Leading School Operations

Learning with others in many different ways is what brings about growth and reflection titlethat is not only powerful, it is energizing.  It is my privilege and honour to spend time learning alongside with aspiring leaders in formal and informal ways.  One formal way is as an instructor for OPC’s Principal’s Qualification Program.  This past weekend, we spent time learning about School Operations.  The focus was to understand the legislation and policies that are in place that impact how a school runs.  Sound exciting?  Your initial response may be “no”. Sounds straight-forward but to the contrary it is very complex. Digging deeper and looking at school operations through the lens of a leader makes one realize that it’s about mindset, influence and resiliency.

We began in a way that involved a collaborative inquiry approach with this guiding slide:







As a practicing principal who moved to a new school this past September, I share that aspiring leaders and transitioning leaders alike must always keep School Operations as an ongoing area of focus.  School Operations are the underpinning to maintaining a safe and healthy environment.

Guiding questions:  

How does a leader give purpose and meaning to policies and procedures they are duty bound to implement?

How does a leader communicate school operations to staff and students in ways that explicitly make connections to how they support teaching and learning?

How does a leader promote collective responsibility and accountability for respecting school operations?

Why are these questions important to ask?  It is important that staff understand the intent and the why connected to rules, routines and day to day expectations. Ask yourself each and everyday:   


  • Is the school safe?
  • Does the school have structures in place that support creating an effective teaching and learning environment?  
  • How do students and staff know how the school operates on a day to day basis with predictability so that teaching and learning can happen?


My colleague, Gerry Smith, while presenting with a focus on Health and Safety to participants made these relevant points:

  • Mindset matters.  You set the parameters for things to be safe from an gerry-pqpoperational stance.  It is your responsibility to ensure your school runs day to day with a focus on safety and routine.
  • Always remember it is about protecting everyone – students, staff and members of the community.  Legislation, policy & procedures are there for a very good reason.  Make sure you know why and that it happens.  Your level of preparedness is key.
  • Exercise your influence and talk out loud sharing the whys of structures and procedures and how they support the teaching and learning. Mention as needed how they are grounded in legislation and policy.  No one can opt out.    
  • Know yourself.  Be prepared.  Things will go wrong.  Everyone is watching how you respond.  How you respond sets the tone.   

How does a principal / vice-principal bring School Operations to life with meaning:

  • Humanize it. Give school operations meaning by making connections to how they impact teaching and learning and keep people safe and secure.
  • Be knowledgeable. Find time to read policies, procedures and operationalize them in ways that make sense in your school.  Know where to go to know.
  • Communication is crucial.  Many ways are needed.  E.g.  staff handbook, memos, bulletin boards, schedules, calendars, announcements, signage, website, 1:1 reminders, group shares, assemblies, class presentations
  • Be open to concerns and questions. Say thank you when they are voiced and most importantly, follow up with actionables.
  • Pay close attention during inspections and plant improvements.  Ask questions and seek advice.  Check in daily with your caretaker.  
  • Be present.   See your school operations in action.  Be out on the playground. Be out and about during the start of the day and the end of the day. Notice what is going well and where operational improvements might be made.  Ask questions.  Be visible.  Note and respond to areas of concern connected to safety, supervision and security in a timely way.

Don’t lose sight of knowing who you are in relations to your personal leadership resources.  Know thyself.  Be self-aware of how you respond in crisis or conflict situations.  Consult with system supports.   Be sure to pose questions and debrief with a mentor about how they navigate situations.  Process is your friend.  Access checklists. Stay low on the ladder and observe.  Listen. Take notes. Ask questions. And listen again.

Follow up post coming soon:
How do you cope as a school leader when things go wrong?

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