The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

A lesson in leadership

Last year, while I was working in another capacity at another school, our staff made the decision to implement the Olweus anti-bullying program. Looking at research and taking a systematic approach, a lot of work was done to change the overall culture of the school. Bullying was defined, data was collected, procedures were adjusted, and “class meetings” were instituted, where facilitators got students talking about bullying. Our school took full advantage of a couple of tools at our disposal, specifically an advisory program that we have every day (that gave us the forum to get kids talking), and the fact that our high school has a late start on Wednesdays, offering the opportunity for some older students to come to our school and get involved with our weekly class meetings. While our school does not proclaim to be “bully free,” we can say that we have a program in place to educate students what to do and what to watch for, to address these issues, and to have a common language.

Minutes after the Board of Education approved me as the new principal of Oakview, a reporter approached me to ask if we would continue the program. I knew immediately that maintaining the Olweus program needed to be a priority.

I’ve made it a point to learn about the program, class meetings, the four rules, and to make clear that I am in full support of this initiative. I’ve made some recommendations about how to fund the student survey, materials, and other needs. Our Central Office administration has invited me to some meetings where I have advocated for the program, and I was thrilled to help recruit the next wave of high school students that will contribute to our class meetings. However, the real “work” has been done by our Assistant Principal, teaching staff, and students.

A couple of weeks ago, we got word that our entire district would be adopting Olweus. It was a topic at our school board meeting last week, and received some media coverage. The “official” word came out on Friday on our Superintendent’s blog. As has been the case in recent weeks, the presentation at the board meeting was handled by a teacher, our Assistant Principal, and two students. As I walked to my car that evening, I realized again that I had not done any work, I had been in a support role that evening, and felt like as the school’s principal, I should have been doing more. Reflecting on these feelings is when I realized I had been taught a leadership lesson.

“When you have an initiative that is good for kids and has support, and smart people are working hard and making progress, GET OUT OF THE WAY!”

I’ll continue to be supportive, do what I am asked to do, and find ways to fund our program. I’ll also remember to give the credit to our staff and students for working so hard to make our school an even better place to learn and grow, but I won’t force myself into a conversation or commandeer something that is already working. Sometimes, being a leader means taking a step back and being led.



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9 thoughts on “A lesson in leadership

  1. That’s incredibly insightful Mr. Bernia, a great lesson you’ve shared with me. I’ll be sure to get out of the way when the conditions are right. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jenna Reynolds on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    I am a Student at the University of South Alabama studying to be a Special Education teacher. I really enjoyed your post for that reason, knowing that leadership and addressing bullying in that context will be essential for my students. Also, I was just talking to my 9 and 12 year old cousins yesterday about bullying, so I can see how all of the little different initiatives your school is taking would be very helpful to a lot of students!

    Defining the line between stepping back while others incorporate their own ideas and removing yourself from the situation has always been something I need work on as a leader. Sometimes it seems like it’s either “all in” or “let them work, and maybe I’ll just jump back in at the end.” It is definitely an important lesson to remember as I begin teaching, and for any other leadership role in life, so Thank You!

    • Hi Jenna,

      Thanks for the kind words and feedback. It’s tough to stay away from “either-or” thinking, but critical to be successful.

      I wish you the best in your studies!

  3. Hello Mr. Bernia,

    My name is Jason Jackson and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I applaud your efforts in initiating this plan in your school district. It shows me that you are one who truly cares for students. A few things that I’m interested to know are how was bullying defined, and what effects has the Olweus anti-bullying program had on the bullies?

    Best wishes,
    Jason Jackson

    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks for making time to comment. Our program defines bullying as aggressive behavior that involves negative actions (often unwanted) that are a pattern of behavior with an imbalance of power.

      We gathered data last year, and are set to administer another survey – we’ll know more than the surface perception data of “things have gotten better” in a few weeks.

      I wish you the best in your studies!

    • Jason,

      In addition, you can checkout the Olweus website at


  4. Pingback: Our PD day next week: Teacher Leadership « The Principal's Principles

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