Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday's Five - Qualities of Excellent Principals

It's tough to be a teacher in the current educational climate.  It may be even harder to be a principal.  You've got pressure to get the students in your building to perform on standardized tests, budget cuts, teachers who have had the love of teaching beaten out of them by politicians and media, and parents who increasingly can be classified as either helicopter parents or school adversaries.  It's a rare individual who can navigate this environment to build a culture of collaboration in a school, a focus on student learning instead of test prep, and a great relationship between his/her school and the community.

Often we hear what makes a great administrator from politicians and corporations who are driving the "education reform" movement:  Someone who uses "data" to increase test scores.  Those politicians and corporations have their own agenda, and it's not to increase student learning.  It has everything to do with political power and increased profits.  I'm a huge proponent of using data to drive instruction.  The data should be from within lessons and immediate - the opposite of what standardized tests provide. 

Our principals should be much more than excellent statisticians.  Contrary to what we are being told, better test scores don't equate with more learning.  As a matter of fact, often the opposite is true: better test scores come at the expense of real learning and thinking. 

As someone who entered the teaching profession because I wanted to have a positive impact on future generations, wanted to inspire children to love learning, and wanted to make the world better through increased understanding, I don't really care about test scores.  At least not more than I'm required to.  I don't want a principal that is solely driven by test data.  I want a principal that helps me help students learn, think, understand, and work together.

Here are five qualities I would look for in a principal:
  1. Leadership - Leaders are able to inspire those they lead.  They are able to balance giving autonomy to each member of their team with the need to make timely decisions.  They put people in situations that accentuate their strengths and make them likely to succeed.  Great leaders cultivate an environment in which people work together to be more than the sum of their parts.  Even the principals that I've met who were the best instructional leaders could not match the combined teaching expertise of their entire teaching staff.  The best principals are able to cultivate an environment where that knowledge is shared, expanded, and utilized to help students learn.  Great principals are great leaders.
  2. Consistency - When it comes to discipline decisions, curriculum matters, teacher evaluations, or any other aspect of a principal's job, it's important for those in the building to know that there will be consistency.  When you know what's expected of you, it's much easier to excel at your job. 
  3. Fearless - You can't move forward without taking some risks.  Principals who always play it safe, strive to maintain the status quo, and never think outside the box end up with buildings that stagnate.  Every decision a principal makes doesn't have to be risky, but some do.  Taking chances and learning from mistakes should be welcomed in a school from the principal down to the students.
  4. Networked - Two heads are better than one.  Three are better than two.  Thousands of people communicating, collaborating, problem solving, and innovating lead to great things.  Today's principal, just like today's teacher, needs to be involved in networking in order to stay current, have a support network, and get new ideas. 
  5. Global Thinker - In the era of instant information, polarized politics, and social media, it's easy to lose focus on the big, important issues while trying to deal with the small, but white-hot problems that arise.  Dealing with those small flames effectively is vital, but the best principals are those who can handle those situations without compromising what's really important. 

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