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Principal of the Year: Tips on how to move your school forward

Being a principal in North Carolina is not just a job. It requires you to be a change-agent.  I began my job as the instructional leader of Hertford Grammar School when our school overall proficiency was 42.5 percent.  I reviewed our school’s data and made several key decisions that I believe will help other schools move forward.

Hire quality talent

I went out and recruited teachers just like a college basketball scout.  I sold teachers on the opportunity to come in and have an instant impact on student learning.  I marketed our school’s one-to-one technology grant and allowed teachers to come in and design their classrooms to appeal to students.  I allowed all of my teachers to received “personalized” professional development.  This was built into our monthly calendars for all of our staff.  Don’t forget that students need a highly qualified “motivator” to drive their thinking and allow for classroom innovation.  This was the start of our school heading toward success.

Shape your school culture by assessing your climate.

I often use the analogy of an iceberg to show the difference between school climate and culture.  The climate is the part of an iceberg that is out of the water.  Your school’s climate refers to the elements that I can see as soon as I walk in the door (teaching practices, school diversity, and relationships within your building).  In mathematical terms, climate is one-tenth of the iceberg. The remainder is your school’s culture. 

School culture is the part of the iceberg that one can not physically see.  It is the part that is hidden from the eye such as staff beliefs, values, and expectations that they share.  As administrators, we have to assess the climate so that the school culture will not sink the ship.  Our school employs what we call the Chick-fil-A effect!  We work hard to ensure that our customers (students and parents) are happy and excited about our school.  I promote our school through social media, weekly newsletters, and speaking engagements.  This also helps to catch the attention of other educators who want to be a part of something great!

Set the bar and require staff to go higher

During my first year as principal, I told my staff that I wanted to become a “B” school.  This was a daunting challenge for a school that was deemed as “low performing” by North Carolina.  We implemented the framework MTSS (Multi-tiered Systems of Support) for all students.  It was imperative that 80 percent of students achieved success with every assessment.  I worked closely with my administrative team to address “core instruction” in every classroom.  I held data conferences with teachers after their unit assessments and prescribed interventions for students who were not meeting academic and behavioral expectations.  

Build relationships

 Students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Every student in your school needs a super hero.  I do not expect you to turn into the “Hulk” however, you should let every child that walks into your building know that they are “incredible!”  You do not have to turn into the Flash; however, we should run to our students when they need us!  Our job is to help every child, every day find their super powers!


I like using the analogy of running with my staff and during presentations.  I am not telling you to run. I am asking, “Are you in?” When I ask teachers and students to run, I’m asking them to be committed to doing their best and never giving up.  Education is just like being a poker player; you have to go all in to win!  Being a change agent requires you to take risks.  We must fall before we have it all!  Encourage your colleagues to take a risk because it will pay off in the end!

I am proud of our team and believing in our dream.  We are now a “B” school and on our way to an “A!”  Moving a school forward requires a clear vision and a team of educators who will stand beside you throughout the year. I encourage educators across our state and nation to use every challenge as a learning opportunity, and you will see change in the performance of your school!

Jason Griffin is the Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year for 2017. Griffin joined the faculty at Hertford Grammar in 2011 as a third-grade teacher and served as dean of students before being named principal. He was previously a second-grade teacher at Perquimans Central School, from 2008-2011, and started his education career in 2002 as a third-grade teacher at E.J. Hayes Elementary School in Martin County, where he taught for six years.