A Matter of Principals

A Matter of Principals

How important is it to have an effective principal?

Much has been said lately about the importance of having an effective teacher at the helm of every classroom. However, an often overlooked piece of research around effectiveness is how important it is for every school to have an effective principal.

After all, what good is it to have a building filled with effective and dedicated teachers if the person in charge of designing and managing the school’s systems actually impairs the degree to which his/her teachers can be effective?

It’s already an impressive task to get an effective teacher in front of every student. The additional challenge of finding effective principals to lead these effective teachers can begin to feel like we’re waiting for a rare alignment of stars. However, the expectation that each of our classrooms be in the hands of an effective teacher and that each of our schools be in the hands of an effective principal is a crucial one to which we must hold firm.

There are some school models that address this challenge by empowering the teachers within a school to take on the decision-making responsibilities usually held by principals in more traditional models. However, every school needs someone managing the school-wide logistics because they greatly impact the degree to which a teacher can be effective.

In most traditional school models, it is imperative that the principal also be an effective and inspiring leader. Teachers must see him/her as an expert worthy of respect and a leader worthy of trust. There will be times, and many of them, when teachers don’t fully understand all of the variables that impact decisions made. There will be other times when a principal must push and motivate teachers to grow as professionals. It’s in these times where the respect and trust teachers have in an effective principal become the lifeblood of a school.

How should a principal’s effectiveness be evaluated?

While many districts and states debate about how teachers should be evaluated, it is imperative that we also discuss how principals should be evaluated. While student outcomes around student achievement and graduation rates seem like obvious data points to include in such an evaluation, equally important are the observation and teacher interview tools that must be designed to extrapolate the extent to which teachers respect and trust their principal. When creating these observation and teacher interview tools, there are a few questions to consider.

How could interview and/or survey questions be designed for teachers to describe, among other effective practices:

  • what their principals do to build trusting relationships with staff
  • what their principals do to earn respect and faith in their expertise
  • what their principals do to maintain a staff’s trust and respect even after making decisions that teachers don’t immediately understand

How could evaluative observation rubrics be designed to capture, among other effective practices:

  • how clearly a principal communicates his/her expectations to staff
  • how inspiring a principal is when addressing his/her staff
  • how much rigor a principal promotes in the professional development at his/her school

It is my hope that policymakers, along with state and district officials, will pass legislation and design evaluation systems which pay tribute to the crucial role principals play in any effort to improve the effectiveness of our classrooms and schools. If not, legions of effective teachers in our nation will remain at the mercy of ineffective principals until more and more evaluation systems ensure otherwise.

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