friday” celebrations which were essentially whole school assemblies once a month where the entire school body gathered in the cafeteria and we would recognize students, staff, and even parents for achievements. This began as something for staff and scholars, but some parents would attend after they began to hear about it from their scholars and see pictures and videos from our social media.
What I learned: This solidifies that you are indeed listening, enacting, and celebrating. This is the foundation for a confident, charismatic principal of a thriving school.

In conclusion, as a new principal, cultivating a thriving school requires a commitment to the 5Cs—Clarity, Confidence, Collaboration, Communication, and Celebration. New principals, I implore you to embrace these principles as guideposts in your building leadership journey. With clarity of vision, confidence in your abilities, a spirit of collaboration, effective communication, and a culture of celebration, you can create a school environment where every member of the community thrives and succeeds. Here’s to your success as a new principal and to the bright, thriving future of your school. Our scholars need you. The best is yet to come!


About the Author

Dr. Chara N. Willaford, Ed.D., aka “Dr. Chara”, is the founder and CEO of Be Your Best Yet Coaching and Consulting, boasting over 25 years of experience in education. Specializing in school turnarounds, principal pipeline development, leadership training, coaching, mentoring and development, Dr. Chara is dedicated to empowering school leaders to foster thriving educational environments. Her mission is fueled by a belief in the transformative power of leadership and a commitment to shaping the future of education.  Dr. Chara is also the author of the forthcoming book, From Assistant Principal to CEO: 10 Tenets to Empower New Principals to Successfully Transition, Lead with Strategic Vision, and Shape a Thriving School.

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