Visibility in Principalship

A former colleague of mine in the coaching ranks used to say that his goal was to become invisible. This statement came after he had served for years as a coach and fully realized that often you are a lightning rod for criticism. He wanted to be able to do his job and go unnoticed and let the criticism, or praise for that matter, go elsewhere.

As principals, being invisible is not an option. In fact, I would argue that if you want to be an effective principal being highly visible is a necessity. During my nine years as a high school principal I tried to be visible in as many places as possible and used this as a cornerstone of my leadership.

So how can a principal maximize visibility? Let’s examine some ways:

  1. Greet students as they enter the school each day – This is a great way to get to know the students and get a pulse on the mood of the students each day. It also allows students to have a positive interaction with the principal each morning and allows you to establish rapport.
  2. Walk the hallways during passing periods – There are many positive benefits here. First of all this is another opportunity to interact with students. It also allows you to see which teachers are in the hallway monitoring student behavior. Nothing deters student misbehavior better than the presence of attentive adult supervision. At your next staff meeting you can commend the teachers that you are seeing regularly in the hallway. This will be a much more productive way of getting teachers into the hallway than admonishing those who you are not seeing.
  3. Spend some time in the cafeteria at lunchtime – I know how busy principals are and you most likely have other staff members assigned to monitor the cafeteria. However, if the principal makes it a priority to regularly spend a few minutes visiting students in the cafeteria it provides yet another opportunity to positively interact with students. Ask them about their classes, their activities, and their favorite teachers. If you ask them, they can be a valuable source of information for you and can help you learn a great deal about how they see the school from their perspective.
  4. Pop into classrooms even when you are not formally evaluating teachers – As you perform your classroom walk-throughs talk to students in the room about what they are learning. Also, leave short notes to teachers about the positive things you saw while you were in the room. Good teachers love to have the principal in their classrooms.
  5. Spend time at bus dismissal or in the student parking lot – Once again, even if you have other staff members assigned to supervise these areas, a lot can be gained from the principal showing up occasionally as well. The bus drivers will appreciate seeing you and having an extra set of eyes in the student parking lot never hurts.
  6. Attend as many extracurricular events as possible – No principal can possibly make every extracurricular activity regardless of school size. However, if you can spend some time with the schedule and strategically plan to try to attend at least one event of as many ECAs as possible, students and parents will notice. You don’t have to stay for the whole event, but you can at least make an appearance and let the students know you are interested in their activities.
  7. Become involved in community activities – Whether you are at school or not, most everyone in the community knows you as the school principal. This is a great way to market the positive things happening in your school. Attend community events, join civic organizations, accept as many public speaking invitations as possible and take every opportunity to elicit community support for your school.
  8. Have a sense of humor and laugh at yourself – Every year I served as a building administrator I joined with a group of staff members to perform a humorous skit in the school variety show. The students loved the fact that we were able to step out of our serious roles and have some fun! This was also a great way for community members to see a fun loving side of the staff members. And trust me, when the skit involved dancing, there was plenty to laugh about.

These are just a few examples of how a principal can maximize visibility in the school and community.  I found that nothing is more important to the principal than building positive relationships with students, staff and community. Being intentional about visibility is a great way to help foster those positive relationships.

Thank you for reading and thanks for what you do for the students of Indiana.

-Rob Moorhead, 2013 Mentor