Team CMS: Principal of the Year improves school climate by involving staff

Published 10:57 pm Monday, December 31, 2012

Team work: Chocowinity Middle School Principal Dale Cole said the key to changing working conditions was to apply what he learned as a coach. WDN Photo|MONA MOORE

Chocowinity Middle School Principal Dale Cole could not have been more surprised that Beaufort County Schools named him Principal of the Year.
“It was unexpected. It was very much a surprise,” Cole said. This was the first time that I was eligible to be a part of the process.”
In order to be eligible for the distinction, Cole said he had to be principal of the same school for two or three years.
Cole had moved to several different schools in his career. He said it is the nature of the job, in this day and age.
Determining who would be principal of the year involved surveying school staff and interviewing candidates.
Cole was pleased to see that his staff approved of the work he had done since his arrival at CMS. He considered it his job to solve the problems he found.
He set out to make changes
and improvements in the school, fully aware that many would be opposed to change.
“It’s the way you go about it,” he said. “Always try to include the staff and give them choices. My job is to illustrate the problem and ask the staff how to fix it.”
He was concerned about the climate and spent his first year addressing working conditions. A state-issued survey had found that less than 80 percent of CMS teachers were satisfied with working conditions. The survey pointed out more than 15 areas that needed improvement, things like access to materials and parental involvement.
Cole formed teams of teachers and students to identify the problems the school had. Team members surveyed the school and compiled a list.
Cole then formed a team to come up with solutions.
The team made drastic changes. The first change was most visible. The school’s appearance improved. CMS won the district’s Clean School Award for the first time in 10 years.
Another change that resulted from the teamwork was a drop in discipline referrals. All of the teachers took part in changing the school’s environment and keeping students in line.
Despite lack of time being one of the top complaints teachers have these days, Cole said he did not have a problem finding people willing to join the teams.
“It’s all about the environment you work in, not just about the length of time, but the quality of time,” Cole said. “Any teacher is willing to put in time to improve the environment.”
Cole said he has learned a lot about what it takes to be a good principal by studying the work of others. He does a lot of research on education and spends a lot of time online reading what principals are doing nationwide. Cole learned from those he worked with as a teacher and an assistant principal in Beaufort County schools.
“The balance of a principal is being able to keep an eye on the big picture and remembering what it was like being a teacher,” Cole said. “The further you move down the chain, the further away you get from the kids.”
He taught English for 10 years and still misses the daily interaction with students and the relationships he would build with his students.
Cole tries to build relationships as a principal, but it is not the same.
“I can’t talk to every one of the 465 students daily like I could the 75 I saw daily as a teacher,” he said.
Cole misses coaching, too, and said he would go back to it if he could afford to do so. He has three kids, one of them a student at CMS. Instead, his after-school hours are spent on the paperwork that always a
As much as he has learned from other principals, Cole said coaching has been the biggest influence on his style as an administrator.
“I believe in teams. I believe in everybody having a voice,” he said. “Teachers understand that they are expected to be a part of the process. It isn’t ‘What are you going to do?’ It’s ‘What are we going to do.’”