Visibility is about more than the principal’s location in the building.  Instead principals must move beyond passive visibility and actively engage their students and staff to build necessary relationships.

 (picture credit: Michael Brooking via Flickr)

In a recent article for Education Week, Peter DeWitt reminds principals that the idea that principals simply be visible in their schools is not enough:

They need to create authentic relationships with students. What Quaglia and Corso write about are not unreachable. Serving food to different grade levels, welcoming students off the bus, having dialogue with them in the hallway instead of asking them “Where are you supposed to be” in an authoritarian way can be easily done.

Principals have a real opportunity every single day to create the same kind of relationships with students that teachers do. The fortunate thing about being a principal is that they can foster those relationships over a number of years as students grow up through grade to grade. Through those moments students will learn that they truly do have a voice

Principals must move beyond “patrolling the building”  even beyond “checking up on classrooms” and instead actively engage the students and staff throughout the campus.  Intentionally starting conversations with reluctant students or providing a listening ear to staff will have a cumulative positive effect on campus culture.

Most staff members want to perceive that they have a special relationship with the principal.  They want to believe that the principal knows who they are as individuals and knows how they personally contribute to the success of the students and the school in general.

Many of the students also want to develop a personal professional relationship with the principal. They want to know that the principal knows their names, their activities, and their interests.  They long for “shout-outs” and “high fives” and other forms of interaction as they move from class to class.

A principal who is actively visible will be more effective at creating these necessary personal relationships.  These relationships that ultimately will keep the school running effectively even in times of crisis or disruption.

Here are a few ways in which a principal can be actively visible with their staff and students:

  • Vary their hallway monitoring routines so that throughout the course of any week they interact at least once with all of the campus staff
  • Speak to the students (by name as much as possible) as they walk through the halls
  • Circulate throughout the cafeteria during lunch and breakfast
  • Check in on staff during their conference periods

These and other regular sustainable relationship building practices will create belief and buy-in by the staff and students.  This belief and buy-in will protect the principal when they make inevitable mistakes or are forced to deal with disruptive and crisis situations.