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Effective school leaders involve themselves in all levels of a school’s operation.

Modeling excellence, building a team of dedicated educators, and instilling a sense of pride throughout the school community are all essential when it comes to establishing and maintaining a successful school culture, according to effective school principals.

“In my experience, it’s about people who are community builders…[who] have high expectations of themselves but also of others, where they believe that excellence is the standard,” said Jimmy Casas, principal of Iowa’s Bettendorf High School in the Bettendorf Community School District, during an edWeb webinar about how school administrators can prepare themselves to be effective school leaders.

“You can’t just talk about excellence—you have to model it, all the time, in behavior, decisions, and expectations of others,” he said.

(Next page: The first of three important steps)

Casas is in his 20th year as a school administrator, and offered several tips to help school principals instill the same excellence in their schools as he has in his 1,450-student school.

Select for excellence during the hiring process

Casas said that first impressions matter, and school principals should ensure that, as a building leader, they come across  as passionate, enthusiastic, and proud of the school community.

Setting up interview candidates for success is important. Some interview questions are designed to trick candidates, but Casas said he wants to set up potential educators to succeed, because in turn, those educators should put their students in the position to be successful in class.

“When a candidate leaves the school after an interview, I want them to say, ‘I wish I could work for that principal,’” he said. “You want people talking about your school as if that was the best experience they had. …Effective leaders share their passion.”

Build a community of leaders

School principals who are wise during the hiring process have already started off on the right foot by hiring educators who model excellence and who are committed to helping students and maintaining a positive school culture.

But how, exactly, do you hire for excellence? Looking for attributes such as strong relationship-building, being student-centered, collaborating with students and colleagues, being problem-solvers, having empathy, and being service-minded are all positive attributes.

The next step is to build a community of student and teacher leaders.

Letting teachers take risks is important, Casas said, because it puts educators in positions to be successful if those risks pay off.Creating teacher leadership teams will help to strengthen leadership qualities, and creating a community of student leaders helps develop student leadership and, in turn, supports school culture.

Infuse a sense of pride in everything that you do

“Success builds success,” Casas said.

In Bettendorf, student successes are celebrated with framed artwork and pictures, photographs and certificates of accomplishment, and through recognition during special events and ceremonies.

Walls display quotes and positive affirmations and photos of past graduates, and displaying artwork and projects instills a sense of pride among student groups.

Casas said that while some might hesitate to display so many damageable items throughout the school, for the most part, Bettendorf’s students strive to preserve the displays, artwork, and posters, and property destruction is rare.

“I’m never going to say that nothing’s ever happened, but it’s very, very infrequent. When that happens, I take it as an opportunity to learn. The more kids you can recognize – they don’t want somebody defacing them so they’re not going to turn around and deface someone else’s work,” he said.

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Laura Ascione

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