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Advice/Tips/Suggestions/"How To" for Principals

by

Robert Stanley Jackson, formerly principal, Byram Hills School District, Armonk, NY

Send me email - robert15115@gmail.com.

Information about Robert Jackson




This site is dedicated to the memory of Fred Caruolo, onetime principal of Byram Hills High School, Armonk, New York, who died, by suicide, while he was principal.

At the time, the School Board members had decided that the principals were too lenient in their evaluations of teachers. They wanted to see straightforward, honest, realistic evaluations, especially of poor teachers, not the timid evaluations that they said they had been used to getting.

When Fred followed their directions, all hell broke loose. The teachers banded together against him. The teachers association insisted on sitting in on some evaluation conferences.

Fred's response was not to meet deadlines for his written evaluations. Weeks went by, and still he didn't turn them in. Then, one day, he closed his garage doors and turned on his automobile's motor.

All of us principals knew what had killed him. However, we were too intimidated to speak up. The wisest of us ignored the School Board's directions. Only now am I telling you this, more than twenty years after having left that school system.

Fred's wife sued, claiming "wrongful death," but I don't know what the outcome was.

1. Every school has its problem teachers. How should a principal handle them? Let me offer this advice:

Keep your relationship friendly.
For repeated offenses to good teaching and good work habits, write a note to the teacher, with a copy to the teacher's file, pointing out the infraction(s) without withdrawing support. "I'm gonna put bedbugs in your bed if you don't get to school on time. Please, don't make life hard for me! Help me out! Get here on time!"
Make suggestions for improvement, spoken or written, in a spirit of helpfulness. "We are all trying to do our best for the students. Here is a suggestion . . . I am not always right, but this is what I believe."
Avoid final harsh judgments like the plague.
2. Don't get angry, ever. Confrontations always escalate.

Find the humorous response.
  • To the perennial late teacher: I'm gonna put bedbugs in your bed.
  • Despondent employee: did you lose your boyfriend/girlfriend?
3.. Make your limits known. If possible, make them a policy.

4. Don't get overwhelmed by insistent/demanding/talkative teachers/parents. It's better to be lonely than to be at the mercy of insistent/demanding/talkative teachers/parents. "I'm sorry, I just don't have the time to talk to you."

5. When disagreeing with your superiors, ask first: is it o.k. if I express my opinion on this topic?

  • Communicate. Keep superiors updated on what you are doing in your job.
  • Don't expect superiors to be different. They are unlikely to change. It is we who must get along. When a superior is negative toward you, don't respond negatively. Rather, try to heal the breach.
6. Recognize that you might not be right.

7. If a teacher is conscientious, reliable, and honorable, be satisfied. A teacher has a right to his/her own way of teaching. (Note: many teachers are deficient in knowledge, most noticeably of spelling and punctuation. Encourage the use of textbooks, workbooks, and kits, where what is taught is sure to be correct.)

8. When a parent complains to you about a teacher, require the parent to complain to the teacher before you take any action.

9. As much as possible, fall back on policy. Develop written policies that you can fall back on. For example: policy: we do not accept child visitors to classrooms (children visiting families, where the families want the school to take care of the visitors during the school day).

10. A confrontational style is doomed to failure. When you are impatient, annoyed, and overbearing, you strike resistance in your listener, who finds ways to repay you. Always speak softly, never raise your voice, be a calm, self-assured presence.

11. How to say "no":

"In this school we have to weigh priorities all the time. Our staff is absolutely filled up with work. I wish that we could do more, but we don't have the time. More staff is the only solution."
"A school has so many constituencies that it is impossible to please all of them. We just have to do the best that we can, as we see it."
"We are like parents with hundreds of mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law. We are glad to receive advice, but ultimately the decisions about the school have to be ours."
12. Don't take on too much curriculum. If you do a good job with the basics, you are doing a good job.

13. Volunteers are a distraction. You and the teachers have enough to do without bothering with volunteers. True, there are some wonderful, helpful people who make good volunteers. However, mixed in with them are those people who are busybodies and troublemakers who take up too much of your time.

14. "Gifted and talented" programs that base entry on an I.Q. test are elitist. Furthermore, I.Q. tests gloss over specific gifts and talents. Students with gifts and talents should be served by advanced courses, library projects, correspondence courses, computer software, and extra work in workbooks and kits, in accordance with what they are interested in. The Internet is a great resource for these students.

In the light of school shootings, see what a poor student thinks about elitism in his school:

Why I Hate My School

15. Abandon the practices of non-promotion and double-promotion. Over-age students and under-age students in a classroom do not do well. It is the responsibility of the school and of the teachers to provide appropriate learning materials for all students. [As their first priority, schools of education should teach their prospective teachers how to choose good quality, appropriate learning materials, including textbooks, workbooks, and kits, and how to choose or develop independent-study contracts. In this endeavor, the Internet should not be out of the purview of schools of education.]

Beware of out-of-the-ordinary elementary-school student groupings, such as the ungraded primary and inter-class ability grouping. They have been tried and were not a success. Students do best in a class with other students of similar age.

16. Don't get stuck with being the school's disciplinarian, which is what some teachers will want you - and expect you - to be. If a student is "sent to the principal's office," have a secretary automatically call the student's home to have a parent come to pick up the student and take him or her home for the rest of the day. If a parent is unavailable, have the student sit in the waiting area until bus time.

On this topic, see my letter to Lori Anne at this address: Responses to e-mail letters.

17. Don't get into the middle of a conflict between two teachers. You will be the loser. It's up to mature people to settle differences on their own.

18. You should assume that any disparaging comment that you make (especially about a teacher) will be passed on.

19. Keep your focus on the students - they are your mission.

20. Visits or telephone calls or letters from individual members of the Board of Education must not be allowed to be private. It is unethical for individual Board members to try privately to influence individual members of the staff. Such visits, telephone calls, and letters should be reported to the Superintendent of Schools (who, in turn, should report them to the Board of Education). (A policy should be adopted by the Board of Education saying that any communications from individual Board members to individual staff members should be reported to the Superintendent of Schools (and on to the Board of Education)).

21. Make room for yourself. You make mistakes when you are hurried.

22. Don't reach out to students or staff by smiling at them or using a person's name. A school is not a place where love and affection are appropriate. Rather, it is mutual respect that is needed, in a work-like atmosphere. You are the leader - there is no need for you to be ingratiating. A leader does not bend toward the people with whom he works. They might not love you, but if they respect you you are a success.

Teachers grades 5-12: willing to try out my reading comprehension tests?

Test Directions

Classroom teachers might find some useful suggestions in my page for substitute teachers:

A Packet for Substitute Teachers

Special site for first-grade teachers:

First Grade - A Good Year

Special site for sixth-grade teachers:

Sixth Grade - A Good Year

Learning materials for independent learners:

Students Can Learn On Their Own

Try out my home hygiene site You Should Have Told Me - Home Hygiene and Home Routines. There are a few choice suggestions in it that you might want to use every day!

Health enthusiasts might be interested in my site recommending (not generally known) daily health habits:

Health Tips: How to Prevent Hemorrhoids, Bladder Infections, and Heartburn (for a start)

Atheists might be interested in my site for atheists:

Depression, Anxiety, and Worry - What Can an Atheist (or anyone else) Do About Them

Pestered by unwanted thoughts and feelings? Try my Web site:

Commonplace, Ordinary, Everyday Life - Choosing Good Nature

Working with your own mind:

Bad Habits of Mind

Diet without dieting - a new approach:

The Sherlock Holmes Diet - Losing Weight Naturally by Knowing How to Eat