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What's a Principal to Do?


How can school principals rev up the "engine of improvement"? In this Education Week Commentary, Kim Marshall identifies three of the most effective ways for school leaders to stoke the fires of teacher quality and student achievement.

Scheduling interim classroom assessments with follow-up meetings, implementing unit planning, and conducting unannounced mini-observations are efficient and powerful activities that will feed the engine of student improvement, says Mr. Marshall. Too many principals creatively avoid the hard stuff by allowing countless daily distractions to fill up their time. If principals focus on the highest-value activities, writes Mr. Marshall, they can harness the energy of teacher teams and improve student learning.

What do you think? Can principals avoid "the hard stuff" with too many distractions? What should their priorities be?


School improvement is greatly enhanced by a principal who has a deep knowledge and understanding of the curriculum;has a vision of how to effectively implement the curriculum with the help of the teachers; and has integrity, trust and participatory leadership with the teachers and the other stakeholders in the school's educational vision. Otherwise, if these constants are missing, no amount of planning, interim assessments, nor mini-observations will result in improved academic achievement of the learners.It will be like trying to collect water using a fishing net.

Information is important, relationships are essential and common purpose is everything. My best work as a teacher, principal and coach or consultant in schools was/is based on attending to these priorities AND feedback on my work. We are awash in information, re-discovering the value of building learning and teaching relationships with kids and one another, but common purpose in schools often still eludes us. Without coherence and organizational commitment with respect to common purpose, change cannot be systemic and remains episodic. I love Marshall's "three ways" and look forward to exploring his website!

I believe beginning with the local School Board to the Teacher in the class room would follow the outline in the book ----“The Effective Executive” written by Peter F. Drucker, the education out put would greatly improve. And, we would see an increase in the number of students graduating that could actually read, write, and do simple math without having to take remedial class before they can continue their education of choice.

I asked my daughter a question last night: "If you
could only choose one class, and had to choose
between music and math, what would you choose?"
Without missing a beat, this was her answer:
"Math. I like math better than music because
there's more to learn and I love to learn".
My daughter, who will turn 6 next month, did not
gain her love of learning from school. Indeed, I
believe that if left to the school, they would be
sure to kill it. Despite being ready for Kinder-
garten last year, my daughter was (daughters were)
forced to repeat pre-K because she (they) had not
yet turned 5. So after another year of counting
circles, she came home to play Rummikub, Sudoku,
and spontaneous "plus" games.

I acknowledge that this daughter made an error in
her assessment, however. There is every bit as
much to learn about music. The difference is that
I don't know how to enrich those lessons as I am
not a musician. My other daughter (they are
twins) is more right-brained, and *highly*
artistic and creative. I want her to have an
equal love of learning, so I will find a way to
enrich her music or dance, or some activity that
is appropriate for her.

The priorities of all school administrators
should be to NURTURE and ENRICH all childrens'
natural love of learning BEFORE it wastes away,
which MUST start in primary school and continue
throughout K-12!

One of the most important things a principal can do, at any level of schooling, is to know as many of the students,faculty, and staff as possible. By creating and fostering relationships,all those who work with students, as well as the students themselves, feel part of a community of learners. This foundation of care and concern is integral to school improvement and academic achievement.

It is pointless for subordinates to tell principals what to do. The Supt. will tell them what to do and will then follow up to see that the principal is performing as instructed. Usually this means that the Supt. gets very few complaining phone calls from parents. If the calls go up, the Supt. asks the principal if he/she would like to go back to the classroom/counseling/coaching staff from whence he came.
They shape up, fast. Not much psychobabble or "sensitivity" here, but it's the way the world works. If you've been a principal for more than a few years, you are winking and smiling.

I doubt that principals are purposely filling their days with "distractions". Doing one's job should be enjoyable and if it is, it will not be hard. A principlas job is to manage a school. To manage the school, he or she must know what is going on in that school and who is doing what. Of course they must be involved in the curriculum. Of curse they must observe teaching and learning. They must also be good listeners and problem solvers. Good managers solve problems before they become big problems. They listen to the people that they manage and encourage them to always be moving in a positive direction. Rally your troops and lead.

The importance of visibility in a leadership role is without question. However, we are limited by the number of formal evaluations we are a allowed to do by the collective bargaining agreement. That is why I am actually looking forward to the incorporation of Curriculum Mapping into our district, and hope that this, in combination with realistic benchmarks, can help our students truly learn, as opposed to just be tested.

While I think that unscheduled visits are a great way to avoid what Mr.Marshall calls the dog-and-pony show, multiple visits during the day can be a distraction in the classroom. His comment about "keeping teachers on their toes" also gives some indication of hoping to catch them doing something wrong.
I also believe that more obervation is necessary for more inexperienced teachers than those who have a proven track record.
Some principals also forget to take the view of the classroom teacher and ask themselves "What would I need if I were teaching to make this class more effective?"
Mutual trust between the teacher and the principal is essential. The teacher has to believe that improving the learning for the students is the goal of observation and not looking for mistakes that will lead to dismisal.

As a certified trainer for the walk-through process, I have to say that there isn't a better way to find out what is truly happening in the classroom. In this age of accountability, we must be sure that our resources and efforts are concentrated. Walk throughs aren't about catching a teacher doing something wrong, but rather they can become reflective educators about the craft of teaching. It also allows principals to have to good understanding of overall needs for a staff (maybe higher level questioning skills needing to be developed). Teachers can become comfortable with the system if there is an established trust. My teachers have found that I can better support them in parent conferences because I can share positive comments about what I have seen while walking through their rooms (strategies they use for student engagement and instruction). It certainly doesn't take long for students to not even notice when an administrator walks in the door when it occurs on a regular basis.

Whatever process you decide to adopt, the walk through should have specific criteria and data can be kept to drive professional devlopment decisions. Teachers need to be informed of the process before it starts so they have an understanding of what you are looking for when you enter the room.

The best part of my day is when I can be in the classrooms!

Principals can avoid the distractions by staying on task and focusing on student achievement in their designated school building. As a future principal and with hands-on experience, I have learned that the "distractions" can get in way of all learning. The principal needs to understand that being an instructional leader is first and foremost in the school. Dealing with minor distractions that involve operational decisions can wait until after the school bell rings and the learners dismiss for the day. The priority of the principal should be to assess teacher practices to ensure solid student learning. Daily walk- throughs should be completed and collaborative time with grade levels to analyze student work and data are imperative to drive future instruction and goal setting plans.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Rich Napoli/ Teacher: Principals can avoid the distractions by staying on task and read more
  • Colleen Skinner, EdD/Principal: As a certified trainer for the walk-through process, I have read more
  • Larry N/ Classroom teacher(28 years)/Certified Principal: While I think that unscheduled visits are a great way read more
  • Glenn Turgeon/ M.Ed Candidate Educational Leadership: The importance of visibility in a leadership role is without read more
  • Bob Frangione, Educator/Parent: I doubt that principals are purposely filling their days with read more




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