Some tips for School Principals who currently face the challenges and complexities of the role, and those who might be thinking of taking up a higher role
School principals are bombarded daily with the constant attack of urgent demands and pressures upon their time, energy and resources. The challenges and complexities of principalship, and the demands of standards, school reforms and accountability require exceptional coping skills and can tax the most experienced principal.
The characteristics of successful school leaders
Successful school leaders of the 21st century must be passionate, dedicated, hard working, resilient, and knowledgeable about theories of learning and child development, and, most importantly, able to work successfully with all kinds of people to competently manage the complex business of schooling. It also helps to be positive, charismatic, dynamic, courageous, credible, enthusiastic, caring, compassionate and inspirational.
Successful school leaders:
- are informed in their actions by principles of doing what is right
- recognise that teaching and learning is their main business and the main business of the school
- communicate clearly the school’s vision and mission to students, parents and staff members
- foster standards of teaching and learning that are high and attainable
- provide clear goals and put in place sound approaches that enable teachers and students to monitor learning progress and the steps required to meet learning goals
- spend time in the classroom interacting with students and observing teachers.
- foster and promote a culture of trust and sharing
Building a community of learners
Creating a community of learners is important for school leadership. The key to the effective professional growth of teachers is the relationship they develop with their principal and, as a result, with their teacher colleagues. The quality of the collegial relationship will reflect the quality of teaching, the character of the school and the academic, social and other outcomes of students. Principals need to value, model and engage in learning if they are to build a community of learners in their school.
School leaders who build a powerful and an engaged teaching team that takes ownership, enable both the staff to grow and the work of schooling to be shared. In the long run, replacing a command and control approach with a distributed model of leadership makes leading easier since it draws on the collective wisdom, skill and experience of many rather than a few. When teachers have a clear vision of where they are going, they are more likely to get there and are able to effectively communicate this to the stakeholders in the school, i.e. students and parents. Setting of appropriate goals, of course, depends on the positive, professional relationship principals build with their teachers by listening to them.
Proceed with care
Every school has its own culture – its unique traditions, celebrations and programmes – many of which are the result of the work of the incumbent principal. When a new principal arrives, the desire to reform on the part of the principal – and potentially the desire to resist on the part of staff – can lead to damaged working relations, and thus, damage the school culture. This is not to say that a new principal ought not to initiate change, since change may be drastically needed, but change ought to follow a careful assessment of the purpose of particular traditions, celebrations and programmes, and the consequent need for change.
Visible and accessible
A successful principal expects the teachers to be active in the way they conduct lessons and enable learning, and the same holds true for principals themselves. The message that the top leadership’s priority is teaching and learning permeates to the students when a principal is highly visible and connected to staff. A principal who is hardly seen and doesn’t know the students sends a message that teaching and learning is someone else’s business. A successful principal is accessible to teachers. An open-door policy may seem to be time consuming, but a principal who claims to support a distributed leadership model but sits behind a closed office door remains unable to draw on the collective wisdom, skill and experience of the staff. It is vital that the principal ‘walks the talk’.
Since principals play a crucial role in building and maintaining school culture, they must hold high expectations for students, staff and themselves .This involves not only modeling behaviour but also identifying traditions, celebrations and programmes that recognize those who meet high expectations.
A key management role for principals is to ensure that teachers are able to teach and students to learn. Principals need to enable teaching and learning by managing the regulatory requirements in schools. Successful principals support teaching and learning by identifying ways to reduce teachers’ administrative duties, reduce interruptions to the school programme and by maintaining the infrastructure required for teaching and learning.
Reflection is essential not only to enable principals to identify problems and resolve issues with staff, but also for their own mental health and survival. Time for reflection is, of course, likely to be in short supply, especially when the open-door approach means a staff member or angry parent is likely to arrive at your doorstep any time. It’s important to make time for reflection, potentially with a mentor or supportive critical friend or local group of like minded principals.
Hiren S Parikh, M Sc (Maths), B Ed, is a skilled and professional with 15 years of experience in management, curriculum development, teaching and administration of school activities. He has successfully managed staff and students as Vice-Principal of Eklavya School, Ahmedabad and as Principal of Euro School, Ahmedabad. He looks forward to taking up challenging assignments, leveraging his extensive experience and success in guiding his team of staff and students towards higher achievement. Hiren is a creative person who likes to ‘take charge’ as an administrator and is also a strong academician with proven ability to see what needs to be done, and does it.