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Mentoring Matters for Elementary Principals: March 2020

Self-Care Strategies to Up-level Your Leadership-life Fit 

Adopt these eight practices for improved well-being and a better leadership-life fit. 

A Guide to Courageous Conversations 

Know what to do and say in these five brief scenarios that present the opportunity for a courageous conversation. Bonus Content: Dress Code Simulation Activity


In a We Are Teachers post, Kimmie Fink discusses five scenarios principals often face and possible responses:


Scenario 1: You need to talk to someone about a behavior reported by a third party (e.g., Parent calls reporting a teacher was upset/crying in front of students).

Say: “I wanted to let you know I heard what happened. I want to make sure I understand, so let’s plan to meet later today.”


Scenario 2: You have conflicting reports and need to learn the truth (e.g., A teacher reports another teacher is falsifying data, but a third teacher says she hasn’t noticed any anomalies).

Say: “Tell me what happened.” (and listen objectively)


Scenario 3: You’re in the middle of emails and evaluations, and you’re interrupted with a crisis (e.g., a student comes in with a mental health concern).

Say: First – close your laptop, put your phone on silent, and give your undivided attention to the student. Then, listen and paraphrase. “What I think I’m hearing... Is this what you mean...?


Scenario 4: Someone did something that really angered you (e.g., a teacher failed to put in a sub request and didn’t show up).

Say: I’m concerned about you. Do you need help?


Scenario 5: You have to address an issue that’s uncomfortable for you (e.g., a student’s personal hygiene is causing problems).

Say: This conversation is hard for me, and I think it’s important to address.


Bonus Content: As the weather turns warmer, staff can sometimes need clarity regarding professional attire. Work through this simulation in your mentoring partnership. It includes opportunities to discussdifferent options and provides examples of effective and ineffective responses to questionable dress.


Building the School to Family Connection

Research shows the strong link between trusting relationships with families and improved student learning outcomes. These strategies best support meaningful, authentic engagement.


A study cited in a recent Hechinger Report notes, “An analysis of 100 public schools in Chicago that had strong parental involvement found that students were four times more likely to improve in reading and 10 times more likely to improve in math than at schools in which ties to community were weak.” Other studies referenced cite significantly fewer absences and an increased rate of skill acquisition in both reading and math. Such data prompts us to consider how to use family involvement as an instructional strategy. Consider these approachesin collaboration with teachers and delve into the report for more context, examples, and data that speak to impact. Again, how can we approach family involvement as an instructional strategy?

  • Create opportunities for parents to experience their student’s school experience. Make activities interactive—if students have a check-in process that communicates to the teacher their emotional state that day, invite parents to engage in the same process upon arrival (in partnership with, and led by their student). 

  • Engage students in parent/family nights. For example, rather than tell parents about what students will be learning over the course of the year at an Open House night, engage students in explaining practices and procedures.

  • Offer workshops for parents related to topics of concern to them. (Solicit input for topics from parents in advance).

  • Extend personal invitations to events (e.g., principal covers class so the teacher can personally call each family to invite).

  • Serve food at events.

  • Solicit parent input in authentic, meaningful ways—engage staff members.

  • Communicate in the native language of the family.

  • Work to get families basic resources, including groceries, when they need it. 

  • Visit families at home—this has become instrumental in cultivating trusting relationships with families and involving them in meaningful partnerships. This may be especially valuable if Open House and other evening events result in low turnout.

  • Send materials home for parents to use to help their kids.

  • Stay in regular touch with families on kids’ progress.

  • Be intentional about being hospitable.

  • Designate time in staff meetings for teachers to write positive notes home.

Not only do quality home-school relationshipssupport student learning and development, teachers also benefit. The 74 cites a study claiming, “Teachers who have strong family partnerships report that their workload decreases and they find their work more enjoyable and fulfilling. Teachers also tend to remain at their school longer. These additional strategies invite us to look at our own beliefs as we pursue quality partnerships with families.

  1. Examine biases. How are my students different from me? Like me? What assumptions do I hold about each of my students and how are those assumptions serving our relationship or not? What beliefs do I have and how are my beliefs contributing to the results I am getting with each student? How do my beliefs and assumptions about each student’s family impact my interaction with them and our relationship?

  2. Build trust. What experiences have each of our families had with school? What might be potential barriers to them trusting us? How can we address distrust? Are we showing trust? How do families know we trust them and they can trust us? How do our policies and procedures honor the culture and experience of all families and instill trust?

  3. Be the first to reach out. What are the family’s hopes and dreams for the child? What does the family need from the school to ensure the child succeeds?

  4. Follow through. Restructure current, one-sided events so that they are an invitation to two-way communication.

Firing with Compassion

How do you navigate the termination process with integrity and fairness? Joel Peterson (Stanford University Graduate School of Business, chairman of JetBlue) offers this straightforward list of Do’s and Don’ts in a recent article in Harvard Business Review.


Check out Kim Marshall’s succinct summary, or read the full article.

Monthly calendar and checklist