Principals deal with the big picture! They are are constantly required to deal with multiple staff members, students, parents, paraprofessionals, administration staff and also filter down the information and directives from above. Impossible to make all of those people happy I would say! We may not agree with the decisions they make sometimes, but we must consider why they make those decisions. As long as those decisions show a level of empathy for those that are required to implement, I can get behind the decisions.
Over the years as a classroom teacher and later as a leader I have had the privilege to work with some wonderful principals and the following traits are the ones that I admire the most.
Knowledge of current educational issues and Vision
A great principal knows what educational shifts are happening and if appropriate will lead the charge to ensure their school becomes - and remains - a centre of excellence. They will ensure that evidence-based practices are in place and that teachers are supported to use them. They know about the research practice gap and are invested in developing the best scientific approaches. Having the vision to implement change and keep up with current trends is an exceptional trait. Having the vision to see what could be and bringing along large numbers of staff on the journey is a trait that is not held by many, but it is a trait that requires some courage.
Principals need to be courageous for many reasons. I want to know that my principal is going to stand by their staff when ‘The Department’ has what seems to be unreasonable demands and expectations. I want to know that when the teacher next door is not doing their job and a change is needed, the principal will manage that situation for the good of the students. I also want to know that when parents make unrealistic demands, or complain unfairly, the principal has my back. Managing staff is a delicate balance, it requires the principal to be approachable however, it also requires them to be strong and - sometimes - controversial in their management.
As a staff member I want to be held accountable. I want to know when I’m doing a good job and positive, immediate feedback is important, but I also want to know when I'm not quite getting it right. In my career I want to grow and I want to progress, I can't do that if I'm continuing to tick over in the same old way, following the same old processes and assuming that I'm getting it right. Reflection is important, but in order for reflection to be meaningful, honest and respectful, feedback is important. Accountability comes from your immediate leader/line manager, however the culture of accountability comes from a great principal.
Principals should be visible to staff, not hidden away in the mythical land of ‘The Principal's Office’ never to be seen by the common folk. They know the staff and take the time to shoot the breeze with them. They eat their lunch in the staffroom and talk about anything but work. They know what's going on in my outside life, without being intrusive. They intervene appropriately when processes aren't working or a staff member is struggling. They show their face in the yard at recess and shoot hoops with the tricky kids sometimes. They observe your lessons and offer meaningful feedback, offering reasonable strategies to improve your class. They know the parent cohort and make an effort to show acknowledgement, even if it's just to say hello as they arrive for parent teacher interviews.
These are just a few ways principals can be visible, there many more!
Knows the students
One of the nicest actions I have seen from a principal is standing at the gate in the morning and greeting students - by name! Over the years I have been on many school tours as a parent or a prospective teacher and the most impressive tours were always when we encountered the principal. Pleasantries were exchanged and the students were always acknowledged by name. Likewise, when working in schools, the principal that acknowledged students by name in the hallways earns my respect. The principal that helps to tie a shoelace, such a simple gesture but a very endearing one. This is a difficult task in some large high schools - but that isn't a reason not to try.
I expect a lot from my principal and I think that’s ok. Where there are excellent principals there are usually excellent schools and every student deserves the best.
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