We know that the research says that good schools have good principals. After thirty+ years in education, one principal in the ten that I encountered was a great leader. Some were mediocre, others were distracted, and some were incompetent. A nervous one even admitted to retching sometimes before school when he thought about what he might face. The only outstanding school administrator I knew did these five things:
- Set the Tone
I will never forget the IEP first meeting in which I was involved with him. Professionalism abounded. A high degree of it was expected from everyone. Educational and personal success for the student were paramount. Each of the participants added something of importance to our creation of a design for educational success. The principal made each of us feel that our expertise was valuable and unique to the discussion; we each had an invaluable addition to the plan. He respected my judgement, and I knew it. The tone of this meeting made me want to be sure that I “measured up” for every future meeting.
- Cultivate Success
He tried to motivate every student he encountered. And every teacher. We all knew that he supported new ideas, spurring us to think bigger and bolder. He wanted us to WOW our students sometimes, and he was usually willing to try out some new program or motivational technique if we could prove its effectiveness. He allowed for some failure, but he had a contagious optimism that cannot be underestimated.
- Encourage Balance
I think he especially appreciated my work because I could diagnose the reading levels of individual students. I could explain where each was functioning, and what had to be taught in order to raise reading levels. This was an important piece of the puzzle to improve the entire school’s reading scores. He didn’t want students wasting time on what they already knew; nor did he want them being taught so far above their level of competence that they gave up. This happens more often than teachers realize. He was conservative in dress and speech—never one to go overboard. His stability was comforting in the constant turmoil of the school.
- Be Personal
I knew we were on the same wavelength because he made me fell that he valued individualism and the uniqueness of each student, as I did. We both could guide a street-smart kid who didn’t make great grades in school but had other important skills that could be valuable in his or her future. He made a special effort to know the names of the good and the average students, as well as the troublemakers, trying to give all students good models to imitate. With a special ability to read body language and cues, I had to be on my toes when he observed my teaching. I especially appreciated that he knew that kids could move around and talk and still be learning—unlike one principal who noted as the first item on my Observation Evaluation that my window blinds were uneven and that gave a bad impression to passersby.
5. Follow the Golden Rule
He taught one class per day every day! He said he did this so that he could maintain contact with the issues facing students and teachers in his school. More than anything else, this made very teacher give him the greatest respect because we knew he was a busy man. He made us feel that he could understand our daily concerns, our triumphs, and our failures because he was also a true partner in our important educational purposes, not just pontificating from on high. I think an administrator who would take over as a substitute for a day every month or two would acquire some valuable lessons about students while gaining enormous respect from teachers. Looking for a job as a principal? Mention this idea to the interviewing board, and watch their eyes light up!
My great principal has passed on, but here’s to you. Mr. M! Many teachers and students have benefited from your awesome leadership.
These same qualities are also applicable to the educational leaders of the classroom—teachers.
If you are interested a different discussion of qualities of good teachers, check out my 2019 March Madness post:
@Reading Spotlight 2020