It’s hardly likely that only two percent of principals in Michigan are ineffective, as Dave Murray’s headline would have it.. Educational outcomes alone suggest the number is higher. Instead we are treated to what can best be described as a Lake Woebegone effect, where everyone is above average, or as Muskegon superintendent Jon Felske put it, “playing it safe.”
However, the numbers hide the real story here, namely that of the new role for principals generally. After all, principals have been the missing link when it comes to reform. We have gone off track in reform efforts in part because we keep looking at the year-to-year aspects without considering the larger picture. There are five areas where sound leadership can play an important role:
- Continuity. The educational product is multi-year in nature. The principal provides the visible continuity of effort from year to year.
- Team work. Teaching itself is a team effort — one teacher passes along the class to another, the common success of teachers depends on everyone doing their jobs. Each classroom may be a small kingdom, but each is linked. The principal coaches, helps facilitate the team.
- Environment. We know that school environments themselves can play a crucial role in creating the safe places where students can thrive. Again, the principal is the one who leads the teaching staff, the support team and parents in creating and maintaining that environment.
- Connection. The principal is the face of the school with the parents. When Parents (single or intact) have a strong connection with the school, their children do better.
- Face Time. And finally, as a matter of gearing, the leadership team in a school can help the building deal with other institutional and community stakeholders; they’re the face.
Leadership is critical for all these tasks. The principal is not simply an administrator — in the best schools in fact, you may even have a split leadership: one for operations (academic leadership, team coaching and the like), and one for the executive functions (i.e. dealing with the community, the stakeholders, the district administration).
If we are to have strong principals, we will need to have better development programs, and at the least, some sort of standard judging template to help them fulfill their critical function. It also turns attention to the role of our graduate programs in educational leadership. This is perhaps an opportunity.