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  • Writer's pictureJohn Hinds

The Tough Love of Leadership: Elevating Schools from the Ground Up

I had a moment last week with a principal that almost had me wanting to shake some sense into him—literally imagining telling him, “Listen up! This is literally your job!” Now, I’m not one for violence, but boy, did that thought cross my mind. He’s at the helm of a struggling school, where smiles are rare, and the atmosphere is more of resignation than inspiration. He’s wishing for better days without laying down the groundwork required for change. Leadership isn’t just a title; it’s action, especially in schools that are feeling the weight of underperformance.

I’ve been in his shoes, having led both high- and low-performing schools. The difference? Understanding that regardless of where your school stands, the effort needed doesn’t change. Morale can be notably low in struggling schools, making the task seem like you’re rolling a boulder uphill alone. But here’s what I learned: adopting strategies from my time in higher-performing environments made a world of difference. It’s about setting those high expectations across the board—not just for students, but for staff, parents, everyone. And yes, it’s a colossal amount of work.

What can a principal do first? Start with the basics. Clean up. Organize. This doesn’t cost a dime but requires someone who can't stand mess and loves order. Then, embody the change you want to see. Dress sharply, communicate clearly, and show up first. The school's vibe often mirrors the principal’s demeanor and expectations.

And let’s not forget the power of consistent communication. Regular meetings might sound mundane, but they’re critical for maintaining and raising the bar. Then, there's the part about building a positive environment. It’s all about the energy—celebrating small wins, connecting over meals, fostering relationships. This isn’t just fluff; it’s fuel for meeting those high expectations.

If you’re a leader wondering where to start, take it from me: clean up, set the example, and keep the lines of communication open. Most importantly, keep morale high. It’s a tough gig, but someone’s got to do it, and that someone is you. Remember, I’m here if you need a sounding board or a bit of guidance. Let’s lift our schools together, one decision at a time.

shoes standing on ground where the words "dreams don't work unless you do" is stenciled

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