School & District Management Opinion

Principals Have a Complex Job

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 27, 2015 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The word “Principal” conjures different memories and definitions for all of us. One thing is for sure, if we attended school, we had one. They were towering figures of power and confidence. They were the ones who handed out the awards and diplomas and were the ones with the power to discipline. Beyond the stature of our teachers, they were the ones in charge. From the parents’ point of view, principals are responsible for children’s safety and the guarantee that children are receiving quality education and fair and compassionate treatment. Teachers view principals in a myriad of ways; the decision maker, the one in charge of safety, the one to whom they may go to for council and expect fairness, the one who understands, the one who observes and evaluates. From the Superintendent’s view, principals are the ones who are charged with all of what students, parents, and teachers expect plus the implementation and management of all policies, mandates, laws, and the district’s vision and strategic plan. Principals are in charge of personnel, honoring contracts, curriculum leadership, coaching, mentoring, and the development of a safe environment in which teachers can continue to learn and take risks with new curricula and teaching methods. Along with an expectation of visibility and accessibility, a good principal does all of the above, and the best of them make it look easy.

The principalship is complicated. Along with the increasing responsibilities and demand for a growing knowledge base, principals have welcomed a variety of different types of learners, an increased number of English language learners, and a growing number of children living in poverty. They have had to learn how to coach and mentor teachers who have to learn about different abilities, second language acquisition, cultural differences for those entering our country, the impact of poverty on learning, all while aiming for new and higher standards and new ways to evaluate their students.

Add to all these expectations the reality that each and every day something else happens; a student needs discipline, a scheduling mistake needs to be addressed, a parent arrives unexpectedly, the Superintendent calls an unexpected meeting, someone is accused of something that needs immediate attention, an investigation into allegations of some professional misbehavior must commence, a bus driver skips a stop, office staff has shared a cold and most are absent due to illness, the list is endless.

Schools operate on an “every day counts” basis and it is the job of the principal to make sure that each day counts. Every day the students arrive teachers must be in place in their classrooms, at the ready, to welcome students into the environments in which a step toward the completion of the objectives of the course is gained. No problem, no shortness of staff, no meeting, no investigation, can interfere with the progress that must take place in the classrooms. This is the job of the principal.

A new Education Week report, Shaping Strong Principals, takes a look the complexities of the principalship from several vantage points. Part of the report is Photos: A Day in the Life of a Principal. Education Week asked” principals who use Twitter and the photo-sharing service Instagram to post photos throughout the day on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, that capture the moments that represent their daily lives as school leaders. We ask that principals use the hashtag #APrincipalsDay.” We found these pictures revealing in ways words fail. A picture is in fact, worth a thousand words. It is important to acknowledge that the principals who sent in these pictures captured those aspects of the principalship that are heartfelt. To name a few:

  • Making note of children and their relationships with each other
  • Facing weather
  • Playing with children
  • Learning with children
  • Observing children
  • Encouraging children
  • Worrying
  • Mopping
  • Welcoming

Principals are expected to create and support a safe community for all learners; of students and teachers both. Their charge is enormous. It spans from being sure the building is safe to understanding how new curricula and standards are to be learned by the faculty, taught by them, and learned by the students...in many different subjects, on many different levels.

Successful principals know how to keep learning, lead learning, know and understand the needs of the school community and how to meet them, they know how to mop, play, and share. They know how to recognize and encourage good teaching and learning. They encourge all of the students. And, successful principals live and lead as Mahatma Gandhi taught; they are truthful, gentle, and fearless. Principals may not spend their days working directly with students like teachers do, but they are the leaders and protectors of the environment in which everything takes place.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.