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Whitney Green

Whitney Green

Whitney Green is an assistant principal at Ooltewah Elementary in Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga, TN. She currently leads the implementation of EL K-5th and is taking full advantage of utilizing Kiddom within the classrooms at Ooltewah Elementary as both have positively affected her students success this year. She is excited to share her drive and her experiences with others.

In her first year at a new school, AP Whitney Green shares advice for other school leaders who are new to the job or in their first year at a new location.

Leadership skills are something people are innately born with, or I have found the best leaders seem to be the ones we refer to as, “ natural leaders.” Although effective leaders vary greatly in their approaches, they all have similar traits in common. I am now in my third year as an assistant principal, and have learned so much from my first year to now. I believe any effective leader should be able to reflect, as we are constantly learning from our experiences. Just like teaching, no one faculty or student body is the same, and you will always need to adjust to meet their needs. But there are some foundational skills or knowledge you need to be consistent with as an effective leader.

Set Expectations + Boundaries

First, understand that gaining respect is a real thing. This does not mean you need to spread your feathers and “peacock”, but that you gain respect through your actions. With neither the faculty nor the students knowing who you are, you must establish your expectations from the very beginning. Do not waver! One of the biggest regrets I have is that I would make a decision and then change my mind due to a teacher persuading me. This is also an important lesson to learn with teachers, parents, and students, as they always want a decision made right away. Take your time! You need to collect all information and facts about a situation before making any decisions. Trust me, they will try and corner you and guilt you into getting information or making a rash decision, but don’t do it! My worst mistakes have been from making a rash decision. I like to use the saying, “trust and verify” with any process; don’t ever assume!

I also found that I gained a lot of ground through listening, not participating in gossip or a rant fest, but simply hearing the stakeholders of the school. This included parents, teachers, and students. Always have an open door policy, allowing your colleagues to feel comfortable speaking with you about concerns or even merely asking questions.

I did get to know teachers and would relate to them, but there are boundaries with this. Do not overshare, but being relatable is not a bad thing. Again, you need to always remember you are their boss, and leadership is held to a higher standard. When listening to others share, it does not mean you have to agree, as I recommend trying to stay neutral, but just let them feel heard. Stakeholders will try to play you against the principal, to discover if there are holes or create a divide. Same concept as playing mom and against dad. Your number one rule at the end of the day is to stay loyal to and supportive of the principal, regardless of differences of opinions. No one can ever know how you feel about decisions made by the principal. This is key! This will be hard, but just work on having a good poker face.

Leadership is a lonely job, and you are not there to be their friend. Please hear me say this: it is not a popularity contest. Be prepared to have thick skin, as you will never be able to make everyone happy with decisions or choices made. One veteran leader whom I respect dearly gave me the best advice: make all decisions based on students. This takes out the personal feelings or decisions based on adults. Since using this as my guide when making decisions, it has allowed me to stay consistent. If you work on an administrative team, these are the only people you need to confide in. Do not hang out with teachers or parents outside the school as this only makes things messy. Social media also plays into this, as you do not want to be friends with parents, faculty, or students on your personal accounts. I have seen this happen too many times where administrators have crossed this line and lost their jobs, even when it was innocent.

Be Open to Learning + Part of the Community

Honestly, things will happen and mistakes will be made. The best advice I have is to always learn from them. The worst thing that can happen to you as a leader is that you stop growing or always assume you are right. Also, I have seen this happen time and time again, do not lead with an iron first. I recall first year leaders want to assume their role and immediately gain respect, and they do this by abruptly asserting themselves this way. There is a time and place when you will have to be firm, otherwise listening and gaining as much information as possible is the best way to handle situations.

Being visible is also critical. This includes during morning and afternoon car/bus duty, lunch duty, sitting in classrooms, etc. I know when I was a teacher, I always appreciated administrators that would come in, not because they had to do a formal observation, but just because they had to spend time in the classroom. Even though this can be very challenging, as you are pulled in many directions, it goes along with both teachers and students, so I recommend trying to make time for this.

The last piece of valuable information I can give is to find a reliable support group. This could be veteran administrators or any administrator with whom you respect and have a relationship. During my first year as an administrator, there were two veteran administrators who counseled me through my whole first year. I can honestly say they helped me through my first year in order to survive, and I utilized their knowledge to make decisions. They knew more about the politics and legal side of education than I did, so there were many opportunities for me to reach out in need of advice.

The first year of anything will be something in which you look back and go, “what was I thinking?”. I know through my experiences, my worst mistakes have been my best learning experiences that have helped me grow and develop into the leader I am today. I know I have a long journey ahead, but am excited to see where it takes me. The goal at the end of the day, when you lay your head on your pillow, is to say that you have done right by the students of your school.

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