When was the last time you made an appointment to see the School Principal? In a busy secondary school, it is not something that will happen immediately unless the issue is of pressing importance. And when that issue concerns ‘our little Johnny,’ it is always in need of attention here and now.
With such a demanding workload, school principals rely on their powers of delegation and nearly all will say that they cannot function without the help of a dedicated vice-principal or two. With their own time being spent on everything from administrative or departmental meetings to planning and responding to arising school situations, it is all the more crucial that the leader ‘broadens his eyes and ears’ to deal with extended matters and stay in touch with the bigger picture.
Parents like to know they are being listened to and heard. A real conversation with a competent member of senior management who keeps lines of communication open with the principal and gives reassurance to parents and guardians usually satisfies all sides while giving a perspective to the issue at hand.
A trusting and confident principal will do more than delegate. He will empower his vice-principal(s) to use their own creativity and initiate ideas. He/she will ‘lead up’ rather than down, realize that not everyone possesses every skill and recognize that different talents, experiences and ideas bring fresher approaches when coming to decisions and in dealing with people. As such, the listening principal will value his assistant principal and treat him/her as an equal in the collaborative process.
One vice-principal (of over 30 years) had this to say about how he saw his role. "One of the best things about being the VP was that while I was ‘in’ on all the key decisions being taken for the direction of the school, I was at the same time right there on the corridors, in the classrooms, in the staffroom, rubbing shoulders with those to be affected and keeping my finger on the pulse of what was happening."
Forming meaningful relationships with staff and students is central to gaining their trust. After all, the school is a live and active community so heeding the ‘goings-on’ within this environment translates into making decisions that are ultimately best for the students. With honest, open and factual feedback, a vice-principal can contribute to the decision-making process, challenge the principal or the School Board and ease the path to the ‘tough calls’ that inevitably have to be made. The lines of trust are only strengthened when time is spent with those that the decisions will impact (staff, parents and pupils) and when they believe that they are being truly heard.
It has often been said that the best leaders are ‘change advocates’ and the discerning vice-principal will be keen to see change where it counts and not just for the sake of it. When they have their finger on the pulse of the whole school, have gained a respect that is built through relationships and are seen as approachable with the best interests of pupils and staff at heart, then their new ideas are more likely be accommodated and seen as positive.
The power that grows with the establishment of good relationships with pupils means that they will be heeded when challenging or bringing a point of interest to higher authority. By continually ‘watching,’ they are always learning and seeking to extend their thinking. It is never easy to tell the vice-principal "sure that’s the way we always did it," when he/she has a new thought in their head.
In a sense, he/she earns the right to challenge the principal. And any self-respecting principal would not wish to be surrounded by a group of ‘yes guys.’ By honestly expressing opinions and feeling content that this is possible, the ‘two minds are better than one’ theory always works for the best. Ideas around delicate issues can be tweaked based on personal insight and feedback.
Principals learn from being challenged and the vice-principal too has much to discover in that dynamic relationship where one day he may be at the other side of the table!