Besties and Boundaries

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A promising teacher leader from your building comes to you for advice. “Now that I have the credentials to become a principal, what advice would you offer me about accepting an administrative position in our district?”

For an emerging leader, this is an important question. What advice would you give?

If you have experienced a promotion within your school or district to a principal position, you likely have experiences upon which to offer advice. If you came from the outside, you might have a very different perspective. All of us have watched both scenarios. Consider these “dos and don’ts” as you add your own stories.

When promoted to a principal position, do the following:

  1. Continue to be a friend to those who were friends before. When you move into a new role, your positional authority changes but your personal relations continue. Continue to respect long relationships; others will be watching to see if you change, and consciously or unconsciously looking for signs that you are different.
  2. Recognize and acknowledge boundaries. In your new role, understanding and respecting boundaries is critical. Understanding data, practices, and laws and talking about only what is appropriately public is critical. Speak respectfully of everyone. Be sensitive, especially in social situations where staff allow boundaries to blur or be compromised—even in humor. Be above reproach.
  3. Build new relationships and maintain existing relationships. In your new role, impartiality is critical, so establishing healthy relationships with all staff is important. Some staff who have been close to you before, as with those on your same team, will try to figure out where they stand. Be aware that some will be uncomfortable or perhaps even threatened by the change.
  4. Help all staff be successful. As a leader, your attitude and behavior toward all staff will be watched carefully. You will gain the trust and confidence of those in your schools by the extent that you can help all staff—and ultimately students—succeed.

 

On the other hand, if supervising former friends and colleagues, there are practices to avoid:

  1. Do not change who you are. Let your priorities fit the role and your responsibilities. Do not become less friendly or try to become like someone else. Be genuine.
  2. Do not use your role to create artificial boundaries. Be a listener. Gain trust by seeking to understand and affirming the work of staff.
  3. Do not hesitate to learn from others who have traveled the trail before you. Seek guidance from those who have successfully made the transition to a leadership position from within. Most will be candid about the challenges and what they would advise. Listen to those from other organizations who have made similar transitions. Organizational culture differs and so will insights.
  4. Do not lose sight of why you are in a leadership role. In your new role, you can make a greater difference in the success of students and families, but only if those under your supervision thrive. Your leadership is not about you; it is about serving others.

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