As a new principal, I was faced with the challenge of stepping into a school where I did not know the staff or the culture all too well. However, I have had the experience of working at four different schools prior to my current assignment as a new principal, so I believed I was at an advantage. I thought my ability to adapt to the different school cultures and environments at my previous sites would have prepared me well for this experience, and I would go into it ready and able to do it all. What I have learned in my first 8 months as a new principal is that I cannot do this alone.
Whether you are green, seasoned, or aspiring to become an administrator, you must always look for champions who can help you transform the culture. Anthony Muhammad would call these champions “believers” in his book, Transforming School Culture. The only way to find these believers or champions is to be visible in the hallways, at recesses, lunch periods, and in classrooms daily, observing instruction. Those few tasks consumed the majority of my time my first several weeks of my assignment. Don’t get trapped or stuck in your office. I wanted to get a pulse of what the climate was like, and that gave me a strong gauge of where I wanted to go by the end of the year. Being in the classroom daily also helped me identify my champions.
Build a Leadership Team
Once I identified who my champions were, I was able to round up my Leadership Team. My Leadership Team would be the vessel to influence their own Professional Learning Community (PLC) teams, and ultimately the culture of the school. I was very particular as I identified my champions for the different areas I wanted to change, such as instruction or Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). These champions are teachers who are not afraid to be vocal and are willing to speak up to the teachers who contribute to a toxic culture, they focus on the right work—student learning, and are coachable. They implement effective instructional strategies and share these with their PLC teams.
Currently, I meet with my Leadership Team monthly where I take them through a book study focusing on school culture and climate. Thus far, we have read books such as Transforming School Culture by Muhmmad and Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn. We read these books to facilitate our discussion around our fundamental purpose of why we do the work that we do, which is to increase and accelerate student learning. As the leader, be willing to do the work alongside your staff. During our meetings, we also share assessment data, discuss instructional strategies, and develop our school plan collectively. My Leadership Team is my sounding board for our school initiatives I would like to see implemented. I share with them my vision for the school, and where we want to go by the end of the year as we head into the following school year.
The best way to transform a school’s culture and climate is to know your staff and identify who your champions are. Be the leader who leads by example, and your sphere of influence will permeate to your champions who can transform the culture.
Lemuel Kwon is currently a K-5 school principal for the Bakersfield City School District in Bakersfield, California. She began her career as a teacher for 7 years, and served as an Academic Coach, and Dean of Students.