Whether you are an executive director, director of operations, or a Principal of a school, effective school leadership requires us to face the reality that when resources are stretched, it’s the kids  — and their educations — that suffer. But the daunting reality is that being a school leader requires you to wear a rather ridiculous amount of hats. School leaders are public relations professionals, data specialists, parent coordinators, building managers, counselors, traffic cops, talent managers, politicians – and, above all else— role models for students.

If the sheer weight of all the headgear has your head pounding, you should consider getting help. And not the kind that tosses you a bathing cap and throws you in the deep end. You don’t need another hat. You need serious help.

Step 1) Get A Hat Rack (The Value of Strategic Relationship)     

decorative_hat_rack.jpgSchool executives around the country are trying to find innovative ways to save time, money and Excedrin, and one way to do that is to form strategic relationships. A good partnership can be like your personal hat rack – carrying the load so you can just stand back and admire your selection from afar.  The Center for Educational Leadership recently put out a study that showed schools are taking on broader efforts to partner in areas such as fiscal management, teacher training, student assessments, and employee benefits management. The goal is to move beyond merely getting the work done in the short term, to working side by side with content-area specialists who offer proactive and strategic support based on your specific priorities.

Working with a Professional Employer Organization (or PEO), can be one of the smartest strategic relationships your school can form – because they can take a whole lot of hats off quicker than you can say “fedora”. From managing HR compliance to payroll to employee benefits, it’s a relationship that can do some real heavy lifting for you and your school.

Step 2) Don A Relationship, Not Another Hat

When choosing a PEO, or any strategic partnership, make sure you are entering a relationship, and not just taking on another responsibility. Look for a PEO that offers real service and exceptional people skills – better yet, look for real people! People who you like, can relate with, and will get to know you and your school. A good strategic relationship includes:

  • Expertise That Comes To You: You’re busy enough. Get someone to come to your school to educate, field questions, and offer on-site face-to-face support for teachers and staff who may need help selecting employee benefits, for example. Find out if the PEO conducts special school events, such as health and wellness days. Ask questions, and trust your gut. Are they going to be there for you? Or are you going to have to hunt them down?
  • Friendly Technology: PEOs often offer technology solutions that can act as adjunct tools to streamline HR operational processes. This is great, unless the technology is complicated and adds yet another layer of hat to your headache. Make sure it’s easy to use, with friendly ‘avatars’ that can walk staff through the entire benefits enrollment, so that you don’t have to.
  • Ongoing Support: The hallmark of a good relationship is that it not only takes the burden off of you right from the start – but it continues to add value, building with time, getting stronger, and adapting to your needs. Make sure your partner will be there with services, solutions and sound advice whether you have fifteen employees or a fifteen school CMO.

Step 3) Whatever You Do, Make Sure It Fits

One reason the busiest people resist new relationships is the sheer amount of time it can take to get them up to speed. Whether it’s a new software vendor or a new HR service, your requirements are as unique as you are. The last thing you need is to spend your days trying to wedge an ill-fitting solution onto a head that’s ready to explode.

Knowledge of your industry matters! If you run a K-12 school, find a K-12 specialist; someone who knows the shape of your days and can tailor the services to fit like a glove.  Expertise in K-12 schools means your PEO will understand HR regulations, compliance and issues that are specific to you. Remember – the goal is fewer hats, so the more they know, the less you carry.

At Little Bird, we specialize in K-12 Education, and encourage you to find out more about how we can lend a hand. Meanwhile, if you have a question we can help you with that might lighten your load, just ask! Contact us at

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