The role of a principal has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades (Levine, 2005). It wasn’t too long ago that a principal’s primary tasks were limited to making sure that the buses ran on time, ordering supplies, and addressing personnel issues (Usdan, McCloud and Podmostko 2000). Now an affective principal’s main responsibility is student learning (The Wallace Foundation 2012, Usdan, McCloud and Podmostko 2000). The typical principal now puts in over 10 hours a day in order to get everything done. (Usdan, McCloud and Podmostko 2000).
The key elements of effective leadership: principal as an instructional leader, winning by developing relationships, safe and caring learning environment, hiring of staff, always put students first, vision should be shared and focused, communication in the building, excellence in teaching and learning, principals build/reinforce professional development, principals share leadership, and time management. Principal as an Instructional Leader The principal is an instructional leader, a teacher of all teachers. Instructional leadership can be broken into two categories: direct and indirect instructional leadership.
Examples of direct instructional leadership that a principal should provide are staff development, teacher observations/evaluations, and supervision. Also providing subordinate’s instructions about their tasks and including what is expected of each staff member. (Northouse, 2013). As the descriptor “direct instructional leadership” implies, this is instruction that the principal is providing directly to an individual or a group. Direct instructional leadership is focused on the quality of teacher practice, including the quality of the curriculum, teaching and assessments, and the quality of teacher inquiry and teacher learning.
Indirect instructional leadership requires the principal to play more of a supportive role to teachers. The indirect leadership is focused on creating the conditions for an optimal teaching and learning environment. Indirect instructional leadership creates the conditions for good teaching and teacher learning by ensuring that school policies, routines, resourcing and other management decisions support and require high-quality learning, teaching and teacher learning (Bendikson, Hattie, and Robinson, 2012).
Examples of indirect instructional leadership might include instructional facilitation, hiring qualified staff, resource acquisition, building maintenance and student problem resolution. Both direct and indirect instructional leadership are key roles of a principal. If principals practice instructional leadership daily, then they are successful in coaching and empowering teachers/staff members to improve student achievement. For many years, school principals were viewed as managers who ordered materials, handled discipline, and focused on keeping things in the school running smoothly so teachers could do the job of educating.
Now, however, as principal’s most significant role is that of a learning leader. Current research shows that school leaders are a critical component to improving learning in schools (Educational Leadership Policy Standard: ISLLC, 2008,p. 9). As the learning leader in a school, the principal can influence learning through the formal process of planned observations, supervision and mentoring of staff. However, the principal can have even more influence in many other ways.
Luneberg(2010) says there are five key tasks a principal must do as a learning leader: have a focus on learning, encourage collaboration, use data to improve learning, provide support, and align curriculum, instruction, and assessment (p. 1). Winning by developing relationships School leadership often involves difficult decisions and uncertainty. As schools are constantly changing to meet the new mandates: APPR, Common Core State Standards, RTTT, and DASA laws, student learning is still in jeopardy. Students are experiencing more problems, having a leader who can navigate through these difficult times is essential.
No matter how outstanding the leader is he/she cannot navigate alone. It is critical that an effective principal immediately and consistently works on developing and maintaining relationships with students, staff, and the community. Building positive relationships with all stakeholders in the school is a time-consuming task, but the effort will pay great dividends. An educational building leader makes an effort to talk with and listen to all members of the school community. Kelly Sajnog, a successful middle school principal, notes the importance of relationships (personal communication, February 4, 2013).
She says the time she spent cultivating relationships and building trust during her first year as principal was her most important job. Since then she has been able to bring new initiatives to the school, work with the community members, and rely on teacher-leaders to help improve the teaching and learning in her building. Building relationships will enhance a positive school culture, thereby making it easier to work together toward common goals. “Schools cannot sustain excellence in the absence of trust” (Uebbing & Ford, 2011).
A leader who spends time on these relationships is in a much stronger position to help improve student achievement in a school. Many students come to school with various needs and circumstances. Establishing relationships with families and community services will allow a principal to provide the best possible learning environment for all students. Some ways in which a principal may accomplish this are: holding parent coffee hours once a month, reaching out to local social workers and psychologists, participating in an established parent group, and spending time at community events held in places other than the school.
Alvy and Robbins (2005) cited building strong relationships as being one of the most important things that new principals do. The people who make up a school – students, teachers, classified staff, families, and the greater community – will either unite around a common cause or function as independent components going in different directions. Principals who build trusting relationships go a long way toward establishing a healthy school culture in which everyone works together. Principals do not gain trust because of the title on their office door. They must earn trust.
And to earn trust, they must give it – that is, they must demonstrate faith in the independent skills and decisions of other (p. 52). The trust that principals need is a two-way street that comes from building relationships and treating every person with respect, every day. Another aspect of building positive relationships is communication. School leaders must consistently communicate with all members of the school and community. When people know and understand what work is being done in our schools, they are more likely to support our school and students. A focus of this communication should focus on student success.
Students in schools accomplish amazing things each day, school leaders must ensure the success is shared consistently and celebrated regularly in order to maintain a positive school culture. Communication, in the form of newsletters, websites, phone calls, and meetings further enhances the trusting relationships the principal has taken the time to build. Although written communication is important, person contact is equally vital. Effective principals must be visible, accessible, approachable and responsive to the needs of students, staff, and community members.
It is critical that a leader follows through on any conversation he/she has so others know he/she is committed, interested and dependable. A leader, who builds relationships, treats others with respect and acts ethically in all situations will be able to lead a school to a higher level of achievement. Safe and Caring Learning Environment An important part of leadership is the creation and maintenance of a safe and caring learning environment. Effective principals involve others, including students, to set high standards for student behavior.
The principal can communicate high expectations for behavior, and these apply rules consistently from day to day and from student to student. They expect teachers to handle most disciplinary matters and they provide in-school suspension with support for seriously disruptive students. A principal should foster a sense of responsibility in students for appropriate behavior and work to create an environment that encourages such behavior. A successful principal should take on the responsibility of encouraging an orderly learning environment by organizing strategies to assist in minimizing distractions.
Immersing the entire school community in the use of behavior prevention strategy plans can aid in preventing discipline referrals, as stated in one article we read on student management. This calls for the entire school community to take responsibility in sending a consistent message to students regarding expectations for behavior. An example of a preventive measure might include teachers integrating character education into their daily lessons and interactions with students. Although the intent of character education is to prevent disciplinary issues from occurring, a principal needs to be prepared if unacceptable behavior does occur.
Effective principals should center their ideas, days, and job on enhancing student learning by providing a safe and orderly learning environment with minimal distractions. Successful principals create this environment by sending clear and consistent messages regarding expectations of students and staff, hiring quality teachers, and presenting an encouraging demeanor, a principal sets a motivating tone for his/her school. Successful principals set a positive tone for their school with an unwavering focus on student learning.
They do not tolerate distractions and act in the best interests of their students and the learning environment. Hiring of Staff Another important factor that a principal has control over is hiring. A principal’s single most precious commodity is an opening in the teaching staff (Whitaker, 2012). The quickest way to improve your school is to hire great teachers at every opportunity. Just as the only way to improve your average grade is to turn in a better-than-your average assignment each time, the most significant way to rapidly improve a school is to add teachers who are better than the ones who leave.
Great principals know this and work diligently to hire the best possible teachers. Not only is it important to hire great teachers but also to support them. This is reinforced by the idea that successful principals focus on students-by focusing on teachers (Whitaker, 2012). Great principals celebrate the successes of their students and staff, instilling a sense of value in their achievements. If the principal is successful in creating a positive school culture and climate and praises student and staff performance at all levels, self-esteem is enhanced, and people feel that their time and work is valued and appreciated (p.41).
Always put students first If schools are about teaching and learning, then students are the customers. Educators are responsible for meeting our customers’ needs and ensuring that each student is given a high-quality experience in school. Therefore, an effective leader keeps students at the heart of every decision. Alvy & Robbins (2005) say school leaders mush “get in the habit of asking themselves student-centered questions whenever they make decisions or take actions concerning school policy, district initiatives, or the everyday activities of schools” (p.
50). In order to create a culture and climate where students fell valued, Harris & Lowery (2002) identified three things effective principals always focus on: respecting students, communicating with students, and supporting students. Students want to be treated fairly and equally. An effective principal knows this and makes sure students are always respected. For example, dealing with discipline issues privately rather than in from of others and making sure consequences are equitable makes students feel respected (Harris & Lowery, 2002, p. 64).
Students notice when a principal is interacting with students in the halls of the school each day. The communication lets students know the principal is there to help each student reach their goals and dreams. Lastly, supporting students means the principal “can be accessible to students; reward them, be an advocate for them, and provide them with a safe, secure learning environment” (Harris & Lowery, 2002). An effective principal, who respects, communicates with and supports students creates a safe learning environment where individual students can flourish.
Vision should be shared and focused The successful principal has a vision of what education should be. He or she shares their vision with others by articulating it; however, an effective principal also models his/her vision through daily actions. A successful principal is committed to implementing and developing his/her vision. Consequently, in addition to articulating their vision, visionaries have an action plan that lists the key players and steps needed in executing their vision (Reeves, 2002). Implementing a vision, which oftentimes means implementing a change, can be risky.
Leadership, however, entails risk taking and standing for beliefs, even when the odds are not in the leader’s favor. As our guest speakers have stated in one sense or another, “Communicating with clarity and direction should be the district’s vision. When making a decision, an effective principal asks himself/herself how the decision will impact student learning and proceeds with that thought as his/her focus. If the principal is clear in articulating and sharing his/her vision then the school community understands where he/she stands and where the school is headed. Communication in the building.
Communication is critical in a principal’s job. Clear, consistent communication with students, staff members, parents, and the community is imperative to the role of a principal. Similar to the teaching and reinforcement of math and reading skills, policies, procedures, and expectations need to be taught, practiced, and reinforced to students and staff members. Successful principals indicate taking the time to teach the students, talk with them, and show them their expectations. Successful principals review over the student handbook and code of conduct to ensure that both student and parent have understood these policies.
These discussions regarding their purpose also help in communicating expectations with students. When communicating with staff members, technology provides principals with the tools and ease to communicate with the staff members on a daily basis. DeBarbieri and Williams believe that communication is a critical feature of any endeavor in which people work in close proximity for a common purpose (personal commications, February, 2013). As stated by DeBarbieri, communication is crucial at faculty meetings, in emails to staff members, and on the parent webpage.
He also stated that his belief is the theory of communication is moving in the direction of technology and the use of Facebook and Twitter software. Williams, she stated that communication is just as important. A principal should know themselves first and then get to know their staff members. (personal communication, March, 2013). However, these notes or quick emails do not take the place of friendly conversations, nor do they decrease the value of faculty meetings. Communication with parents and community is also imperative to a principal’s position.
Communication via monthly newsletters or individual teacher webpage’s, help to disseminate “need-to-know” information to parents. Principals build/reinforce Professional Development Effective principals are knowledgeable about best practices and share these practices during faculty meetings, professional learning communities and conversations with individual and teams of teachers. A successful leader is often seen in the classroom and in discussions with teachers about the instruction being used. He/she also shares the success he/she sees happening in the school.
A successful educational leader stays current with readings to ensure that best instructional practices are being employed for all students. For example, if ELA scores are a concern for a school, it is the leader’s responsibility to research best practices on reading and writing instruction and then share best practices with staff. Also, an effective leader uses data to hold him/her and the staff members accountable. By collecting data often, a leader is able to make informed decisions about teaching and learning to ensure all teachers strive for continual student achievement.
The principal knows what professional development his/her staff needs and participates in the trainings. This unwavering focus on learning reminds everyone in the school community that academic success for all students is the purpose of schools. An effective principal can impact the culture of learning in his/her school when he/she makes decisions about scheduling. For example, teachers need to be given time to collaborate regularly. Scheduling common planning time for teachers sends the message that collaboration to improve student learning is important.
During these times of collaboration, principals can provide support by attending meetings and participating in the professional learning community. Teachers need to know the principal does not have all the answers but is willing to work with the teachers to find the keys to helping each student achieve his/her best. Finding the keys to help each students may not lie within the school building; a principal may need to work with other districts, a regional BOCES, local colleges or other institutions to find what each student needs to achieve his/her potential.
Collaborating with others allows a principal to maximize all his/her resources in a quest to do what is best for students. If schools are about learning, then the curriculum, instruction and assessments are the most important tools schools use on a daily basis. An effective principal is a part of the ongoing, cyclical nature of curriculum development. He/she ensures that assessment are rigorous and aligned to the curriculum, common core state standards, that data-driven instruction is used regularly, and that the curriculum is detailed enough so teachers know exactly what needs to be taught.
However, the principal does not just oversee these processes; he/she is an active participant in all aspects of teaching and learning. The principal should be running faculty meeting where he/she will introduce common formative assessments, professional learning communities, common online areas for staff resources, and units to cover new Common Core State Standards. A principal may have teacher leaders to host mini lessons in the morning, where teachers could collaborate on 21st century learning skills, and to compare student data.
An effective principal acting as a learning leader develops a school where excitement about learning and celebration of achievement is evident on a daily basis. “When learning becomes the preoccupation of the school, when all the school’s educators examine their efforts and initiatives of the school through the lens of their impact on learning, the structure and culture of the school begin to change in substantive ways” (DuFour,2002). As the principal shifts a culture to a focus on learning, he/she can then begin to recognize and grow teacher-leaders.
These teacher-leaders act as ambassadors for the principal’s vision and assist in the learning culture for all teachers and students. Michael Fullan(2010) gives a clear view of what a principal as a learning leader looks like. Powerful principals are obsessed with the instructional core of personalized learning and getting results for each and every student. They make instruction a priority. They deal effectively with distracters. They create a culture of job-embedded learning. They help the school focus on a small number of core priorities they resolutely pursue while avoiding innovation overload (p.
14). This is an exciting time for exceptional teachers who love the classroom to use their expertise about teaching and learning in the role of building leader. When summarizing the area of professional development for instructional leadership, good principals: • Hold frequent discussions about curriculum and instruction (ASCD, 1999); • Encourage collaboration among teachers (ASCD, 1999); • Provide opportunities for professional development both outside the school and within the school between colleagues (ASCD, 1999); and, • Actively participate in staff development (Cotton, 2003).
Principals share leadership Although the principal is ultimately responsible for building decisions, successful principals delegate, consult, and collaborate with staff members. With an overabundance of duties to manage, it is imperative for principals to trust their employees (assistant principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, clerical staff, and custodians) and to create committees to take on responsibilities for some of these tasks. In addition to making the principal’s job more manageable, shared decision making also helps in empowering teachers and creating a “buy in” for implementing change.
Effective principals not only collaborate with staff members on decision making, but also encourage staff members to work together on instruction and curriculum best practices. If principals can be effective in creating a collaborative school with professional learning communities, then risk taking and learning takes place at all levels, thereby improving instructional practices. (DuFour, 2010) Time Management Considering the demands of the job of principal and the various roles that the principal is expected to play, it seems that prioritizing, time management, and organization skills are critical in helping the principal find a balance.
The principal who prioritizes does not get buried by the demands of paperwork but instead uses the time when school is in session to visit with the students in school. The principal that continues to spend his/her time management skills might multitask by returning phone calls while driving between buildings and/or to the district office for meetings. The principal who is organized leaves his/her office with a clean desk every day.
In addition to juggling duties during the school day, balancing the many hours needed to attend school and community functions with a family can be a challenge as well. To manage well, a principal must actively prepare, plan, organize, direct, model, evaluate, and improve (Speck, 1998, p. 20). Management duties of a principal include ensuring a safe and orderly school environment, having a working knowledge of the law, shaping a schedule and prioritizing a budget in a way that will help communicate his/her vision and goals, and managing the daily activities in the building (ASCD, 1999).
A principal must have a hand in all of these duties, but the degree to which he/she is involved in each depends on a perception of the job (Mawhinney, n. d. ). The principal who enlists more help, and thus creates more personal choice in the area of management, will enjoy more opportunities in the critical area of educational leadership (Mawhinney, n. d. ). A principal’s job is not a 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. job. Consequently, a principal needs to be passionate about his/her work but also needs to find a balance between work and home.
The role of the principal requires one to be active and think on his/her feet. This requires a fit mind and body. Reflecting on daily actions, keeping abreast with professional development, reading and engaging in a stress relieving activity, such as exercise, are all activities that can help the principal manage his/her workload (personal communication March,2013). It is important to remember that the principalship should not define the person but rather the person defines the principalship role.
If the principal reflects often, then he/she will learn to find a healthy balance by prioritizing and managing his/her time. Conclusion: Effective Principals Make a True Difference “School leaders are critical to helping improve student performance. Research now shows that leadership is second only to classroom instruction among school-related factors that influence student outcomes” (Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC, 2008, p. 9).
Principalship requires flexibility in juggling the many roles that requires the principal to play. In reflecting on the information retrieved from guest speakers, class presentations, interviews, books, journal articles and observations, the following conclusion can be drawn: If the principal is able to balance being an instructional leader, a manager, the creator of a positive climate and culture, a visionary, an ambassador, a communicator, a collaborator, and a real person, then I he/she is likely to be a successful principal.
When a principal learns to build good relationships, becomes a good listener, learns to plan his/her actions before reacting, has good mentors and trustworthy friends in his/her corner, and continues to have a solid plan of action, students will learn! References Alvy, H. , & Robbins, P. (2005, May). Growing Into leadership. Educational Leadership, 62, 50-54. Bergman, D. and Jorgensen, M (2013, February 4). [EAD610 class article share presentation]. Blankstein, A. M. (2004). Failure is not an option: Six principles that guide student achievement in high-performing schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Cavino, D. and Nower, C. (2013, March 11).
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