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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

When It Comes to the 4 C’s, Some Principals Aren’t Making the Grade

By Peter DeWitt — January 06, 2017 3 min read
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Take into account all the time it takes to carry out the actual details of his big visions. He dreams big, but the rest of us live out the nightmare of the work. Anonymous Teacher.

A few weeks ago I posted the blog Teachers, What Feedback Would You Give Your Principals? At the end of the blog there was a Survey Monkey link where readers could provide the feedback they would give their principals (or head teacher if you’re from the UK). Out of numerous feedback suggestions, I honed it down to the ones that are posted below.

Considering our constant focus on the 4 C’s, it was interesting how the feedback could be coded taking those into consideration. Of course, the 4 C’s developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning are communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking (I’ll add a 5th C at the end).

Take some time to read the feedback and think to yourself whether it could be directed at you. Our easy conclusion is that only angry teachers fill out surveys, but we know that’s not true. In actuality, I took out the venomous ones, and kept all of the comments that were somewhat positive. This blog post is not meant to be an exercise in negativity, but more of a reflective exercise in whether what we think we do is actually what we do.

So often leaders believe teachers have blind spots that they can’t see in the classroom. However, if this is true for teachers it must be true for leaders. What are your blind spots? Does the feedback from below resonate with you? Do teachers feel comfortable giving you the feedback face-to-face, and not to a blog that you may never read?

The following are the feedback suggestions that readers offered:

Communication implies two way dialogue. Our principal is good at getting information disseminated however staff NEVER has a chance to share issues and concerns. When we have tried, she brings in Human Resources.

Keeping the focus. When you add more goals to the focus, is it really a FOCUS?

Open door policy- principal thinks people feel safe and free to communicate openly, but in reality principal is defensive and closed to much constructive criticism from most people. Principal is unaware of principal’s blind spots.

Communicate his vision for the school in the long term. Nearly a year into his headship and I have no idea what he actually wants the school to be like in 5 years time. He uses the school motto, which I still do not remember but it is plastered on walls. He does not underpin values within the school. Organization - times, dates, schedules, what about looking at what is happening in classrooms before imposing a new directive? Communication - no consistent source - email, calendar, all used sometimes. Seeking input - a few select brown nose teachers have all the input and are more powerful than is healthy. He thinks he listens but every time you start talking to him, he interrupts to tell you what he thinks about the topic. It's his first year in the school and he isn't taking the time to get to know the people or why things look the way they look at this time. If he could stop talking long enough to hear from the community he leads, it would be a great benefit to him. She thinks she is a good listener and that she is organized. She actually does listen to people but doesn't read between the lines. She is unaware of the reasons for the high stress levels at our school. She is also very reactive and disorganized in many ways. For example, doesn't have a list of the things she needs to do before school starts. Many of these items are the same year after year. So things are always forgotten and the teachers have to remind her. Then she's racing around trying to get things done last minute.


My principal is not a democratic leader. In fact she is very controlling and when someone disagrees with her she becomes vindictive and critical.

My principal thinks she collaborates well with teachers and listens to their needs. In fact, she does not. When asked about making changes, she reacts defensively and reminds teachers what she has done for them.

Personal relationships is one her self-proclaimed strengths. I think that due to circumstances and becoming defensive after her start, it is not one of her strengths, although could be.


Effectively prioritizes her work. She takes on more than she should and doesn’t delegate well. As a result, she is always putting out fires -- often when someone else could be doing the task.

My principal thinks she is a leader and lead teacher. Our faculty meetings are really mini in-service sessions. She champions her pet focus (literacy) with programs and budget with no tangible evidence of improvement yet ignores programs that need her administrative support. My principal thinks he's really good at the relationship piece of his position. He is extremely personable and is very easy to talk to if you have a meeting set up. However, I often feel like he's not involved at all and not very visible to teachers. I'm not sure what he does all day at all because I never see him doing anything! I would also say our initiatives are way behind the times - we are focusing on things that people in other districts have been doing for years and the things we do actually focus on we just scrape the surface of with some boring professional development at a faculty meeting that amounts to nothing! We aren't doing PLC's, learning walks or infusing technology and flexible learning etc...

Being an instructional leader - she has one focus for how to create lessons/units and can’t see other models are just as good.

Critical Thinking

He thinks that he is a literacy expert. However, he did not teach in the classroom setting long enough to understand that there are various schools of thought when it comes to the best approach to teaching literacy, and he needs to open his mind. Struggles to make informed executive decisions and rewards bad behaviours to appease staff. Models bad behaviours which influences staff to act and react in similar ways when something goes wrong. No evaluation processes put in place to ensure success of programs and plans.

Our admin thinks they are getting input when solving a problem, but they normally already have an answer they want and are just trying to convince us that it’s right.

She thinks she runs the school well but in actual fact the school runs well despite her! She asks for honest feedback in meetings then takes everything personally. She appoints good people to positions and then totally disregards their opinions. She delegates tasks then micromanages said tasks herself. She surrounds herself with strong women and then feels threatened by their capabilities.

Take into account all the time it takes to carry out the actual details of his big visions. He dreams big, but the rest of us live out the nightmare of the work.

With Parents:

Supporting Teachers. He thinks he's being supportive by never making comments during PLC, a crucial conversation, etc. What is actually happening is that by his silence, he "throws people under the bus". For example, he could say to a parent that so and so is a great teacher, I've been in her classroom and seen this and this, etc. But he says nothing. And any serious parent complaint goes directly to him and he never lets the teacher know what the complaint was even about...he believes whatever the parents say. Teachers never have a chance to clarify a misunderstanding or defend themselves. Standing up for teachers. He thinks that he listens to us, which he does, but then he never actually makes a decision in our favor. This is especially true when it comes to parents who are crazy. Instead of asking us what is happening, he automatically jumps to the parent's defense.

In the End
We, as educators, will never get to the 4 C’s as deeply as we could without the very important 5th C, which is climate. As you can see in the image below, all five C’s are crucial in order to make schools a place where deep learning and collaboration can take place among teachers, students, leaders and families.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the best selling Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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