Got a Brilliant Idea? 7 Ways to Gain Your Principal’s Support

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Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/aXEoAt

As a professional learning facilitator, I get to work closely with quite a few building leaders each year. Each brings a unique perspective, leadership style, and set of expertise to the table. Each has a vision for the school community he or she is trying to create as well. I’ve never known a principal who wasn’t supportive of teachers, but I’ve known plenty whose definition of support meant something far different from the one held by the teachers in their buildings.

There’s the rub.

Once the honeymoon is over and teachers begin settling into our work together, it isn’t uncommon for a few to begin venting frustrations about their relationships with their administrators. Savvy principals know that this is not atypical, and they also know not to take it personally. The fact is, these same teachers will often vent to them as well, and some of what they say will likely be about me.

Change is uncomfortable for everyone, and if you’re going to call yourself a change agent, you better buckle up for a bumpy ride. People will disagree (sometimes loudly). Feelings may be hurt (often temporarily), and a few people may scoop up their marbles and stomp home (much to the relief of others).

When we commit to kindness, our self-confidence grows and we begin to trust ourselves more. We have no need to attack, undermine, or shame others because we know we have the skills and the courage to seek better resolutions head-on.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that as an outsider who is invited into these systems, it is not my place to act on behalf of frustrated teachers or leaders. It’s not my place to put anyone in their places, either. When I’m doing my best work, I’m helping everyone get better at what they do and feel better about how they’re doing it: administrators, teachers, and students alike. Even those I disagree with.

These are lessons that every new professional learning provider should be taught explicitly, but too few are. We learn through our experiences.

If I go about the business of trying to play hero for those I assume have been disenfranchised inside of any system, I run the risk of weakening them further. People must learn to advocate for themselves and resolve their own problems, and this doesn’t happen when I step in to dry tears or pat hands. My goal is to bring people closer to one another by fostering healthy interdependence as well as I can.  People like me are responsible for leaving every system stronger than we find it. This is often our greatest challenge. It’s taken me almost a decade to learn this, and I still forget sometimes. So do others.

I’ve worked with hundreds of talented, enthusiastic, and dedicated teachers over the years. Many of them have great ideas and important contributions to make. Many of them grow silent in the wake of perceived rejection, too. So often, relationships are strained because someone has a fantastic idea and they sense that those in power don’t care about it at all.

“My principal doesn’t support me,” I’m often told.

“She doesn’t listen.”

“He doesn’t care.”

It’s all so personal, isn’t it? I can understand why. I also know that often, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Do you have a brilliant idea? These approaches may help you garner your principal’s support.

7 Ways to Gain Your Principal’s Support

1. Seek to understand before you expect to be understood.

You may have a fantastic idea, but your principal is responsible for having a multifaceted action plan, and such plans are often comprised of many moving parts. Great ones are designed with intention: they work toward the achievement of a far greater vision, and they do so in ways that do not create competing initiatives that drain efforts of their potential. Perhaps before you propose your own ideas, you might invest yourself in learning more about the bigger picture and how your plan might support it.

2. Bring data.

Most teachers are very creative, very passionate, and very proud people. We’re curious. We love learning. We’re also taught to notice problems and generate lots of solutions. I’ve learned that the more certain I feel about any solution, the harder I should probably work to seek dissenting voices. Inviting people to poke holes in my logic is important. Allowing evidence to inform my perspective is as well. Passion can narrow our perspective, and all great leaders know this. If you’re eager to gain your principal’s support, use evidence to demonstrate the importance of your idea.

3. Distinguish what children need from what the adults in your system want.

You may want to teach a certain text next year, but your students may need abundant choice in order to fall in love with reading. Your principal may want all of your students to engage in collaborative writing experiences, but they may need to firewall their works in progress and build confidence independently before they’re able to engage in collaborative classroom experiences.

If you want to know what kids need in order to learn or perform better, ask them. Conduct a creative pre-assessment. Then, study the alignment between what they say and what adults are calling for. Are there times when teachers and administrators know best? Sure there are. We need to involve learners in conversations about their learning far more often, though. We need to involve them in decision-making too.

4. Have a plan.

Great ideas are often ethereal at first. If you want your principal’s support, start nailing down the specifics. Who will be served by your idea? How? To what degree? For how long? How will you know if your idea accomplished what you intended it to? Sketch out an implementation plan, and present it as a proposal that can be adapted. Be ready to flex that plan in response to what others may need, too.

5. Offer solutions.

Take the time to investigate and articulate some of the greater problems within your classroom and the system as a whole. Does your idea provide a solution? Illuminate this potential. If it doesn’t, you may have some work to do.

6. Be aware of cognitive bias.

If you want your ideas to be taken seriously, you need to attend to cognitive bias. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched teachers grow angry when principals fail to support proposals because they’re grounded in faulty reasoning. Something else: some building principals struggle to be transparent about this because they fear offending their teachers.

So, before you pitch an idea, learn what you can about cognitive bias. Understand that it influences everyone’s thinking, and do what you can to compensate for your own. For instance, these five questions can help you curb your confirmation bias.

7. Be kind, not nice.

Congeniality is the enemy of kindness. Kindness requires a level of courage that nice does not. Kind people are courageous enough to share their needs, their thinking, and their ideas even when it might make others uncomfortable. They do this in ways that honor differences and inspire respectful debate. Kindness is sensitive to time and place, and it’s attentive to the perspectives and feelings of others as well–especially those we disagree with.

When we commit to kindness, our self-confidence grows and we begin to trust ourselves more. We have no need to attack, undermine, or shame others because we know we have the skills and the courage to seek better resolutions head-on. We’re also strong enough to realize our own flaws and faults, and we treat others as we want to be treated when challenged.

If you’re eager to gain your principal’s support, develop the courage to be kind and show gratitude for those who are willing to be more than nice to you.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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