Mentor Center: Seeking Tips for the Hiring Process

As the school year comes to an end, so does the tenure of NAESP's Mentor Center principal. Here's her final entry:

With retirements, resignations, and staff moving into different positions in the district, I needed to hire seven new staff members. Most school districts around us are on the opposite end of the spectrum; they are laying off staff. Because of this I have had to screen hundreds of applications for the hiring process. Something that you don’t learn in college is how to efficiently screen applications to narrow down the amount of candidates for interviews.

Mentor Center: Preparing for a Leave of Absence

NAESP’s Mentor Center principal continues to chronicle her year and needs your advice. Here’s her latest entry:
This has been quite an interesting and fast-paced year. I am excited to share that we will be adding to our family, with my due date in early May. While this is exciting, it is also very overwhelming, because planning for my maternity leave is not the same as when I was a classroom teacher.
Due to the small size of our district and the timing of my expected arrival, we will not be hiring anyone to fill my shoes. Instead, we are being creative with the people and resources we currently have. One benefit of having grades K-12 in one large building is that the middle/high school administrators and superintendent will be able to assist in the elementary division if a serious discipline or other incident should occur. I am also fortunate to have a teacher who is working on her administrative degree and completing her internship hours under my supervision this spring and summer. She has assisted me this past month with planning for summer school and end-of-year events. I will also be relying on her to check my phone messages each day during my absence and either return the phone calls or pass them on to an administrator.
There will be some tasks that I plan to complete by coming into the office on evenings or weekends during my maternity leave. I only live a mile from the school, so it will be easy for me to pop in and out as needed. I also hope to attend the end-of-year events for staff and students. I am only planning to take off five weeks for this maternity leave and then return during summer school.
Have any other administrators taken a maternity leave or other short-term leave of absence? What tips/advice can you offer?

Long-Term Plans

All school year, our Mentor Center principal Jessica Johnson has sought your advice as she progresses through her third year in the principalship. This entry addresses how to implement long-term plans:
In my first year as principal at our school, I often felt stressed and overwhelmed at the amount of work needed to get our school on the right path. I formed a leadership team, created time for grade-level meetings, established professional learning communities, and began educating staff on response to intervention. In February 2009, I attended a statewide RTI summit; however, since our school was so behind on the path to having any sort of RTI plan, I felt out of place and overwhelmed by the summit sessions.
We started small at our school with a voluntary book study over the summer and then formed an RTI team in the fall to attend additional RTI trainings to learn together, present to staff, and begin creating a plan for our school. 
Last month, I attended another state conference and attended many sessions on RTI again. This time, I was relieved and reassured as I listened to speakers and saw what other schools in the state are implementing because I could finally identify with what some of the other schools are doing. Even though we still have a lot of work to do, I feel like we are on the right path now and are making some positive changes to impact our students.
The difficult part of this process is remembering that change is a process and it won’t happen overnight. The literature I’ve read says this is a two- to three-year process. This is also a major change in both philosophy and practice for many teachers.
How do you keep the process moving forward with momentum, but not too fast to overwhelm staff?

Time Management 101

NAESP’s Mentor Center principal, Jessica Johnson, wants your advice! This month she’s looking to tackle time management. Here’s what she has to say:
During my first year as principal, I got into classrooms as much as possible. In my building, there was no previous practice of a principal presence in the classrooms other than the formal teacher observation on a three-year cycle. I made it a priority to get into classrooms to get to know teaching styles and the students, often just leaving a positive message on a Post-it note.
I started this year with the best intentions of not only getting into classrooms more, but leaving more meaningful feedback for teachers to promote further reflection and dialogue to improve student learning. At the start of the year, I met with each teacher to find out what teaching standard he or she would like me to focus on when I come into the classroom so I can tailor my feedback to each teacher’s goals.
To plan for this, my secretary and I came up with a strategy for her to manage my schedule so that both meeting and classroom time are marked on my calendar. I thought the plan was brilliant. However, I also took on additional duties this year as the district assessment coordinator (part of being in a small district). My plan did not account for how much time my new duties require. I am now ashamed to admit that I’m rarely in classrooms, to the point that a few kindergartners have mistaken the recess monitor as the principal.
I’d like to hear any time-management/organization tips that other principals have to make time for the classrooms and not stay in the office until 10 p.m. with paperwork.

Building a Culture of Collaboration

Our Mentor Center principal, Jessica Johnson, provides her first entry:
Throughout my first year as an elementary principal, I spent much time observing and learning about the school, its culture, and its history, and changing the things I could not live with. I worked hard with staff throughout the year in staff meetings and leadership team meetings to begin change processes to implement this school year. I thought my second year as principal would get easier, but now that I know how much work has to be done, it seems I’m working even harder than before. I still have hope that the third year will get easier.
Some changes at our school this year include: beginning stages of response to intervention and positive behavioral interventions and supports, school celebration assemblies, having the secretary manage my schedule and sort my mail, and meeting with each teacher to discuss his or her  professional goals to tailor my classroom walkthrough feedback to individual goals. One other major change is providing biweekly substitute coverage (using ARRA stimulus funds) to allow grade levels to meet for collaboration during the school day. I have provided teachers with a meeting protocol to follow and take notes on that follows Dufour’s guiding questions for a professional learning community. I have found that some grade levels truly collaborate and accomplish great things together; however, other grade levels do not stay student focused or data-driven and revert back to venting or chatting if I’m not there to keep them on track.
I’m hoping administrators can offer some strategies or resources to help build the collaboration among grade levels so they are focused on student learning as a team, even when I’m not there in the meeting to monitor. I appreciate your input and hope that everyone is off to a great new school year!

Meet This Year’s Mentor Center Principal


Jessica Johnson has been selected as the Mentor Center principal for the 2009-2010 school year and seeks your advice and feedback as she embarks on her third year in the principalship. Johnson is principal of Dodgeland Elementary School in rural Juneau, Wisconsin. The student population comprises about 390 students in 4-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade, including an early childhood program for children ages 3-5 with special needs.

Before becoming principal of Dodgeland Elementary in 2008, she served as an assistant principal in a large district of 22 schools in Phoenix, where she had a network of many administrators to call upon for advice. Now, she works in a one-building school district in which she is the only elementary principal.
Follow Johnson throughout the school year as she asks for suggestions of veteran principals. Her entries will be published in Communicator as well as right here on the Principals’ Office blog, where you’ll be able reply to her directly.

Learn from the Veterans or Mentor the Next Generation

The best advice that a new principal can receive is from another experienced principal. NAESP offers two mentoring opportunities so that novice and veteran principals can connect. Experienced principals can increase leadership capacity and share knowledge and skills with principals who are newer to the profession by undergoing training through the National Principal Mentoring Certification Program. Upcoming mentor training dates are June 17-19 in St. Paul, MN and June 24-26 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
On the other side of the mentoring coin, if you are a principal within the first three years of your career and are interested in advice and suggestions from principals around the country, then you should apply to be the Mentor Center’s beneficiary for the next school year. To be considered, send an e-mail to Vanessa St. Gerard at vstgerard@naesp.org. In the message, write a few sentences about your school and why you would like to participate. Applications are due by May 31. To see how Mentor Center works, go to www.naesp.org/mentorcenter.

An Inside Look at PALS—Final Reflections

At the conclusion of the PALS training, participants Dwayne Young, Joyce Dunn, and Jan Conway, reflected on their experience and the impact of the training on their ability to mentor new principals and on their own careers.

Dwayne: The feeling of not knowing really what we are expected to do can be overwhelming and enormously heavy on the mind of a new principal. The PALS program seeks to ease the anxiety of the newly appointed by offering a vital resource, the voice of an experienced principal, as a guide during their first year. The training we received is a model of the work mentor principals will do with their protégés. The curriculum is focused, targeted, and a benefit to the needs of principals who want to give back in a substantial manner. The best recommendation I can possibly give is that I’d like to do it again.

Joyce: I’ve attended many conferences and trainings in my career, but this one was by far the best. The training took us through the mentoring process in an active, fun way. Having fun and active participation were the keys to the success of this training.

Jan: Through this tremendously valuable training, we have gained many insights on how to provide feedback, which can aid those entering this rewarding profession. Along the way, all participants have profited immensely themselves by learning how to improve professional interactions. Principals are in their roles because they care and want to have a positive impact on the future of others. But they need to know the strategies to best accomplish this. The training facilitators, Galen and Lillian, have left an impression for a lifetime.

The journey to certification for Dwayne, Joyce, and Jan, along with the rest of their PALS cohort, has just begun. Over the next nine months, the group will continue the mentoring certification process by corresponding with a coach and protégé, participating in monthly and weekly online discussions, and submitting a monthly portfolio and final presentation. 

If you are interested in mentoring the next generation of principals, consider becoming a certified National Principal Mentor. Visit www.naesp.org/pals or e-mail pals@naesp.org for more information about PALS and to register for training.

An Inside Look at PALS—Day Two

Have you ever wondered what goes on during the PALS training? Participants Jan Conway, Joyce Dunn, Kathy Woodley, and Dwayne Young reflect on the second day of the PALS training taking place now at the NAESP headquarters. On day two, one of the training exercises focused on the results of a strength-finder assessment. 

Dwayne: Today we spent the majority of our time learning about our strengths, using a strength- finder tool, and understanding how important it is for us to use them to our greatest personal and professional benefit. By focusing on strengths, we create an opportunity to maximize our talents, knowledge, and skills to create the positive change we envision. Rather than fixing or repairing the things we don’t do well, we instead pursue our greatest opportunity for growth—our strengths—and in so doing, we strive to reach consistent performance.

The best part of today was seeing how affirmed the group felt by describing their strengths and the discussion of how we can become more conscious about making our strengths work for us.

Jan and Joyce: The strengths-finder profile and group activity helped to make clear what each characteristic really represents. It became clear that no one combination of strengths was better than another. Surprisingly, the group has a diversity of strengths and experiences.

Kathy: We were reminded of the need to practice what we do well by using our talents and building on strengths. By understanding and celebrating our own strengths, we begin to practice using this knowledge in meaningful ways with our protégés.

The discussion and sharing with colleagues continues to be a highlight of this experience. The leaders of the training are outstanding presenters who share their experiences as mentors with the group and guide us in our understanding of the ways to use our talents and experiences in the mentoring process.

Check back next week for the final installment of the PALS blog series.

An Inside Look at PALS

For the next couple of days, The Principals’ Office will feature reflections from participants in the Peer Assisted Leadership Services (PALS) training program taking place now at the NAESP headquarters. PALS trains mentors to play a vital role in the future of new principals, their leadership, and their schools by certifying them to become a National Principal Mentor. The first part of this process is a three-day Leadership Immersion Institute to sharpen and develop administrative and leadership skills to mentor aspiring or new principals. Here are the principals who will share their experiences:

From left, to right:Jan Conway, principal of Glen Avenue Elementary School in Salisbury, Maryland Joyce Dunn, principal of Pittsville Elementary and Middle School in Pittsville, MarylandKathy Woodley, principal of West Springfield Elementary School in Springfield, VirginiaDwayne Young, principal of Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Virginia

PALS Training—Day One

Dwayne reflects on why he decided to become a mentor:

One of the influential leaders in my life, Dr. Loretta Webb, always challenged us to “lift others as we climb.” Her challenge was to always consider the positive impact we can have on others through our learning and our work, just as others have had upon us. By participating in PALS, I hope to gain the skills to offer confidence and encouragement to a beginning principal to find his or her own way. I also hope that this will be a personal and professional growth opportunity for me.

Jan and Joyce give details about what they learned about mentoring:

We were actively engaged the entire day, learning that mentoring is more than a workplace process. The professional, personal, emotional, and physical needs of our protégés must be included in the process. So far, the PALS training has provided us an opportunity to get to know conference participants and to share fabulous ideas. We’re working together to promote and strengthen the profession that we love.

Kathy explains one of the reflective exercises:

The first day of the PALS training was an awesome experience. After introductions, we were asked to make a timeline with the names of persons who have mentored us to become principals and then to use one word that described what they had done. I shared that one of my first principals had seen potential in me that I did not realize I possessed. Her vision, encouragement, and belief in me were the “evidence” of her impact on my life.

The interaction and dialogue with colleagues has been powerful, and I felt affirmation of my decision to participate in this training. I am excited about tomorrow and am eager to continue by journey to becoming a mentor.

Check back tomorrow to find out about day two of the PALS training.

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