(Originally posted at A Principal’s Life. )

A few weeks ago, I read a blog post about rules for leadership. It challenged me to think about the rules that are important to me as a school leader. What are the things that I believe in that guide my actions and decisions as a principal. I actually started a list of the things that I believe help me to be a better leader. Here are my top four leadership rules:

Protect Your People

It seems at times that public education, and educators, are under attack from all sides. The media pundits are convinced that we need to be “reformed”, legislators who have never set foot in a classroom, let alone taught in one, create legislation that becomes burdensome and has no effect on student learning, and central office folk are constantly pressuring all of us about standardized test scores. Not to mention parental “involvement” that can at times seem oppressive. Support for our teachers can be hard to come by. This is where the school leader has to step up. I try my best to keep as much off my teachers plates as possible, allowing them to focus on the primary job, teaching children. Protecting your people from unnecessary or repetitive actions is critical. How? Look at meetings. Keep them brief, focused and to the point. Or, better yet, if you can send an e-mail, do it and cancel the meeting. When it comes to parents, make sure they are supported. Keep parents who harass the away from them. Period.

Always Work to Get Better

I believe from my coaching days that you are either getting better or you are getting worse. There is no “maintaining”. I constantly challenge my staff to continuously improve their craft. I also express to my administrative team that we have to do the same thing. We can not afford to rest on our laurels. We celebrate successes, and then we start looking at how we can get even better. We have tried very hard to establish a culture where it is not only acceptable to attempt something new and fail, but encouraged. That is how we grow as professionals and improve as educators.

Accept the 52-48 decision

As I moved from teacher to department chair to assistant principal and now principal, I realized very quickly that picture got larger with each move. I also came to the realization that the approval rate for some of my decisions shrank as the picture got bigger. As an assistant principal, I got very comfortable with a decision that 20-30% of the people did not agree with. As principal, I am now comfortable with what I call the 52-48 decision. We are never going to make everyone happy, but as leaders, we have to make the decisions that WE feel are in the best interests of all involved. But many of these decisions are not going to be universally applauded. Get used to it. A follow up here is to never be afraid to admit you were wrong and fix it when you are.

Be Available and Visibledavid-ellena-quote-leadrule

I try and spend a large portion of each and every day out in the building. I visit classrooms, talk to students in the hallways, and make an appearance at every lunch I can. this is not earth shattering, but it is a critical eldership rule for me. Along with this, my office door is never closed. Yes, I know the infamous “Got a a minute?” question that is never a minute. But as the leader, I HAVE to be there for my people. Teachers, students, parents, staff members, it doesn’t matter. Their issues,  problems and concerns are instantly my issues, problems and concerns. A leader does not have the option of ignoring them.

These are my top four. What are your leadership rules? Leave me a comment and let me know what your top rules are.

David Ellena is the Principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. President of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals. He shares his insights on his website, A Principal’s Life. Follow David on Twitter at @TCMSPrincipal.