What’s on this principal’s mind in 2023? Transparent leadership, for one

The role of your traditional K12 principal is viewed through an entirely new lens, argues Scott Gengler, principal at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota. It's up to leaders to protect the narrative that truly reflects the good work happening in their schools.

Nowadays, the K12 principal operates under a much brighter spotlight, largely as a result of the pandemic. Remote instruction opened the eyes of many parents who at the time discovered for the first time exactly what was going on in their child’s school. But that’s no longer the case. Students are back in the classroom, adding a new job responsibility for principals: leading with complete transparency.

Transparent leadership

“What we do in school right now is under a different spotlight,” says Scott Gengler, principal at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, serving nearly 4,000 students. “And it’s not always accurate. There’s a lot of interpretation of what we’re doing in school based on maybe a political perspective or what somebody’s reading. They’re assuming certain things are happening in schools.”

This pandemic-related challenge is one that Gengler is looking to reform through his newly minted initiative, the “Portrait of a Wayzata Graduate,” which serves as a promise to students ensuring that each of them will be prepared for postsecondary success regardless of their background. He and his team narrowed down seven traits that they believe are crucial to helping cultivate success on a student’s postsecondary journey.

“My role as a building principal has really been about protecting and sharing the narrative of the good work that we do in the building and putting common sense perspective to a lot of the work that we do,” he says. “We serve all kids, regardless of political affiliation. We serve all kids regardless of gender identification. We serve all kids regardless of ability level. We serve all kids regardless of socioeconomic status. And we are responsible and accountable for serving all those kids well.”

Wayzata portrait of a graduate: seven traits.

This idea has helped Gengler realize that not only does he have to be more transparent with his leadership, but he must also be purposeful in his communication. It’s important that leaders do their very best to communicate to students and families the “how” and “why” behind their leadership.

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Zeroing in on the ‘new norm’

Another challenge Gengler—and likely many other principals throughout the country—is actively addressing for both students and staff is figuring out what it looks like to “do school again” since the pandemic.

“A high priority for us is establishing what our norms are, what our routines are and really establishing what those expectations are for students to be successful,” he says.

But most of all, he’s focused on creating a well-rounded student, one prepared to take on life after graduation, whether they choose to go to college or not.

“Again, that’s part of that whole ‘shaping the narrative’ and not letting others shape that narrative for you based on things they maybe have read or listened to some politician do a stunt speech telling us what we’re doing in schools which are so far from reality,” he explains.

It’s a tricky situation that leaders are facing, but you must advocate for your students and staff because only those in the building truly know the good work that’s being done for the students.

“I want all of us to be zeroed in on attributes that I think we could feel good about,” Gengler says. “I don’t think anyone would be upset if kids knew how to focus on their personal growth and their well-being. If you can respect the perspective and the experiences of others, even if they’re different from your own, we’ve just created a healthier environment.”

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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