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How Key Is Approachability for a Principal?

Live from the Learning Forward annual conference in Atlanta.

Douglas Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center in Englewood, Colo., gave the second keynote during lunch. His talk included a lot of big data-driven ideas—why schools should focus on one task at a time, the importance of direct modeling for teachers, the need to spend more time teaching non-fiction writing—accompanied by some bells and whistles (a clip from Steve Carrel's "Get Smart" with lots of explosions included). Hat tip to Bill Ferriter for Tweeting some decent sound bites from Reeves, including, "Literacy should be raised to the level of a public health issue. It's that important." But I have to say, I had some trouble finding a central message in the presentation.

As a side note, I sat next to an almost aggressively unfriendly principal from Chicago at that lunch. She made it very clear she had no interest in chatting (even before I let the cat out that I was a reporter), answering my attempts at small talk with one-word responses and no eye contact. Everyone else at the table avoided her. Anyway, the point of this rant is that I sympathize with the teachers in her school. Granted, she may have just been having a bad day and maybe I should cut her some slack, but as far as I could tell she was very much unapproachable. I'd be loathe to walk into her office with a request or send a student with behavior issues her way.

Luckily, she ducked out as soon as she finished eating. But what about the teachers who see her and look to her for leadership each day? How does having a principal whom teachers feel they can't talk to affect a school's culture?

(That said, I've met plenty of other warm and cheerful administrators, coaches and teachers since this morning. The culture here is quite pleasant so far.)

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