This is my fourth day-one letter to principals who are tasked with bringing a school, its staff and learners back to life. My purpose is to list a few issues which help to shine a bright light on the leadership of instruction. Links to last year’s first letter – very similar – is provided below for one simple reason. The Principal should take the lead by being as prepared as possible, and publicly so, to indicate to your team that re-starting the school should be similar in detail, hype, urgency and teamwork to the opening of a big new supermarket or to the build-up at the start of the first Grand Prix of the season.

When any sports team has a tough day, the losing captain, in the post-match interview, says that there are a few positives to take out of the team’s performance. The winning captain is full of praise for both teams, but, you can be sure that coaches will spend hours on those positives. Take the positives out of 2023 – even ask your teachers to carefully write down one positive – and make a set of positives for 2024. What about a few positives for each classroom?

The word positive means good. It’s the opposite of negative. Making a positive start is all about attitude – that one word that sets a school, a classroom, a teacher or a student apart.

By the time your first staff meeting starts, the principal is in ‘back to my best’ mode. You’ve got rid of the cobwebs in your head, the fear in your gut and the holiday slowness in your step. The teachers are back. You have a key role. No, it’s not to lead them into battle like Napoleon, but to provide that calming presence that is the hallmark of a good principal. The teachers are in recharge mode and your calm, confident and positive attitude serves to bring out the best in your team and to ensure a high-performance level from day one.

Have you given sufficient emphasis to what you expect from those tasked to mentor brand-new and relatively new teachers? Not show them how to get a worksheet photocopied? No, rather to walk them through the year; to help them find the positives each week, to guide their classroom management, their teaching strategies and to hone their attitude.

If I were leading a school next week my focus would be on text. Not text as in textbook, but text that the learners craft and draft every single day in every single subject. That diary entry or short three sentence lesson summary or expression of opinion.  I would make text a topic for daily discussion among teachers in the foundation and intersen phases. It would be monitored weekly.

A solid piece of new year advice for teachers is ‘Don’t do it Alone’. Having a professional relationship with another teacher in your grade, phase or subject is a commitment to a joint growth mindset. Learners are far better off when teachers work in teams.

A good way to start the year is to stress that it’s all systems go – ensuring everyone understands the complete range of behind-the-scenes processes that distribute leadership throughout the school. Talk them through the organogram and spell out the detail from GrR to Gr12.

Now’s the time to commit to a joint interpretation of 2024’s number one word – ACCOUNTABILITY. A teacher takes personal and professional accountability for assessing where the learners are in terms of mastery and commits to taking them to a particularly designated level. This journey is undertaken as a team and teachers should be able to identify the issues and individuals which make accountability such an imperative.

A new year offers teachers the chance to up aspects of their game especially their classroom presence, their range of teaching skills and their effectiveness. That first lesson, the planning it clearly shows and the use of every minute sets a standard with a class. Any experienced and competent teacher knows that a teaching climate with a particular class is unique and dependent on many factors which need to be actively managed. Principals have a role to play in making the school teaching-ready for teachers and learners.

Restarting a school from Monday requires the WHOLE team – that’s every single teacher. The staffroom should be totally free of staff chatters. Everyone should be out there – everywhere – setting the tone for a busy year.

Til next time.




The Principals Academy Trust


No:  01/24

11 January 2024