How Principals Can Impact School Performance

Learn more about Justine Taylor-Raymond.
Justine Taylor-Raymond
Deputy Director, Education
George W. Bush Institute

What three things can principals do this summer to grow professionally?

Principals, you have made it through teacher observations, school events, and parent conferences. Summer break is here. But how best can you use this “break” to re-energize for next year, reflect on your practice, and grow your professional development? This summer we encourage you to work on three areas often overlooked during the school year, but have significant impact on performance.

Practice old skills – Summer is a great time to reconnect with the art of teaching. Taking time to immerse yourself in these experiences can help you understand daily challenges in a new perspective to better support your staff and school in the fall. Professional learning is a core component for successful principals, and can take on many forms, including immersing yourself in new experiences.

  • Practice teaching – Rarely do principals get to step in the classroom and teach. Take time over the summer to practice that skill. Like a muscle, this skill strengthens the more it’s used. You can teach a class at summer school, a local community college or even a recreational class at a community center. The goal is to practice teaching fundamentals to bring concrete strategies to your teachers in the fall. Good teaching strategies are good strategies no matter the content.
  • Participate on a team – All school staff are divided into teams. Your job as principal is to effectively direct those teams. In that role, it is crucial to be reminded how effective teams’ function and what characteristics create strong teams. The summer presents a great opportunity to experience this in a fun way: join a sports league, become a member of a running club, join the board of a local organization, or volunteer regularly. Find an activity that includes a team and where you will receive direction from another leader. This allows you to reflect on what strategies work, what makes you want to follow that leader, how to effectively interact with fellow team members, and how to continuously improve as a team. This can help ignite new ideas to improve your leadership and support your teachers.

Prep for the new year – September always comes quickly. Two easy and impactful tasks you can accomplish over the summer are to review the previous year’s school data and welcome in new teachers.

  • Reflect on data – End of year results and teacher observations highlight critical insights into a school’s performance. What areas did you excel in this year? What teachers made significant gains? Did any group of students outperform the average? With all the data collected through the year, the summer is a great time to investigate and understand trends that are occurring, what is the cause of that performance, and how to replicate the strengths while addressing the growth spots. As John King, former U. Secretary of Education, shares in The “A” Word Interview Series on Accountability, “[Schools and classrooms] should see data as a resource to use to help students improve.”
  • Call new teachers – New teachers often report days before the first day of school. As a principal, you can easily reduce some of the burden of learning a new school by getting to know the teachers prior to the first day. The Principal Talent Management Framework highlights the importance of seamless support and mentors for new principals, the same applies to new teachers. Make a plan to call all first-year teachers over the summer to welcome them to your school, begin establishing a relationship with them and provide critical information that will help them succeed day one.

Build relationships – Relationships are one of the most powerful instruments a principal can have in their management tool belt. During the school year there are a lot of opportunities to grow relationships with students and staff, and the summer is a great way to begin building those relationships.  

  • Explore the community – Schools are the foundation of the communities they serve. Some families have lived in the community for generations, others are establishing roots. Taking time to learn about the community and build relationships with the people there can help you learn more about students’ lives outside of school. One way is to host office hours in the community. It can be at the local diner or the closest Starbucks.  Another way is to explore the groups that support your school. Faith houses, recreation centers and youth groups often play a critical role in students’ lives. Make a plan to visit each center, meet the individuals who lead community outreach and learn about how they support the neighborhood. These partnerships can provide extended support to your students to ensure they reach their goals.
  • Learn about the families – During the school year parent teacher conferences are focused on academic performance and behavior, yet students’ families and lives outside of school play a significant role in shaping their identities and goals. Getting to know their support systems can help build relationships that will translate into academic success. This summer identify eight to 10 students that you do not know as well and reach out to their families. You can call the families, schedule home visits, or invite them to your office hours. Spending time focused on learning about each other and sharing student goals can establish a positive foundation to support that student and effectively engage the family.