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BRAVO Principals...
Rekindle the Spirit

At a recent meeting of principals the speaker shared a list that began You might be a school principal if

you want to slap the next person who says, "Must be nice to have your summers free."

You might be a school principal if you can tell it's a full moon without even looking outside.

You might be a school principal if you believe the staff room should be equipped with a Valium salt lick.

and the list went on in that vein. You probably know the list I mean. You might have been forwarded a similar list by e-mail.

When our speaker finished reading the list of "if" statements, many of which brought smiles of agreement or recognition from the principals gathered in the room, one of the attendees spoke up: "You might be a principal if you begin to cry before you even open the newspaper."


If there was ever an entity that needed encouragement, today's public schools are it. Every day the newspaper is full of discouraging news about how our schools are failing students. Headlines highlight our shortcomings. Editorials decry our faults.

While all good principal know there is always room for improvement, we also know that many wonderful successes happen on our campuses each day. Because of all the negative publicity schools have been getting, we have taken on another large new responsibility. Today's principals must be cheerleaders -- encouraging teachers, students, and the larger school community.

Albert Schweitzer said that encouragement rekindles the spirit. Consequently, BRAVO principals recognize that a major responsibility in Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others is to do just that: rekindle the spirit -- by being an encourager.

As principals, we strengthen the foundation of respect for our schools, and encourage the good work that occurs every day in the lives of our students, when our actions rekindle the spirit of teachers and students. We do that in many ways. Here are just 10 of the ways in which good principals everywhere encourage the people on their campuses:


Get to know your faculty and your students. Getting to know your faculty and students is the first step in being able to encourage them. How else will you notice if something is different? Is a normally cheerful, outgoing student, quiet and withdrawn? Is a teacher who always comes to school early, suddenly arriving late? Take advantage of those "duty" times when you are in the hallways, on the grounds, and in the lunchroom, to talk with students and teachers, and to find out about their lives.

Keep a notebook of concerns. When you hear of concerns that a student or faculty member has, write them down in a notebook and keep that notebook close at hand. Read through the notebook every couple days to be reminded of the stressors that people in your school experience. Then write a note, send an e-mail, leave a voice mail, or inquire face to face about their well being. Many times just knowing that you care can be a great encourager in difficult times.

Just say "No" to deficit thinking. When principals emphasize teacher talents, rather than deficits, teachers, in turn, emphasize student talents, rather than deficits. When you go in a classroom on a walk-through, train yourself to look first for what is working. Then look for what needs to improve. Ask teachers to do the same when they evaluate students. Always have them identify a student's strengths first, then identify areas where improvement is needed.

Emphasize potential, not peril. Students should never be labeled "at risk." That terminology alone suggests a perilous outcome and often pre-determines that kids will fail. If you must use a label, you should consider them "at-potential." Being at-potential suggests that something good is about to happen and gives us all -- principals, teachers, and students -- something wonderful to work toward. The same goes for the teachers on your staff. You will never save a teacher who is not doing well by thinking "how can I get rid of him?" Instead, you should be thinking "What can I do to help him reach his potential?"

BRAVO Principals

BRAVO is an acronym for Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others. Principals can act in many ways that value others, said Sandra Harris, author of BRAVO Principal!, and each month I will share in this column some of those ways. The ideas shared will not be directionless, busy-work activities; instead they will be tactical actions -- actions with the purposeful intent of building valued relationships with others.

Harris, an associate professor in the educational leadership program at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, is author of other titles including Best Practices of Award-Winning Elementary School Principals (Corwin Press, 2005) and seven titles for Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Her newest book, BRAVO Teacher, was just released.

Build confidence. Principals build confidence when they share their success stories. That is especially important today, when a school can be labeled "low performing" or "unacceptable" even if just one small segment of the school population does not do as well as expected on state-mandated testing, in attendance, or in some other way. Despite what the media might have us believe, sharing success stories does not negate the areas where we need to improve. In fact, remembering our successes helps faculty and students have more confidence that they can meet the new challenges that face them.

Structure for collaboration. The old adage "Two heads are better than one" expresses perfectly the benefits that result when faculty and students work together in a collaborative effort. It's one thing for principals to encourage this type of work with frequent reminders, but it's even more important to structure times during the school day that allow for group planning and idea sharing. One high school holds "Lunch and Learn" meetings every two weeks where teachers and administrators share ideas and continue professional development activities. That same school has a student-mentoring program in which older students mentor younger students in academic subjects. Another principal puts information that he used to share at faculty meetings in a written memo in order to free up monthly faculty meetings for idea sharing.

Let faculty and students see you work. You know how hard you work, and I know how hard you work, but your work is often behind closed doors. Sometimes it is a great encourager for students and teachers to see you doing physical work. I know one principal who mid-year each year puts on jeans and cleans out the book room; he intentionally starts the task while students and teachers are still at school. Some principals keep nails, a screwdriver, and a hammer in their desks -- great for last-minute fast fixes for distraught teachers.

Do something special for faculty and students. Principals act as encouragers when they do something special for faculty and students. They know the value of recognizing good work by students and teachers, and they do it often. They even do special things for no reason at all -- except to be an encourager. I have a principal friend who arranged to bring in special coffees once a month for the faculty. A few years later she saw a now-retired teacher who said it was that one act that encouraged her to stay in teaching at least two more years! On a blistering hot day in May some principals arrange to have popsicles for the students and teachers. Those are small acts, but they are great encouragers.

Provide resources. I hear educators complain all the time about the No Child Left Behind Act. Yet no one has ever complained to me that they disagree with the premise of NCLB -- that every child should have an opportunity to achieve at school. Instead their complaints center around the lack of resources needed to effectively implement this Act. When principals find creative ways to provide time, materials, or cash resources, they are acting as encouragers.

Be persistent -- don't give up easily. The faculty and staff, as well as students and parents, draw strength from the principal. If you give up, so might they. Remember, when a strategy or program doesn't work, it is only failure if you fail to learn from the experience. If you implement a strategy or a program that is not effective and learn from that a way to be more effective, then it has been valuable. How can anything that is valuable be considered a failure?


As principals, it's much easier to be persistent and to keep on trying when we realize that achieving a goal is incremental and that every learning step brings us closer to that goal. We encourage others, and even ourselves, when we understand that successful schools are all about that kind of learning. Persistent principals do not give up easily, because we know that all learning has the potential to improve achievement for everyone on campus. It's our job to encourage toward that commitment.

Principals are encouragers. We re-kindle the spirit of everyone on our campuses. The very act of encouraging emphasizes our belief in others. It says: "I believe we can achieve."

Come to think of it, you might be a BRAVO principal if . . . before you open the newspaper you smile knowing one day the headline will be about your school being an Exemplary School.

Article by Sandra Harris
Education World®
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