Mentoring Matters for Middle Level and Secondary Principals: February/March

Leadership-life Fit:

On our paths to a better fit, we occasionally need a quick fix. Find 6 one-minute tips to de-stress in the moment.


Effective Leadership:

Take a moment to reflect on your strengths as a leader to ensure the traits identified in the linked article below — “5 Reasons Leaders Fail” — continue to serve you positively. 

Bacharach, S. (Feb. 2013). 5 Reasons Leaders Fail. Inc.

Questions for mentor/mentee discussion regarding “5 Reasons Leaders Fail”:

  1. Why would the leader be the one to suffer from a team’s groupthink?
  2. What behaviors would a leader display when his/her vision has become an obsession?
  3. What are some lessons regarding delegation that you have learned?
  4. What if your evidence affirms that you are on the best path toward your vision, but your staff and/or administrative colleagues see you as inflexible?
  5. What other trait/s when taken to an extreme can lead to failed leadership? 

Leading Learning:

How do you support struggling teachers? How do you cultivate highly effective teaching building-wide? Two authors provide insight and concrete, specific strategies for building teacher capacity.

Morris, R. (2009). Improving a struggling teacher. Principal.

In the above linked article, principal Roma Morris describes in detail the process in which she engaged to help a struggling teacher improve. She advises, “If we are to demand effective teachers, we, as principals, must also be effective leaders. We must be strong enough to do what has to be done, but kind enough to recognize when to lead with our hearts.”

As you reflect on this article and think about providing leadership to a struggling teacher on your staff, take some time to process the following questions. Below the questions, you will find a sample schedule a principal implemented to support her struggling teacher. Note that the resources available to you may not include a mentor who is available to teach the struggling teacher’s course, but would it be feasible to hire a substitute for the mentor? Do you have an instructional coach? Is there another substitute in the building you could use during this time? How might you use video? Again, this is just a sample to give you a sense of the level of support some teachers might need.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What opportunities does your struggling teacher have to observe an exemplary teacher and then process the observation with the teacher and possibly you (see sample schedule below)?
  2. How frequently does your struggling teacher engage in planning, data analysis, and goal-setting with his/her grade level or course-specific teacher team?
  3. What does your observation and feedback schedule look like for this teacher?
  4. Have you set short and long term goals with this teacher?
  5. What other strategies might you use to support a struggling teacher?
  6. At what point do you place the teacher on an assistance plan? 

Routman, R. (2012). Mapping a pathway to schoolwide highly effective teaching. Kappan.

In this article Routman describes the principles she has found to be most critical for highly effective teaching and high achievement to flourish.

  1. Strong principal leadership.
  2. High expectations.
  3. Professional learning communities focused on effective teaching and improving literacy practices.
  4. Shared beliefs.
  5. A common learning model (instructional framework).
  6. Effective coaching experiences.
  7. Strong social capital.

In particular, she speaks to the principal’s role in actively engaging in instructional walks by…

  • Noticing what’s going well in the classroom
  • Taking fact-based notes about what’s going well and what needs attention
  • Commenting verbally on what’s going well to the teacher and/or students
  • Suggesting a strategy or idea on the spot, if appropriate
  • Ensuring the teacher knows what the principal has observed
  • Reviewing walk notes for school-wide patterns of strengths and needs
  • Using observations to determine and share these strengths and needs
  • Leading the staff to determine next steps

How are you both a learner and a teacher during your instructional walks?

Managing Time: (For new principals)

Managing Time (adapted from Robbins, P., & Alvy, H. (2004). The new principal’s fieldbook: Strategies for Success):

The typical day of the principal might be described as brief, fragmented, and unpredictable! Although many school leaders thrive on the newness each day brings from the excitement to the interruptions to the meetings, without a proactive approach to scheduling, these unplanned events and unpredictable events will fill the leader’s day. According to Robbins and Alvy (2004), principals communicate what is important by where and how they spend their time, so being mindful of your schedule will help you to cultivate a learning organization. The spring season with harried activity schedules, hiring season, budget season, evaluation cycles, and the potential for legislated changes, makes managing time particularly challenging. Taking a few moments to reflect and recalibrate may help you to meet more readily the demands on your time.

Where should a principal spend his/her time?

Be purposeful in how you walk your building so that you can “witness student and teacher success and verbally affirm the important work of the school” (p. 152). Intentionally schedule yourself in different areas of the school at different times so that you can get a deeper sense of the culture at work in your building. Where do students congregate at different times in the day? Which students tend to hang around at the end of the day? Who hangs out where? Where are your teachers at certain points in the day? What has changed since the start of the year? Why?

How should a principal spend his/her time?

Building quality relationships by talking to people, both students and staff. Observe the behaviors between and among the adults and the students in your building.  Note what is working and what is not. Affirm the successes of your students and staff. As social beings, we thrive on support from and connection to others!

Strategies for Managing your Time:

 1. Conduct a time audit.

 a. Using a digital voice recorder, record a description of what you were doing during the past 30 minutes. Document your time for one week. Analyze the results. Or…

b. Be sure your calendar is accurate, and analyze it to see how you have been spending your time. Note that interruptions and unexpected events are typically not on your calendar!

c. Does the way in which you are spending your time align to your values?

  i. How much time are you spending in classrooms?

 ii. How much time did you spend in conversations with students? Staff? Parents?                   

iii. How much time did you spend visiting different parts of your building?

iv. How much time did you spend intentionally building relationships?

v. What seems to be missing? Where haven’t you visited or whom haven’t you observed?

2. Time audit your mentor.

a. Take a day or two to shadow your mentor and note how he/she is spending his time.

b. Schedule time at the conclusion of the two days to process with your mentor how he/she has used his/her time.

3. Block your schedule to ensure you address your priorities. Let your secretary know when you will be available and under what circumstance (if any—should be VERY limited) you should be interrupted. Set your phone to voice mail!!

Note: SAI offers the School Administration Manager (SAMs) project that looks at principals' use of time and identifies ways that they can focus more on being instructional leaders. Learn more here

February/March Monthly Secondary Principal Checklist:

  • Begin work on the master schedule
  • Finalize and prepare to present budget recommendations
  • Complete all first/second year teacher evaluations and recommendations
  • Plan for orientation process for incoming class new to your building
  • Complete requisite emergency drills
  • Plan for faculty meeting
  • Oversee any special school events
  • Complete accreditation activities
  • Collect any summer curriculum development requests (if applicable)
  • Work with department/learning teams to plan for student placements into programming/courses for next year
  • Plan for any requested board presentations
  • Establish the AP examination schedule (or work w/designated personnel)
  • Plan and communicate summer school offerings
  • Update/revise teacher check-out form
  • Establish any awards committees
  • Work with your district personnel to recruit the best teachers for any openings you may have.
  • Prepare for reporting period and conferences.
  • Reflect on your teachers’ collaboration—how can your building continue to grow?
  • Stay on schedule with observations and walk-throughs.
  • Calibrate evaluation ratings with peers, if possible and applicable.
  • Remind teachers of end of term expectations, if applicable.
  • Review your district-wide assessment schedule and ensure your building is on target. Review and district/building data and make programming/instructional adjustments as needed.
  • Reflect on progress to date on annual school improvement goals and revise your building professional development plan in light of internal data as necessary.
  • Reflect on your individual career development plan and note indicators of progress and success—share with your mentor!!
  • If these are months for Iowa Assessments, prepare testing announcement, schedule and at-home preparation tips to be mailed/posted on web for parents. Communicate with teachers regarding acceptable preparation activities. Recall that although familiarizing students with the format of the assessment can be valuable, no correlations exists between the use of instructional time to “study” or “review” for standardized tests and increased test scores. In fact, time spent in review or preparation is time lost in learning the Core.
  • Update staff on any necessary district communications.
  • Continue to review lesson plans and monitor the implementation of  district/building programs and professional development. See the Technical Guide to the Iowa Professional Development Model.
  • Check off and celebrate your successes!