Great Administrators Set the Tone for Successful Schools

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November 8, 2022

PSST … it’s no secret that when people feel seen, valued and heard, and are recognized for a job well done, they are more likely to go above and beyond what is expected of them.

Good administrators can make ALL the difference in a building, and so can poor administrators. I have been in education for over two decades, and I can tell you that I have come in contact with both good and bad administrators. I won’t dwell too long on the negative aspects of the poor administrators because they did teach me some very valuable lessons. First and foremost, they taught me what NOT to do in regard to building safe, positive and meaningful relationships with students, their families and the staff. Additionally, these poor administrators cultivated a toxic work environment for teachers and staff alike. The lack of support and leadership led to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, anger, and overall reduced mental and physical health within the school building. Needless to say, this is not the optimal way to build a successful educational environment. My take-away lessons from these negative experiences were that true passionate leaders set examples of excellence and use their position to encourage, inspire and grow their staff members.

Administrators are tasked with many responsibilities throughout the school year. Grant writing, data analysis, supply management, budget planning, pupil accounting, staff development, student behaviors and evaluations are just some of the many tasks that school administrators oversee. But school administrators are so much more than just the business side of running a school. Strong, supportive administrators know the true importance of lifting up their teachers and staff. Building and cultivating a safe, positive school climate is their number one goal while encouraging an inclusive, collaborative environment where teachers and students feel supported while in school. Being a leader of a school is hard work that comes with many challenges. Many people depend on principals and look to them for guidance and help, especially the students and staff within a school.

School should be a safe place where students and staff feel empowered to be their authentic selves, use their voices and where they can flourish and grow. A big part of being a principal is creating this environment for all stakeholders.

I am very lucky to say that I have an amazing leader in Mrs. Paulette Wickham. She is one of the good ones! She has worked diligently to enhance morale and create a positive, inclusive school culture within Lemmer Elementary School. She supports a collaborative environment where staff enjoy coming to school and feel part of the educational process. Paulette is committed to team-building, encourages staff to use their strengths and allows them an opportunity to voice their opinions about putting students first. She trusts her teachers to do what is right for their students and encourages them to do their best. Allowing teachers to have input on selecting which content, skills and lessons will be taught in their classrooms boosts confidence and creativity among teachers.

Paulette understands the importance of delegating responsibilities to the staff to capitalize on their strengths, which in turn helps teachers to be more invested in the success of their school. Delegation shows that she trusts her team to help make important decisions. Personally, Paulette has allowed me to grow professionally by leading by example. She has shown me what true leadership looks like. It’s about fostering a safe, inclusive workplace where everyone feels appreciated for their contributions to education. She treats teachers as professionals and is empathetic to the challenges teachers go through because she worked in the classroom for many years. I have not only seen her pick up a mop when a student was sick in the hall, but she has covered classrooms when teachers needed to go to a doctor’s appointment, she has handed out lunches, wiped tables and bagged garbage. Paulette LEADS BY EXAMPLE! Having Paulette as a principal over the last few years has been truly wonderful. She has a knack for connecting with people and helping them to become their best selves. She works collaboratively with staff, students, families and the community to provide a school where everyone can succeed.

In our country’s current climate where teachers are leaving the profession because they do not feel supported by their leadership, it is critical that we are encouraging administrators to be more empathetic, supportive, encouraging and trustworthy. We need more principals like Paulette Wickham. Thank you, Mrs. Wickham, for your dedication to Lemmer School and its students, families and staff members. I will always appreciate and remember your valuable lessons.
About Nanette Hanson: I am a proud teacher with 20-plus years of varied teaching experiences in several teaching positions, from alternative high school through first grade. I work each day to build safe and supportive relationships that help kids grow and flourish while embracing each child’s needs and individuality. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2022-23, I will strive to continue to build relationships with educational stakeholders to work toward building systems that better offer equitable, inclusive educational opportunities for all students across Michigan.