Your principal can be your biggest supporter or can make your job more difficult. Most of you work on relationship building with teachers, recognizing it as the first step in collaboration. The same is true with your principal. Considering how important s/he is to your success, developing or improving that relationship should be a priority goal for you.
To initiate the process, you need to know who they are. Discover what your principal’s interests are, both professionally and personally. What are their goals? Vision? Do they have hobbies? What are they passionate about? Listening to what they say, what metaphors they use, will give you some clues. Searches on social media and the school’s website will reveal additional information.
Interest is the first step in building a relationship. Do you share any of the same interests and passions? Let your principal know. We are drawn to people who are interested in the same things we are. It doesn’t matter if it’s British mysteries, sports or the importance of literacy.
Follow-through is the second step. Share any information you find about these interests. Again, this works for both professional and personal interests. It gives you another reason to connect and strengthens the growing connection.
Empathy is the third step. Let your principal know you recognize the demands of their position and the pressures they face. While the school may focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL), it is likely your principal isn’t doing it for him/herself. Show when you have something that can help them reach their goals.
Trust is the final step which develops when building a relationship. You can’t have a relationship without it, which means you cannot be manipulative in building this connection. Although having this solid relationship improves your program, the larger picture is that when you have the principal’s support – and you support the principal – the whole educational community thrives.
When and how you initiate these four steps is also important. Some will be done in casual conversations which is easy when you have a principal who is a presence in the building. It’s a bit more challenging with those who stay ensconced in their office or if you serve more than one school.
Brief emails are the most common way to inform your principal about websites and other information you have come across. If you have a hard copy of a magazine or professional journal and want to alert him/her, write a brief note and have the secretary pass it along. Inevitably, you’ll get some type of positive response.
Once the relationship starts to have a foundation, you can schedule short meetings– no more than fifteen minutes – to discuss a plan or something you are doing for the principal. Be sure you don’t go beyond the time allotted. Ending early is best. When you have established your relationship, plan on a summer meeting to share what your goals are for the year and take the opportunity at this time to learn what the principal’s goals are. It is a slower time, and you have the best chance of being heard.
In an article for Southwestern Musician (yes, this time I went way out of our field as part of my learning) entitled Communicating with Your Administrators, Rick Ghianelli and Jeff Laird offer the following practical advice:
Understanding the role of the administrator: Administrators are under even more stress than you and the rest of the teachers. You can tell by how much turn over exists. Test scores and tight budgets. Kids with trauma. Developing programs promoting diversity. All the issues hit their desk—and they are accountable to parents and the superintendent of schools. As someone once told me, “they are drowning in detail.” Be aware and empathetic.
What are you trying to accomplish? Be focused and get to the bottom line quickly when you are asking for something. They don’t have time for the details. If they want it, they will ask.
What do they need to know? This is also about focus and will help you keep your meeting/request brief.
Addressing your concerns: I can’t improve on the advice Ghianelli and Laird give here:
- Be passionate about what you do, but know the big picture
- Have some suggestions to solve the problem
- Be patient and understanding
Maintaining support. Your relationship needs to be ongoing. To get support, give support. Advocate for others and show you are a member of the team. Keep your principal aware of what you are doing in the library. Send a short email of a highlight for the week and make an effort to submit quarterly reports. Look for opportunities where they can participate.
When a principal recognizes the importance of the library program and supports it, the teachers follow. While you are spending time building relationships with your teachers, be sure you are also developing the most critical one – with your administrator.