I received this question from a new principal:
“What are your thoughts on asking the right questions of middle school kids in what they want in their next principal? How do I extract the information I need to make me a better leader and assist me in providing these kids what they need and want from their principal?”
I think it is great to seek this feedback, and when I thought of the questions below, I tried to consider how these questions could be easily modified to receive feedback from not only students but the staff and the community. I think it is imperative to get student feedback but to do “what is best for students,” you have to make sure that staff has their needs met.
Here are the questions I thought of and why I asked them.
1. Who was the best principal/assistant principal you have ever had, and what did they do to make you feel that?
We often talk about “failure” as a crucial part of learning, but a lot can be learned from success. What things that someone has appreciated in the past can lead to success in the future?
Something to consider in receiving these answers from any group of stakeholders; being your authentic self is really imperative in any job in education. We can learn from the answers, but it shouldn’t mean that we pretend that we are something that we are not.
Listen. Learn. But always stay true to yourself.
2. At the end of the year, if I did a great job, how will that help you learn and improve your school experience?
There are a couple of reasons I ask this question. First of all, it shows that this is a partnership where both parties impact what we do moving forward. If I receive the answer, “That principal just let me do whatever I wanted and stayed out of my way,” I would want to know how that makes that person better in their work/learning.
I also want to know from whoever I am asking what they see as a great school experience. What I think is a great experience is probably different from others, and no one can tailor everything that we do in schools to every individual, but this will help in the process of figuring out the story we want to tell about our schools together, not only the one we could have shared in the past.
3. What are some things that you would like to see in your classroom, and how can I help with that process?
At the end of the day, success as a school administrator is about the experience that helps in the classroom. I have always said that no administrator should be making decisions for the classroom unless they are present in those classrooms. This question promotes a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. What does an ideal classroom look like, and how can I, in my role, support the creation of that type of learning?
These questions are the first things that had come to my mind when I was first asked the question, so please feel free to use, modify, or suggest your own in the comments on the blog. I think they could be beneficial to someone new to a position or could help an administrator that has been in the position for several years. Listening to the answers is important, but your response in your actions is crucial. (See this video from Steve Bollar on the importance of integrity.)
As I was writing my thoughts down in this post, I kept thinking about another question that I have received often; if you were new to a school, what is the first thing you would change.
My answer is always the same; nothing.
The first thing I would do is learn about the people in the building, understand their strengths, make sure that they know I know their strengths, and feel valued. Until then, nothing should be changed. If people think you are trying to fix them, they will fight you the entire way. If people know that you value them and help them grow further into their potential, they will gladly work by your side.