Being a principal means having to have a myriad of management and leadership skills. You need to be able to run a complex organization with hundreds, or even thousands of people everyday. Their safety and reliance upon you for the efficacy of basic operations is often an understated element of the job. Additionally, you need to be expert in the curriculum and instructional practices of dozens, scores, or even hundreds of teachers.
Given these performance expectations, it is reasonable that you might come to see yourself as an expert in the science and art of teaching and learning. You worked hard to get to this point in your career and you learned a great deal to earn recognition as an expert in the field. However, to be better at the job, you need to humble yourself and acknowledge that others are more expert.
In particular, if you want to help your students excel, you need to recognize that you are the novice in comparison to the parents of your students.
In most school systems, when a student is struggling, a meeting is called and the parents are invited in to hear the concerns of the teacher(s). This might be an informal meeting or a meeting of the committee on special education. Regardless, they generally follow the same pattern of staff describing the deficiencies in the student, things the staff have tried, frustration that none of them have worked, and the seeking of permission to administer additional services or placement into a more restrictive placement.
All of these dynamics assume staff have much more expertise than they really do. It is true that staff probably have more master’s degrees and experience with the content than most parents do. However, when it comes to this student, it is the parent that has a Ph.D. If you want to figure out how to best help the student achieve, treat your meeting with the parent like you are having a meeting with a visiting scholar who has done all of the groundbreaking research in the field.
Honor the parent and all that they have learned about their child over the years. Ask for their kindness in sharing what they have learned with you and your staff. Seek their guidance in better applying that which they have shared.
When we acknowledge that parents know their children far better than we do, we allow parents to be better partners with us. We foster greater collaboration. So, next time you have a parent meeting, put them at the head of the table, sit at their elbow, and be ready to learn from them. You will not be disappointed.
Why did God give me two ears and one mouth? So that I will hear more and talk less.
– Leo Rosten