PD for Principals: When a Principal is Intimidated During Staff Meetings

Why Do Principals Avoid Staff Meetings?

As a district-level leader, what can you do to help a principal who appears to be intimidated by his or her teachers? The most obvious tip-off is a principal who avoids convening the staff.

Effective principals schedule meetings to boost professional learning

Although in past posts I have advocated ditching status meetings, such as standing staff meetings, and handling routine business by electronic memos or email, there are times when staff meetings are necessary. More importantly, staff meetings that are devoted to professional learning are an essential part of any school’s ongoing work to improve student achievement.

Principals who are intimidated by teachers often avoid holding staff meetings

I met an elementary principal who confided that she didn’t like to get up in front of the teachers, so she simply didn’t hold staff meetings. This came to light in a site visit to consider her candidacy for a regional Principal of the Year award, for which she had been nominated by her district. Other telling signs of ineffectiveness emerged in group interviews, but interestingly, the district leaders we interviewed were clearly unaware of the issues. Needless to say, she was not selected for recognition.

Eschewing teacher meetings because of public speaking anxiety or to avoid ‘gripe sessions’ are signs a principal is struggling

Another principal, the leader of a large high school, had stopped holding staff meetings because they inevitably disintegrated into gripe sessions, and he was consistently unable to get the meetings back on track. One or several teachers had posted a tally sheet in the staff lounge proclaiming, “____ Days Since the Last Staff Meeting.” Although this district was aware that the principal was in trouble, whatever efforts were made to support him apparently failed, and he resigned at the end of the year.

Choosing principals who don’t fear their staff: Prevention is the best cure

Certainly, prevention is the best cure, and designing interview questions and candidate tasks to help uncover such weaknesses during principal selection is a key responsibility for district leaders. One chief HR official said, “We look for people who clearly like to get out front. A principal has to be a bit of a showperson.” But sometimes a seemingly-stellar candidate’s weaknesses do not emerge until sometime after she or he is placed. Then what?

Coaching principals on holding staff meetings: Tips for district leaders

After noticing this problem, here are some practical coaching points that district leaders can employ. Ideally, these strategies are used when mentoring and coaching new principals, but if needed, they can also support a principal who is struggling.

Gather a team to develop meeting norms

Establishing group norms for all settings, including staff meetings, is an important first step for any new principal. If an established principal missed this step, it is not too late. Calling together a team of teacher leaders, the principal can facilitate a process to develop meeting norms.

Create group norms that solve common staff meeting problems

A good first step is to ask the group to brainstorm reasons people dislike meetings, then to ask for suggestions for a norm for each problem. Strong norms are short — no more than five total — and phrased in positive language. The finished set can be co-presented to the staff by the principal and members of the team.

Include teachers in the brainstorming process

Even better is a process where all the teachers, sitting in their course-alike teams, complete this process, and the leadership team distills the final set, which is presented at the next staff meeting and signed by all teachers. However, if the principal is unable to manage a full-staff process, calling upon teacher leaders can also work well.

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Terry Wilhelm knows what it takes to be a leader in today’s education community. She has served as a classroom teacher, a school principal, a district-level and area service agency administrator, and a college adjunct professor, and has extensive experience facilitating professional development for educators. In Leaders’ Link, Wilhelm offers strategies to meet the challenges and maximize the opportunities administrators encounter at the site and district level. Wilhelm holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and an administrative credential from California State University, San Bernardino. She is a district-level facilitator who works with educators nationally and is owner and founder of Educators 2000.

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